ON THE ROCKETS

3 reasons for the Rockets slow start and why they will turn it around

Jeff Bzdelik's sudden retirement has caused the Rockets to make adjustments. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tonight the Rockets will take on the Utah Jazz for the first time since ousting them from the playoffs in the second round last season. The Rockets’ chances of winning don't look great, and the possibility of falling to 1-3, maybe even 1-4, to start the season is a very real one. Patience, however, should be exercised before tossing this NBA season’s hopes into the nearest trash bin, as there are a number of correctable issues that have contributed to Houston's sluggish start.

1. Houston's assistant head coach retired a little over a month ago

Jeff Bzdelik is embodying the old adage of not knowing what you had until it's gone. Bzdelik was instrumental in Houston's rejuvenated effort on defense last season and retiring a month before the season started came as a huge blow. Now the Rockets are in catch up mode as the players and Bzdelik's replacement, Roy Rogers, look to play catch up and get up to speed. It's shown in the first three games, as Houston has failed to switched assignments as gracefully as they had last season, in addition to being absolutely pummelled inside the paint. This should simply be a practice and time issue that can be smoothed over. The question is whether it's fixed sooner rather than later.

2) New rosters need time to sync

Houston was forced into a lineup overhaul this offseason with the unexpected departures of forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. The result was the arrival of five new Rockets, with at least four of them slated for a legitimate share of minutes. A shake up of that size is bound to require a learning curve, and most team's have it figured out by December. That learning curve becomes even longer when my next point becomes an issue.

3) The Rockets are really banged up

The lineups you have seen head coach Mike D'Antoni trot out have been awful, yes. They also were never meant to be part of the plan. It was never the plan to have point guard Michael Carter-Williams start at small forward. No one honestly thinks that P.J. Tucker or Carmelo Anthony should or will continue to rotate in at center, but at the moment they will because they have to. All of these moves are out of necessity because the Rockets are incredibly beat up. Everyone paying attention to sports media at the moment is aware of Chris Paul's brawl-related suspension, but that will be over by Wednesday and barely scratches the surface of the issue.  At the moment, the entire Phoenix Suns trade return of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss are sidelined. Knight was a virtual lock for at least 10-15 minutes a game at point guard, but complications from knee rehab have pushed him back to an undisclosed timetable. Chriss meanwhile should return soon from an ankle injury and add relief to Clint Capela and the front court. Veteran center Nene has also been out with a calf injury. Add forward James Ennis III's injury sustained Sunday that will have him sitting a few games and what you end up with is a laughably thin rotation to start the series.

The point is, reinforcements are coming, so hold tight. Patience this season will more than likely be rewarded, but if the Rockets aren't careful they'll be stuck in the unenviable position of playing catch-up in a loaded Western Conference.

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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