Point Blank

Don't blame D'Antoni for Rockets woes

Mike D'Antoni is not to blame. Harry How/Getty Images

The Rockets are bad, really bad. They're currently one of the two worst teams in the Western Conference. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night with rookie Luka Doncic scoring the last eleven points to seal the win. With that loss, Houston wrapped up an 0-3 road trip after dropping games in Utah and Minnesota. The team is 3 games under .500 and have lost 7 of their last 10 contests. The natives in Houston are getting more than restless as they have been patient - but now that patience in wearing thin. Sure, there have been injuries and brief suspensions, but overall there has been no bench, no defense and no signs of the unstoppable offense of a season ago. The rotation is thin, the roster is weak and the role players that were a big part of the team's success last season are gone. As bad as they have been in all of those areas, the head coach should not take the blame for this season of shame.

As Bill Parcells once said, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Daryl Morey hasn't subscribed to this philosophy in the past and he certainly hasn't done so this season. If he had, there is no way that Carmelo Anthony, a player that caused Mike D'Antoni to resign in New York, would've been on the roster this season. The offense that was so successful a year ago was predicated on shooters spreading the floor and knocking down 3 point shots, while being active and aggressive on defense, switching and rotating as they look to run the floor in transition and get out on the break.

Last year's roster had a plethora of shooters and athletic and versatile wings that could play multiple positions and knock down shots. In the off season a handful of those players departed for big contracts or were traded away. In thier place, Morey brought in more of his favorite past time, former lottery picks that haven't panned out, as well as younger and cheaper players that failed to posess the same or similar skill sets as the individuals that moved on. In a nutshell, this is a major reason why this year's team has struggled mightily on both ends of the floor. The system is the same, the shots are still wide open, the rotations and switches are there for the taking, yet the results are night and day different from a season ago.

On top of all that, Jeff Bzdelik, the defensive guru who coached a top six defense for Houston, walked away and said he was retiring to spend more time with his family. Although he was talked into returning after Thanksgiving, the defense has yet to do the same. The roster is younger and less experienced than last season, and don't understand thier roles and reponsibilities on either end of the floor, especially on defense. Bzdelik's system is based on reads and rotations, helping the helper and clogging the middle when perimeter individual "D" breaks down.

When the system is working and running like a well-oiled machine, players are communicating, talking and are willing to give up their body for the betterment of the team. For younger players who never had terminology, sets or plays to run on defense, trying to be where they are supposed to be is like waking up in the Twilight Zone. Not to mention how much more stressful it becomes when you are trying to do it for a championship-caliber team. When you are favored to return to the conference finals and possibly compete for a title, the lights are brighter, the pressure is greater and the expectaions are significantly higher. It takes time and a great deal of hard work and studying film to get the concepts down -- that becomes more complicated when players and coaches come and go and the season is in full swing. Now time is of the essence and it looks like another round of roster changes could be on the horizon. I say that to warn you that things could get worse before they start to get better, so be prepared.

Mike D'Antoni should not be blamed for all that has gone wrong this season and he should not be the scapegoat for the mishaps and missed steps of the General Manager. This is a coach that has won or been up for Coach of the Year in each of the last two seasons and led the franchise to the most wins in team history less than a season ago. He transformed the offense and maximized production and scoring on the way to pushing the eventual NBA champions to the brink of elimination in the conference finals.

He went home for the summer expecting to "Run it Back" with the same roster or a similar squad to the one that took the Rockets to unpresidented success on the way to that long playoff push. Instead of getting what he had hoped for, he was dealt a totally new hand while expecting the same results. That is a tall task for any coach in any sport and one that is highly unlikely in hoops. Mike the messenger is not the problem and should not be blamed. The burden of the hole that this team is sitting in should sit firmly on the shoulders of Daryl Morey. He created this mess of a roster and he should be the one to fix it. As the fan base holds tight to the mantra of "In Daryl we trust," time is ticking and patience is wearing thin, even with the rowdiest of Rockets fans.

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Correa could be on his way out. Composite image by Jack Brame.

It has not been the best of times to be a star athlete in Houston. In the last year, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins were solid off for a warm bucket of spit. George Springer won't be back. James Harden and Russell Westbrook rumors are rampant. J.J. Watt might be moving on as well.

Now, reports are the Astros are listening to offers for Carlos Correa.

Predictably, Astros fans are livid. And if it's true, they should be concerned about the bigger picture.

Trading Correa makes sense - if you have no plans on keeping him after next season, as was clearly the case with Springer. If the Astros can get a haul and replenish the farm system, it would be the right move, especially considering Correa's injury history.

But in the long run, it does not bode well for the direction of the team. All recent indications are that the Astros are going cheap.

They would still be a competitive team without Correa, but it would be yet another indication their World Series window has closed. Alex Bregman could slide over to shortstop, but who would play third? And they only have one starting outfielder on the roster as it is. Putting together a competitive lineup around Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez would still be possible, but if the Astros aren't going to spend money, that could be problematic.

The writing was probably on the wall when the team hired James Click as GM from the notoriously frugal Tampa Bay organization. The good news is the Rays have been successful. But this is a new direction for a team that was not afraid to spend big money to make runs at the World Series.

If they lose Correa, they lose a team leader, one of the few players who embraced the villain role in the wake of the cheating controversy and was not afraid to speak out. But he has never lived up to his MVP potential, has battled injuries and will command big dollars on the open market. He is still young enough to become that kind of player, and someone will gamble big money that he will.

Sadly, if this rumor is true, it won't be the Astros.

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