4TH AND A MILE WITH PAUL MUTH
Here are 3 big questions the Rockets must answer this season
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:
|James Harden||SG||On roster (for now)|
|P.J. Tucker||PF||On roster|
|Robert Covington||PF||Traded to Portland|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Traded to Washington|
|Eric Gordon||SG||On roster|
|Ben McLemore||SF||On roster|
|Bruno Caboclo||SF||On roster|
|Chris Clemons||PG||On roster (season ending injury)|
|Luc Mbah a Moute||F||Gone|
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)
|Point Guard||John Wall|
|Shooting Guard||James Harden|
|Small Forward||Danuel House Jr.|
|Power Forward||P.J. Tucker|
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.
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.
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.