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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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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