TRADE ALERT

Here's why the Rockets are now in panic mode

Here's why the Rockets are now in panic mode
Big changes are coming. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Late Monday night word broke that the Rockets had traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for former Rocket Trevor Ariza and a pair of first round picks.

Translation: the Houston Rockets are in panic mode.

Things have gone very south on Polk Street ever since Stephen Silas was announced as the Rockets new head coach three weeks ago. That interesting, yet innocuous move would ultimately turn out to be a fuse connected to a cache of explosives seemingly nestled right underneath the entire franchise.

Despite the simultaneous GM and coach turnover this off-season, Rockets fans were still able to find solace in the fact that they still, at the very least, had James Harden. At least until late Sunday night.

When Russell Westbrook made it known he wanted out last week, I didn't bat an eye. Outside of a short stretch in the regular season of vintage Brodie, nothing I witnessed last season suggested that Westbrook was some sort of missing piece that would be putting Houston over the top. An aging star with a mammoth contract, one could only hope that the Rockets would be able to move on from said failed experiment.

Harden wanting out, though, is an entirely different story.

Say what you want about his play style or aesthetic. He is still one of the top five players in the league. Houston is lucky to have him as an asset, and they should be doing everything they can to repair the situation.

If Harden's cryptic IG story is any indication of his leaning, then it looks like the Rockets chances of salvaging the confidence of the best player they've had since one Hakeem Olajuwon are all but gone:

If the message is "no cap," then it basically means "Yes, what you've heard is true."

Here's another less cryptic bit of evidence that Harden might want out:

Turning down $50 million per year is pretty clear statement. Now the Rockets can say that they're not listening to trade offers for Harden as much as they want, but the Covington trade signifies one of two things: they're either trying to use the assets they've received to make a move to appease Harden, or they're all but gearing up to make the numbers work for what is looking more and more like an inevitable separation between the two parties.

If there's any silver lining to be gleaned from the possible departure of one of the greatest players to ever wear a Rockets uniform, it's that the divorce would allow first year head coach Silas to install a scheme unhindered by the demands of one player with disproportionate leverage. A team with James Harden becomes a scheme designed around James Harden. That scheme typically boils down to a deluge of visually unappealing isolation plays with Harden dribbling the air out of the ball. With Harden potentially gone, Silas will be able to develop a more complete and creative scheme.

Simply put: if Harden's gone, we're going to find out real quick just how good of a coach Stephen Silas is.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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