New year, new Rockets?
5 New Year's Resolutions for the Houston Rockets in 2020
The new year is nearly upon us and people have begun making resolutions they wish to carry out in 2020. Whether you plan to eat better, exercise more, read more books, or just have a new outlook on life, chances are you've already planned to approach the next twelve months with a fresh approach and a list of goals.
However, regular people aren't the only ones who get to partake in this cherished annual tradition. As NBA teams approach the second half of their season, what better time than now to make a list of goals and see if you can carry them out. If your favorite team isn't the Milwaukee Bucks, chances are there are areas of improvement they can strive for in 2020. And the Houston Rockets, currently the 4th seed in the West at 22-11, aren't an exception.
So without further adieu, here are a proposed list of new year's resolutions for the Houston Rockets in 2020.
1) Improve defensively
One of the harder things to do in the NBA is to improve midseason as a team defense. Defensive habits are formed early in training camp and schemes are tweaked throughout the regular season, not the other way around. However, it's possible and the 2018-19 Rockets are proof that it can be done. (Last season, Houston jumped from bottom of the league to middle of the pack in defense.)
The Rockets currently stand at 17th in defense (109.2). Simply put, that is not good enough to win an NBA championship. To put it in perspective, 14 out of the last 15 NBA champions have had top ten defenses. In fact, the only team since 2001 to not have a top ten defense and still win the title is the 2018 Golden State Warriors (11th in defensive rating).
Fortunately for Houston, they still have 49 regular season games to turn this around.
2) Extend Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets got a lot of scrutiny in 2019 - some of it earned and some of it unfair. However, one of the more justified criticisms Houston received this past year is not extending head coach Mike D'Antoni past the 2019-20 season. D'Antoni is too good of a coach and too important to what the Rockets do day-in and day-out to have to coach a lame duck season. Houston made efforts to extend D'Antoni this summer and ultimately failed. You can point fingers at ownership or management, but ultimately, this was an organizational failure as nobody looked good after this debacle.
Under D'Antoni, the Rockets have a record of 173-73 (.703) which is currently the highest regular season win percentage in franchise history by a wide margin. It's also the sixth most wins in franchise history. In the likely scenario that the Rockets win at least 21 more games this season, D'Antoni would jump to 3rd all-time behind Rudy Tomjanovich (503) and Bill Fitch (216). Outside of winning a championship, D'Antoni has been as good as any coach Houston's ever had. He's instilled a healthy culture, an offense that manages to be elite every season, and has the backing of the best players on the team.
The Rockets have said that the plan is for D'Antoni to ride out his contract this season and re-negotiate with the organization this summer. However, in situations like this, it's completely feasible for both parties return to the negotiating table and hammer out a new contract midseason (preferably at the All-Star break).
3) Add size to the roster
Going back to Houston's weaknesses defensively, one of the bigger issues is Houston's lack of size and defensive versatility. The Rockets pretty much have a log jam at the guard positions and a need at the forward positions. Outside of Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House, Houston doesn't really have anyone reliable in the front court to depend on. They've been trying to counteract this by playing small ball with P.J. Tucker at center. Tucker has played 25% of his minutes at the center position - the highest of his career (played 6% last season and 2% the year before that).
Tucker at center is a nifty lineup to throw out in spurts to spread the floor and switch everything on defense, but the Rockets have relied on it far too much. They need legitimate size now to compete in the Western Conference. Tyson Chandler isn't very reliable night-to-night at his advanced age and Isaiah Hartenstein is too young to contribute for Houston at the highest levels. Whether it's through trade or buyout, Houston has to find someone who can play the bulk of these power forward and center minutes.
Size may be one of the most significant reasons Houston isn't at least a top twelve defense.
4) Pay the luxury tax
The Rockets have danced around paying the luxury tax for far too long. Even if it's purely symbolic and Houston can't acquire anyone of significance at the deadline, owner Tilman Fertitta has to show his level of commitment to the franchise in 2020 by dipping into the tax. As it currently stands, the Rockets would have to do some serious cap gymnastics to dodge the tax by a hair this season.
The fan base largely gave ownership a pass last year for blatantly avoiding the luxury tax, but you only get to cry wolf about the repeater tax once. Historically, dodging the tax for consecutive seasons as a title contender is a PR nightmare as ownership gets brandished with the ugly label of being cheap.
Now in fairness to Fertitta, we know through reporting that trades fell through for the Rockets. For example, Houston reportedly offered four first round picks for Jimmy Butler last season which would have almost assuredly put them significantly about the tax. Also, the nixed acquisitions of Jamychal Green and Garrett Temple should not be ignored. Houston's story about being able to dodge the tax through dumb luck or opportunity is believable for these reasons.
If there is a trade that could make the Rockets better, they have to do their due diligence this season. Sacrificing draft picks for the sole purpose of dumping money (ex: James Ennis last season) would also look really bad upon the organization.
5) Win an NBA Championship
I know - easier said than done. It's just that the Rockets are in a position to where one championship would flip the script on so many bad faith arguments surrounding their cast of characters. Whether it's Daryl Morey, Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, or Russell Westbrook, a championship can change their career narratives so quickly. One could make the case that winning a championship would do more to boost the reputation of this organization versus any other in the NBA.
The Rockets have objectively become the most disliked team in the NBA. When their names come up, pundits either groan and mock them or they tear them down with a backhanded compliments. Seldom do they ever receive unsullied praise. There's really only one way to turn that around - winning. In this league, the most powerful elixir to criticism (fair or unfair) is winning at the highest levels. Even Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were foolishly considered fraudulent contenders by mainstream NBA media until they finally took home a Larry O'Brien in 2011.
If Houston can finally win a championship in 2020, all scripts will be flipped and we can finally have honest conversations about what they've been able to accomplish these past few years.