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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Houston gets the best of the Dodgers

Astros behind McCullers Jr. get shutout win in hostile Dodger Stadium

Yordan Alvarez added some big insurance runs against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Having dropped two of three in San Francisco against the league record-leading Giants over the weekend, the Astros exited an off day on Monday and entered a hostile environment at Dodger Stadium in the first of a two-game series on Tuesday night. With some timely hits and an excellent start from their starter, Houston would grab the win.

Final Score: Astros 3, Dodgers 0

Astros' Record: 65-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (9-2)

Losing Pitcher: Walker Buehler (11-2)

Houston scores first as McCullers Jr. out-duels Buehler

After nearly turning the game's very first pitch around for a home run but instead going foul, Jose Altuve still started the game with a single in the top of the first. A double play would erase him, though, as the game remained scoreless into the top of the third. Martin Maldonado led that inning off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch by Walker Buehler, then scored on an RBI double by Michael Brantley, putting Houston ahead 1-0.

Houston threatened again in the top of the fourth, getting two on with two outs, bringing up Martin Maldonado with an empty base, which the Dodgers would use by intentionally walking him to get to Lance McCullers Jr., who grounded out to strand all three runners. He made up for it on the mound, though, out-dueling Buehler, who finished six innings while allowing a run by getting into the seventh scoreless. He would get two outs into that frame while giving up a single and a walk, leaving two on base for Blake Taylor, who came in to get the third out. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 110 P.

Alvarez adds insurance as Astros take the opener in LA

Clinging to the one-run lead in the top of the eighth, Carlos Correa worked a one-out walk to bring Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who demolished a 415-foot two-run homer to add two big insurance runs, extending the lead to 3-0. Kendall Graveman took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth and, despite allowing a leadoff single and hitting a batter, was able to finish a scoreless inning.

With Ryan Pressly on the paternity list, Houston handed the ball to Ryne Stanek to close things out in the bottom of the ninth. He would get the job done, earning the save by retiring the Dodgers in order, giving the Astros the win at the dismay of the fans in Los Angeles.

Up Next: This short series's second and final game will begin thirty minutes earlier on Wednesday at 8:40 PM Central. For the Dodgers, they will get the debut of Max Scherzer (8-4, 2.76 ERA), while Jake Odorizzi (4-5, 4.30 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros.

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