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.


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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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