Franchise in Futility: Houston Rockets

It is well documented that the Houston Rockets squandered their time with James Harden. The Harden era had not one but two future hall of fame point guards (Westbrook, Chris Paul) and have nothing to show for it. It was not surprising that Harden got frustrated and wanted to jump ship. What this article is more focused on is the current rebuild in Houston. I believe that while the Rockets have done some solid work, they also have stagnated the rebuild in some aspects. It is entirely possible that if the rebuild is handled correctly the Rockets could be a playoff team next year. Lets take a look at the rebuild and analyze the good and the bad of the front office.

James Harden

This trade officially kicked off the rebuild era in Houston. For trading a player that wanted to leave the Rockets got a pretty good haul, getting Brooklyn’s 1st round picks until 2027. I could complain and say that they did not get Jarett Allen, but I think the amount of picks they got for Harden makes up for it, overall a solid job.

2021 Draft

The Rockets had four selections in the draft and had quite the haul. The two main picks here were Jalen Green and Alperen Segun. Green was the best pure scorer in the draft and looks to be the 2 guard of the future for the Rockets. He has the ability to score on all levels and has the athleticism to be a Victor Oladipo style defender. Segun is a little bit more raw, however his playmaking ability is top notch and has the ability to stretch the floor. There is questions about his defense especially his foul trouble, however he is only 19 and is bound to get better.

Lack of Trade Activity

When the Rockets started the season most assumed that John Wall, Christian Wood and Eric Gordon would be gone by the deadline, however all three are still on the team. Wall was always going to be difficult to move with his contract and his unwillingness to play so I cannot be too harsh, but it is hard to justify keeping Wall when he is one of the highest paid players in the league and voluntarily sitting out.

There is zero reason why Eric Gordon should not have been traded. Yes, he is a solid player on a long contract, however this team already has an abundance of 2 guards. Trading Gordon would have given the team some cap relief and possibly the chance to get some non-guard role players. I understand the need for bench scoring, but Garrison Mathews can do that on a much cheaper contract.

I struggle to figure out what the best use of Christian wood is. On one hand, trading Wood could’ve opened up minutes to Segun while giving the Rockets a pretty decent haul that would either include solid role players or first rounders. On the other hand Wood is the teams best scorer and is on a pretty team friendly contract. I would be more certain of keeping Wood if he could play alongside Segun but that pair would be the worst defensive front court in the league. Wood more likely would be more useful as a trade asset than keeping him.

What’s the Fix?

I think to make the Rockets competitive as fast as possible there is three main weaknesses that they need to address:

Rim Protection

To put it simple, the Houston Rockets rim protection is terrible. The good news is that there is two easily obtainable fixes in the coming off season. The first fix is to draft Chet Holmgren. His combination of defense and spacing ability is a unique talent that is not seen often in the draft. This is the Rockets only chance to get someone with a special skillset like this. Holmgren instantly makes the paint defense better while also giving a slight boost to the floor spacing. For the bench option Duane Deadmon will be a cheap veteran that will provide solid defense off the bench. Deadmon is not afraid to shoot the three ball either albeit he does not consistently knock them down.

Playmaking

The Houston Rockets have some decent guards the problem is they are all 2 guards. Kevin Porter has gotten better handling the playmaking duties however he is far from perfect. I think he thrives more as a Tyler Herro-esque 6th man who can do a little bit of everything. To fill the starting point guard spot taking the Lakers offer on Wall for Westbrook is not a terrible idea.

Russel Westbrook has struggled this year and he is getting paid top five money but do not judge the situation from face value. Westbrook is not a good fit on the Lakers and it limits his ability to play the way he wants to. If Westbrook were to come to the Rockets again he would be a much better fit and provide some instant offense as well as solid playmaking. The Rockets would be able to get rid of Wall and evaluate what Wesbrook can do. Worst case scenario, he does not pan out and he walks next offseason, it is worth the risk.

Three Point Shooting

The Houston Rockets desperately need a three and D type wing who can consistently hit catch and shoot jumpers. Someone like Joe Ingles or maybe Danny Green will get the job done. A consistent catch and shooter combined with Segun and Green and potentially Holmgren should provide enough spacing for Westbrook. They are not going to shoot the lights out but they will be good enough for defenses to worry.

Can they Win?

If the Rockets navigate their offseason similar to how I just did it is entirely possible that they are competitive mid to bottom seed in the playoffs. Green and Segun will both improve their already impressive games. Creating depth by having KPJ and Jesan Tate off the bench will make the team a lot more well rounded. I think the most important piece of the puzzle is who the Rockets draft this season. Chet Holmgren would do wonders for this franchise and is the type of player that is not readily available to sign in free agency. They may not win a championship, but they are closing in on it faster than you would think.

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