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:

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)

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.


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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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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