Did the team get better?
Grading the Rockets offseason
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:
- Westbrook's tenure with Houston is over and it's blatantly obvious that the trade was a huge success or failure.
- 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.
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.