Sports Writer and Analyst. Occasionally, I will write about other topics.
The Houston Rockets are one of the most exciting teams in Basketball. However, they have yet to live up to their potential.
The Houston Rockets need to learn from the mistakes they made over the past few seasons and build for the future.
In the 2017-18 season, the Rockets had the best regular-season record in the 53-year history of their franchise. Moreover, had its best offensive rating in 51 seasons. And James Harden would go on to win the 2017-18 NBA Most Valuable Player award.
For the playoffs, the Rockets were 8-2 going into the Western Conference Finals. And they managed to take the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors to a game 7 for the series. The Warriors for the 2017 playoffs had the best postseason record in the history of the NBA. In relative standards, despite not winning a championship, the Rockets had one of the best postseasons in NBA history.
After their disappointing loss to the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets responded recklessly by reducing the depth on their roster in favor of better three-point shooting.
From the 2018 to 2019 playoffs, the Rockets lost 8 players or over half of their team from the 2017-18 season. The result was that the Rockets were a far worse defensive team. For the 2017-18 season, they had a defensive rating of 106.1 and it skyrocketed to 110.7 for the 2018-19 season. However, the Rockets shot nearly 251 more three-point shots for the 2018-19 season compared to the 2017-18 season. And the changes only managed to increase their offensive rating by .8 and lost 12 more regular-season games for the season. And this time the Rockets lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals with Keven in Durant injured.
In the defense of the Rockets, after such a heartbreaking loss in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, they felt they had to make changes to their roster. However, the changes were in the wrong direction.
This trend of reducing the depth and caring less about defense in favor of three-point shooting is a trend that continued for the Rockets in the 2020 playoffs. In the 2020 playoffs, the Rockets did not have the players on their roster to even make basic adjustments in the playoffs. As a result, Houston's series in the first round of the 2020 playoffs last for seven games and they lost in 5 games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
While All-Stars are great to have in the playoffs, they are not the only thing that matters for playoff success. Bench players, while not superstars, can be good for certain match-ups in the playoffs. If the Rockets had their roster from the 2018 playoffs, the series with the Lakers would have gone 7 games and it is unclear now who would have won.
The Rockets surrendered critical assets to get Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers since they trusted that Harden needed to play with another NBA star. And afterward, they exchanged Paul to get a significantly more prominent NBA star.
Even going back to the 2017 playoffs, the Rockets had on their roster Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, Montrez Harrell, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Cappella, Nene Hilario, and Ryan Anderson. Harrell, Cappella, and Nene would have reduced the ability of the Lakers to dominate in the paint. And Beverley and Ariza could have at least played decent defense on Lebron James. The Rockets would have at least had the players to make their series against the Lakers an actual competitive series.
In retrospect, the Rockets ought to have even retained their roster from the 2017 playoffs and kept on building team chemistry. Notwithstanding, there is no reason for the Rockets losing half of their roster after the achievements they had in the 2017-18 season. After two more additional seasons of good player development, the Rockets could have possibly won the 2020 NBA championship. This long term mindset of winning has been absent from the franchise since the 2017 playoffs. Outside of the 2017-18 season, the Rockets in the past two seasons have seemingly fared worse during the regular season and playoffs. Even prior to the Chris Paul trade, the Rockets dominated in the Western Conference. The Rockets for the 2014-15 season made it to the 2015 Western Conference Finals and won 56 games during the regular season.
The Rockets should look to build more depth over the next couple of seasons and not try to set three-point shooting records every season. If you sum over the Paul and Westbrook trade, the Rockets traded away Harrell, Williams, Beverly, Darrun Hilliard, Sam Dekker, DeAndre Liggins, three 1st round draft picks, and two 1st round pick swaps to get Westbrook on the Rockets. That is a lot of depth.
In the playoffs, match-ups decide the fate of a team unless that team has Lebron James. The Rockets for the 2020 playoffs simply did not have much on their roster to work with. The Rockets need to make significant improvements to their roster moving forward.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Michael Mannen