Did the team get better?

Grading the Rockets offseason

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Going into the offseason, most thought the Rockets would likely bring back their steady, competitive core and add around the edges. Sure Houston had their hopes set out early for the likes of Jimmy Butler, but the likelihood of such a deal getting done felt slim. The smart play was always thought to be keeping the nucleus intact and improving on the margins, as GM Daryl Morey hinted at was the plan early on.

Plans change though, as the Clippers trading for Paul George opened up a window for Houston to swoop in and acquire eight-time All-Star Russell Westbrook. Though it's only swapping out one All-NBA capable point guard for another, the entire makeup of this team has changed significantly. Evaluating how the team did this summer is an incredibly complicated question, but we'll give it a shot.

Rockets acquire Russell Westbrook in trade with Thunder for Chris Paul, two protected first round draft picks (2024 and 2026), and two protected pick swaps (2021 and 2025)

This is the trade that will more than likely dictate how you feel about the Rockets' offseason. Much like Westbrook himself, this trade is unsurprisingly polarizing as hell. People who like the trade view Westbrook as a significant upgrade over Paul next season and the seasons to come and the picks as the price of doing business. Those who dislike the trade view it as a drastic overpay for Westbrook, the fit with Harden to be clunky, and the upgrade from Paul to be marginal, if not lateral.

Both are fair arguments and the honest answer here is nobody can properly assess this deal until:

  1. Westbrook's tenure with Houston is over and it's blatantly obvious that the trade was a huge success or failure.
  2. The picks are finished conveying in 2026 and it's much clearer the kind of price Houston paid.

In the moment, the price does feel a little steep, the floor spacing/fit concerns are well-founded (until the Rockets prove that they're not), and at the same time, it's understandable why Houston would want to extend James Harden's prime by doing this deal.

This is kind of trade where it's really hard to feel passionately one way or the other until we see some time pass and the on-court product.

Rockets re-sign Danuel House for three-year, $11.1 million deal

Going into the offseason, Danuel House was the trickiest free agent to gauge a value on. When you asked different people, you got different answers. Some felt he would out-price the Rockets and some felt that he tanked his own value by gambling on himself and performing poorly in the playoffs. Ultimately, what he got from Houston feels just about right, if not a nice value deal for the Rockets.

House got a deal the three-year, minimum deal that he was originally offered by Houston and the Rockets got a decent, versatile wing on the cheap. It'll be interesting to see if House can get back the starting spot he had before being forced to return to the G League in January. However, either way, wings are hard to come by and Houston found a lot of success last season with House. This deal is pretty favorable to both parties.

Rockets re-sign Austin Rivers for two-year, $4.3 million deal

Most people you'd ask thought the Rockets would get out-priced on Rivers' services unless they broke open their taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.8 million annually). So the fact that Houston got Rivers to return on this bargain deal was somewhat of a shock to say the least. Rivers' gave Houston quality playing time last season for Houston behind Harden, Paul, and Gordon and defensively, could hold his own pretty well against quicker guards.

For the price Houston paid, Rivers' is a good depth piece that has gained the trust of Mike D'Antoni and the rest of the roster.

Rockets re-sign Gerald Green for one-year, $2.6 million

While not the most exciting move in the world, bringing Green back for his veteran's minimum deal is perfectly fine. The Rockets have leaned on Green a lot over the past couple seasons when they've lacked depth and he's been serviceable. He's not exactly someone you'd want to depend on every night for 25 or more minutes a game, but if he's your 9th or 10th man, he can provide 15 decent minutes a night. For a team lacking wing-depth, Green is a nice stop-gap option until the Rockets can find someone better.

Grade: B

If the central question of Houston's offseason is "Did the Rockets get better?" Then I don't really know what to tell you. They could have. The only thing we know for certain is that they certainly didn't get worse and that counts for something. The Rockets had a much better summer this year than they did last year and it's funny how different their approaches to each were.

