4TH AND A MILE WITH PAUL MUTH

Here are 3 big questions the Rockets must answer this season

This season will be tough to predict. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Normally I'd say something like "if you blinked you would have missed the Rockets off-season," but it's difficult to ignore something that's been shoved in Rockets fans' faces for a month straight. Either way it was easily the NBA's shortest off-season ever, and as we take one last gulp of off-season air before diving into another year let's get everyone set with the layman's guide to the 2020-2021 Rockets.

First let's take a look at the roster from the team's last game and see where everyone is:

NamePosStatus
James HardenSGOn roster (for now)
P.J. TuckerPFOn roster
Robert CovingtonPFTraded to Portland
Russell WestbrookPGTraded to Washington
Eric GordonSGOn roster
Jeff GreenPFGone
Ben McLemoreSFOn roster
Bruno CabocloSFOn roster
Austin RiversPGGone
Chris ClemonsPGOn roster (season ending injury)
Michael FrazierGGone
Luc Mbah a MouteFGone
DeMarre CarrollFGone

Note: Danuel House Jr. was on the team and remains so. He was dismissed from the playoff roster for COVID-19 protocol violations.

As you can see there's been a ton of turnover, and not just from the player side. The Rockets also hired a new head coach in Stephen Silas, and promoted Rafael Stone to general manager, but we'll get to that.

The new guys worth knowing

John Wall, PG: Arrived as part of a trade with Washington in exchange for Russell Westbrook. After almost two seasons off the court due to injuries, Wall has shown traces of the explosiveness most believed would have faded by now. Has all-star potential when healthy. More of a drive to the basket guy versus a shooter, but possesses elite court vision and passing ability.

Christian Wood, PF/C: Arrived as part of a sign and trade with Detroit. Undrafted big man that has developed into an athletic floor runner that can also space the floor and drain shots from long range. Underrated signing, as this was the big man the Rockets have been looking for for years. Keep an eye on him

DeMarcus Cousins, C: Signed a veteran's minimum deal. Former all star whose career has also been sidetracked with injuries. If he can remain healthy, he could be huge in the playoffs. A true center by definition, Cousins also has range and solid passing skills. Expect him to contribute key minutes from the bench.

Jae'Sean Tate, Forward: Played overseas in Australia. He's 6'4" and clocks in at about 230 pounds, so good luck pushing him around. Powerful frame with a solid outside shot.

Opening day roster starters (projected)

PositionName
Point GuardJohn Wall
Shooting GuardJames Harden
Small ForwardDanuel House Jr.
Power ForwardP.J. Tucker
CenterChristian Wood

Eric Gordon looks to resume his role as the team's sixth man after a disappointing season last year. Cousins and Tate should provide solid minutes in the paint, while Ben McLemore and newcomer Sterling Brown will rotate in the backcourt.

This is a much younger, much bigger, and more versatile lineup than the one the Rockets used to whimper out of the playoffs last season. Expect a huge improvement on defense as well as rebounding.

Offseason storylines

No more Morey-ball: After 13 years, Daryl Morey stepped down from the Rockets general manager role to "spend more time with his family." About a month later he was introduced as the president of operations for the Philadelphia 76ers. The parting was reported as amicable between Morey and the Rocket, but the writing was on the wall after his now-infamous Hong Kong support tweet. Between being publicly chastised and financially constrained by Rockets owner Tilman Ferttita, the eventual separation came as hardly a surprise. The Rockets now move on with Rafael Stone, an in house promotion tasked with navigating the franchise's biggest turning point since trading Hakeem Olajuwon in 2001.

Harden wants out - Following the turnover at the head coach and general manager position, former MVP guard James Harden made the unexpected announcement that he wished to be traded in early November. Since then, it's pretty much the only thing anyone has heard about the Rockets. At this point it's not so much a matter of if Harden is traded, but when and where.


Three questions leading into the season

1. Can the Kentucky boys stay healthy? Wildcat alumns Wall and Cousins should contribute big minutes this season, but both are coming off pretty nasty injuries. How long will it take to get them back into game shape? How much of their prior all star abilities remain? As they say, the most important ability is availability, and the health of those two will be critical in the Rockets playing competitive basketball this season.

2. How much Morey-ball stays in place? The Rockets have, for years now, been known as a team that focuses on isolation ball and three point shooting. Coach Silas claims there will be more of the same philosophy implemented, but the dramatic reshaping of the roster suggests a more traditional and versatile strategy going forward. Harden-ball was ugly, but it worked. Rockets fans may be in store for a more exciting product if the coaching mindset has in fact shifted.

3. Where will James Harden land? Who knows. If I had my way, I'd go for a Denver trade with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. in return.

Prediction

It's pretty much impossible to tell at this point. This is certainly not the roster that will end the season together. I'd say between all of the change that has already happened and has yet to, I don't see the Rockets higher than a 6th seed, if that.

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Houston has lost back-to-back games

Astros drop series to Giants with finale loss

Houston's offense came up short again in San Francisco on Sunday. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games against the Giants, the Astros tried to grab the finale to win his high-difficulty series. They came up short, though, with San Francisco once again one-upping them on offense against Luis Garcia, giving Houston back-to-back losses.

Final Score: Giants 5, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 64-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Logan Webb (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia (7-6)

Gurriel strikes first, but Giants get the better of Garcia

The Astros were able to grab an early lead against Logan Webb in the top of the first, getting a runner on base to set up Yuli Gurriel for a two-run homer to start the scoring. Luis Garcia, who erased a walk in the first and a double in the second to maintain the 2-0 advantage, ran into trouble in the third. After two quick outs, Kris Bryant, recently acquired by the Giants at the trade deadline, changed the momentum with a solo homer in the first game for his new team.

They scored two more runs during the two-out rally on three hits and a walk, grabbing a 3-2 lead before Garcia would get the final out. He managed a scoreless fourth, but San Francisco got to him again in the fifth, chasing him out of the game with a two-out, two-run homer to extend their lead to 5-2. His final line in the loss: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 89 P.

Giants take series as Astros drop the finale

First out of Houston's bullpen was Rafael Montero, making his debut for his new team. He did well, getting the third out of the fifth then tossing a scoreless sixth. Phil Maton was next, coming in for the bottom of the seventh and erasing a single to keep it a three-run game. After wasting a chance with two runners on in the seventh, the Astros started a new rally in the top of the eighth, getting back-to-back hits to lead it off with runners on first and third with no outs.

They would get just one run from it, though, making it 5-3, which would go final after a scoreless bottom of the eighth by Ryne Stanek and a 1-2-3 inning at the plate by Houston in the top of the ninth. That gave the Giants the series and left the Astros reeling from back-to-back losses as they turn the page to another high-caliber opponent to finish this road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel to the last leg of this road trip, Los Angeles, before a day off on Monday. Tuesday, they'll pick up a quick two-game series with the Dodgers, with Lance McCullers Jr. (8-2, 3.23 ERA) for the Astros going up against Walker Buehler (11-1, 2.19 ERA) for LA in the opener at 9:10 PM Central.

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