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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

After a short turnaround, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to their Mecca at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the famed Coca-Cola 600. Of all the races in NASCAR, after Daytona this race may be the most important race on the schedule. The tradition started back in 1959 when former driver and hall of famer Curtis Turner teamed up with Burton Smith to build the track and upon its completion, they decided to make the first race at the new track on the same day as the Indy 500. In an effort to draw fans, they made the race 100 miles longer and from there the rest was history. This year's rendition will be somber though as no fans will be permitted to enter due to Covid-19, but even in this time of unrest it will be a relief to continue to see our heroes take on NASCAR's longest race.

For the first time, NASCAR pulled off it's first midweek race and it was a doozy. For most of the race there was a wide range of characters who were up front. Clint Bowyer set the tone early as he went on to win the first two stages but after getting caught in traffic he fell back. To make matters worse, Bowyer was involved in an accident that ended any chance of victory. While it wasn't the outcome he would have hoped for, to see how well he ran is a sign of good things to come for the Kansas native. I look forward to seeing how he rebounds.

With Bowyer out of it, the attention shifted to Chase Elliott. All night it seemed like he had the second best car and looked to be on his way to another victory but after the caution for Bowyer, Elliott lost a ton of track position after a bad pit-stop. This left the sports most popular driver stuck in traffic, but he was able to make his way back to second. In the final laps, he was easily the best car and appeared to be on his way past Denny Hamlin to take the victory but Kyle Busch had other ideas. The defending champion made a sudden right hand turn and veered into Elliott sending him head on into the wall.

It was safe to say that Elliott was not pleased as he gave Busch the one finger salute as he drove by under caution. The race was not able to resume as Mother Nature intervened giving Hamlin his second win of the season. Many fans and experts alike were critical of Busch's stunt, Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying "Not sure what that was all about." When the race was over, Busch was confronted by Elliott's Crew Chief Alan Gufston. When it was said and done security had to be called to separate the two. While it might not have been intentional, Busch has opened up a can of worms in the future for retaliation. It will be fun to watch what happens next.

Overall, the response to NASCAR's midweek race was overwhelmingly positive as it was the third highest watched event on television. As NASCAR continues to be fluid, more and more people are becoming interested. NASCAR journalist and reporter Adam Stern tweeted that more than thirty percent of the viewers of Sunday's race were new viewers. Even though we may not always agree with the way NASCAR does things, I have to say they have done an outstanding job at putting this schedule together. I hope that in the future, NASCAR continues this new tradition.

Moving on to Charlotte, The driver I have winning this weekend is Chase Elliott. In every race this season, Chase has been a force to be reckoned but has simply run into circumstances he can't control. At Vegas before the shutdown, he seemed to have the race in hand until a flat tire ended any chances of victory. Two weeks later at Phoenix, he led ninety-three laps until fading to a seventh place finish and with a new-found fire lit under him after Darlington, Elliott will be like a bull in the china shop come Sunday. While he has been great at every track he has run at, he has been especially fast at Charlotte. He currently has a 10.60 average finish there and has consistently led laps. This week, I think Elliott will get redemption and claim his sixth career victory in one of NASCAR's crown jewels. Look for him to take his #9 Napa Camaro to victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome