BIG MOVES

How the signing of DeMarcus Cousins could fix the Rockets

The Rockets signed another big man on Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A lot can happen in a week. The Rockets have been reminding everyone of that almost daily.

Ten days ago, it looked like former MVP Russell Westbrook was out the door. Two days after that their other former MVP James Harden looked out the door as well. Trades were made, draft picks were acquired, and then (as should have been expected by now) draft picks were traded.

Then free agency kicked off and Houston dove right in. They immediately addressed their size issue by signing 6' 10" power forward Christian Wood, a versatile big man with the long range shot the Rockets crave. They followed that up with a few dart board throws at some three and D candidates in Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate. Overall, it was a very savvy, calculated, and safe start to free agency.

Monday afternoon is when things got very interesting, with former four time all-star DeMarcus Cousins announcing that he would be joining the Rockets on a non-guaranteed veterans minimum deal. Suddenly the team with one of the smallest frontcourts to end last season became potentially one of the most intriguing. While healthy, Cousins was one of the most dominant big men in the league.

The key word there, is when healthy.

The former Kentucky product has had an unfortunate run of career-sidelining injuries dating back to the 2017-2018 season when he tore his Achilles on the very same court of Toyota Center he hopes to play for this season. Following that injury, Cousins joined the Warriors on a one year $5.3M deal as a sort of try out to the league that he was still capable of performing at an all star level. By the end of the season though, he had torn a quad and then later sustained an ACL tear during the offseason.

This is, essentially, take three of a "prove it" contract.

For the Rockets, it's a win-win scenario.

Cousins joins a long list of players the Rockets had targeted for years and finally signed well after their value had slid. I'm looking at you, Nene, Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook, and Chris Paul. The difference is that this acquisition—unlike the latter two examples—didn't require the Rockets to mortgage the farm in order to take the chance. In much the same way they brought Anthony in, if it doesn't work, they can get rid of him without any issue.

But if it does work, oh boy.

Cousins, at 6' 11" and 269 pounds, is a force in the paint when healthy. Where it becomes intriguing is his ability to shoot from long range as well which, as mentioned before, is almost as much a prerequisite to having a spot on the Rockets roster as an Uber driver needs a car.

Cousins, however, is most effective when creating his own shot. That requires his own share of the ball alongside two of the most ball dominant guards in the league. Queue the "are they going to play with more than one ball" talking points that the Rockets have heard for the past four years. They said it with Paul. They said it with Westbrook. They'll say it with Cousins.

Until I see it on the court, I'm going to refrain from that tired narrative. With Paul it worked fine. With Westbrook it's worked fine at times. It all comes down to scheme, wins, and buy-in. If the scheme works, the wins build up, and there's more buy in. The more buy in, the more wins, and so on.

This is all under the assumption that Westbrook, Harden, and Cousins are all still wearing the same jersey once the season begins. It seems likely that that is the case, as Westbrook's trade value plummeted following his performance against the Lakers in the playoffs. It's possible that a hot start could lower the temperature enough that everyone chooses to stay, but that's also pure conjecture.

In any case, signing Cousins was a great call. If he's healthy, even getting 70% of the production from his all star form would have a massive impact. It may be the calming salve to keep the team together, it could possibly be what gets them over the hump. But at the very least, and worst case, it serves as a solid backup plan in the event that Harden or Westbrook are moved.

If he's healthy.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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