The Rockets are yet another example of how quickly the NBA can change. Last year, they challenged the Warriors’ juggernaut in the Western Conference Finals. This year they limped to a 41-41 record, fired a head coach and the team’s collective effort would have been laughable if it weren’t so depressing.
The Rockets need to do everything they can to flip the script this offseason. Daryl Morey is a brilliant GM and he will make sure no one counts the Rockets out, but it’s hard to see how any other big-name player would want to join Houston given its current mess.
The problems start at the top, with superstar James Harden. Harden gets more criticism than any other player in the league outside of LeBron. He deserves a great deal of it, but I fear we’ve lost sight of all the incredible things Harden can do amid the countless number of Vines of his terrible defense.
Harden is a brilliant offensive player built for the modern NBA. Morey saw the value in shots at the rim and behind the three-point line and Harden is epitome of that thinking. Still, he far too often dribbles for 10 of the 24 seconds while his four teammates stand around waiting in vain for a pass. It can’t be fun for anyone to play that way.
Houston is hoping new coach Mike D’Antoni can inject some flair into the offense. Its an interesting idea, especially given how bad the Rockets were on defense. D’Antoni will likely try to push the pace even more and if he can get the team to play unselfishly in transition- something that comes more naturally than it does in the half court- the Rockets will be a better team.
The Rockets do not have a first round pick, but, given the low rookie scale, their No. 37 selection will be nearly as valuable as the 30th pick. Morey will surely find someone intriguing at 37 and at 43, the Rockets’ other draft pick.
But where Morey will really try to improve the team is in free agency. The Rockets have tons of cap space and will undoubtedly try to lure Harden’s old friend Kevin Durant. They’ll also make a big pitch to the second tier of free agents. If, for example, Mike Conley and Al Horford want to team up, the Rockets could be right back in the top three teams in the Western Conference next season.