The biggest soap opera in the NBA had been the Los Angeles Lakers, with the frenzy of social media buzz following Magic Johnson’s resignation. But the Rockets have drama of their own. After getting beaten again by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, the Rockets were expected to make changes this summer. To get everyone up to speed, here is the mess the Rockets are in, why it is a mess, how they can clean it up, and what it will take for this organization to contend for a championship.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN dropped a “Woj bomb,” Tweeting a report that Morey considers everyone on the Rockets’ roster, including draft picks, available in the right deal.
Why this could be a problem
The NBA is a business, and a veteran-heavy team like Houston surely understands that. But leaking information like this can be problematic. If nothing happens, Morey risks damaging the psyche of his own team. Is potentially blowing up the roster even a good idea? The Warriors may not be the same next season, and if Houston could keep much of what they have, but show flexibility to improve their depth, this team could once again make a run in the Western Conference.
A glaring issue in regard to any possible deals is the question of what Morey considers “the right deal.” Realistically, the only tradeable pieces are Harden (still in his prime); Clint Capela (also in his prime, but not as expensive as Harden and Chris Paul); Eric Gordon (expiring contract); and P.J. Tucker (two years remaining on his contract). But what is Morey looking for in return? Suppose the Rockets decided to move Harden or Paul, or even both. They are getting paid nearly 40 million dollars the next three seasons, which means a third maybe a fourth team might have to get involved so the money works.
This is the pickle the Rockets have gotten themselves into this summer. By tying so much money into their roster, they have left themselves very limited cap flexibility to improve via free agency. Making any deal this summer will be tough, because the Rockets also do not have a draft pick to sweeten their deals with this year.
How to fix the roster
The only way to improve this roster is to open up financial flexibility. Chris Paul and James Harden are getting more expensive each of the next three seasons, and you can add Capela to that list if he is not dealt this summer. Without creating flexibility, don’t expect much change from the Rockets. Flexibility does not just impact this summer, but also impacts how the Rockets can improve in future summers also.
I applaud Morey for going all in, making a great effort to take down the Warriors when it seems everyone else is waiting for them to break up. However, in doing so, Morey has put the franchise in a bad spot because there is no way he can improve this roster without going into full rebuild mode. I doubt owner Tillman Fertitta would support that.
What to do with the coaching
Wojnarowski’s Tweet about possible roster overhaul is not too big of a deal, but there is also a coaching situation to deal with. Next year will likely be the last of the D’Antoni era, since his contract has not been extended. And D’Antoni’s assistant coaches have been dismissed, with the possibility of hiring Ty Lue as a lead assistant. If Fertitta and Morey don’t believe D’Antoni is the right coach to guide the Rockets to a championship, why not just fire him like the rest of his staff?
Why this can be an issue
Coaches rarely ever coach the final year of their contracts regardless of the sport because it is extremely important for the team to know who their ultimate leader is; it’s hard for a “lame duck” coach to give his team direction. That’s why D’Antoni coaching the final year of his contract is a huge deal. If the roster stays the same, what’s to say the players don’t tune out D’Antoni completely, knowing he’s likely not to remain as head coach much longer? It creates an issue of how the Rockets will compete together as a team.
How to clean this mess
Simply fire the entire coaching staff, including D’Antoni, and explain that the franchise is going in a different direction. Back in May, I mentioned the idea of bringing in a veteran coach if Morey and Fertitta still believe the Rockets are contenders. Why a veteran coach? Because the Rockets are a veteran-heavy team, and a veteran coach is more likely to quickly earn the respect of his players than someone who does not have as much experience.
When you look around the sports landscape, the best teams share the same characteristics. They each formulate a plan and go about executing their formula for success. In Houston alone, the Astros are a perfect example: they gutted their roster to rebuild from the ground up. In doing so, they knew they were not going to be very good, but they stuck to their guns, and in time they built a juggernaut. The Texans have not won anything yet, but they finally got their house in order, aligning GM Brian Gaine with coach Bill O’Brien. Whether or not those two will be successful remains to be seen, but the point is that both the Texans and the Astros have formulas they continuously try to execute to be successful.
After the Rockets went all in these previous two seasons, it’s discouraging to see Houston’s business leaked all over Twitter. If the Rockets are firing most of their coaching staff and considering blowing up the roster, that speaks of an organization which doesn’t have a formulated plan to improve. Morey and Fertitta need to take a deep breath, relax, and formulate how they are going to get this franchise to its first title since 1995. Right now, the Rockets are off to a messy start, but there’s plenty of time to clean up and work towards a solid 2019–20 season.