Outside of trading for Russell Westbrook, the Rockets opted to be much more measured than they did last summer. Last summer, Houston took bets on Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss, Michael Carter-Williams, and James Ennis. Nearly all of those bets failed and the front office had to scramble to find rotation caliber players mid-season. This summer, Houston went with re-signing proven in-house products.

There are still a lot of questions raised by the Westbrook addition and holes still left on the roster (notably backup power forward). However, it seems Houston is opting to be patient to see what opens up mid-season on the buyout market as they did last season. How these questions gets resolved will be fascinating moving forward.


10 QUESTIONS FOR TILMAN FERTITTA

Tilman Fertitta wants you to shut up and listen with new book

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Tilman Fertitta can't lose. Sitting in his palatial office nestled in the towering Post Oak Hotel in Uptown, the sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, the restaurant giant Landry's, the Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, and the NBA's Houston Rockets — not to mention the star of the TV reality show Billion Dollar Buyer — is taking a quick moment to bask in his success.

And why not? On top of being the world's richest restauranteur and Houston's most recognizable billionaire, Fertitta currently boasts a best seller with his new business book, Shut Up and Listen! As CultureMap reported, he just acquired Del Frisco's luxury steakhouse chain, adding to his impressive and extensive restaurant empire. And speaking of acquisitions: Soon, his Houston Rockets will unleash the powerhouse duo of James Harden and new teammate Russell Westbrook, who came to Houston in a massive trade with Oklahoma City.

Fertitta has just made the national media rounds promoting Shut Up and Listen! and looked quite comfortable doing so. "A lot of owners don't talk to the media and they don't know how to do it," he tells CultureMap, "but I've been doing it for 30 years and it just doesn't phase me."Shut Up and Listen! is a Tilman tell-all. But rather than a life story, the book is a how-to for the business-minded. No-nonsense nuggets such as the "Tilmanisms" teach principles such as the 95/5 rule (focus on the 5 percent of the operation that isn't perfect and fix it) and offer hardcore reminders such as "when things are bad, eat the weak and grow your business." Doubters, take note: Shut Up has landed on the Publishers Weekly's and USA Today's Best Sellers lists.

CultureMap sat down with Fertitta during a rare break to talk books, business, and his beloved Bayou City.

CultureMap: You’re a Texan titan of industry, a major local benefactor, you own one of the most buzzworthy teams in all of pro sports, and you’re the star of your own reality TV show. Can we now say — in Houston — that you’re way bigger than Mark Cuban?

Tilman Fertitta: [Laughs] Oh, I don't know about that. Mark is a special guy and we're lucky to have him in Texas.

CM: You’ve been actively involved with the Rockets and the University of Houston sports programs. Using your 95/5 rule, can you share any of the 5 percent of what you found wrong with the Rockets and UH?

TF: At UH, the 5 percent was we wanted to have good coaches and we wanted to improve our facilities. That's the 5 percent we realized that if we wanted to compete at the highest level of basketball and football, that's what we'd have to do.

For the Rockets, we're gonna make sure we can put the basketball team we can on the court with the best coaches every single year. I'm not a sit-on-my-hands guy — it's let's keep getting better.

CM: Why is giving back to your hometown important to you?

TF: This is where I grew up and Houston's been very good to me. I've been around a long time and I've watched people come and go in the '80s, the '90s, the 2000s, and the 2010s. It's fun to have lasted this long and been a player through so many decades.

CM: There’s an old adage that says, ‘Do one thing and do it well.’ But you’re doing a lot of things well. When do you know, as a business owner, to diversify?

TF: Systems and operations are very important. Everybody wants to do more deals. If you understand the Big Box Theory, you make more out of a bigger box. In the beginning, I knew I always wanted to be successful. Today, I know what I know and I know — and what I don't know.

Continue on CultureMap to learn which books inspired Tilman Fertitta, and much more.

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