Rockets offseason outlook

Improving this team won't be easy, but they'll still be hard to beat

Getty Images

Last Friday the Rockets had their chance.

There was blood in the water, and Houston whiffed.

The Golden State Warriors were up 3 games to 2 on the Rockets, but lost their star forward Kevin Durant in the process. Seemingly wounded, the Warriors arrived on the Rockets home court as 7.5 point dogs. Houston was healthy, Houston was motivated.

Houston was eliminated.

Now, instead of forcing a game seven and potentially discussing matchups and strategy for a Western Conference Final round against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, we're left discussing one topic:

What now?

As heartbreaking as last season's game 7 loss was, Rockets fans could at least console themselves with the fact that they had gone down swinging with their second best player sidelined with a hamstring injury. They weren't healthy. They had a historically fluky shooting slump. Rockets fans had valid excuses.

This year they don't. This year everyone was healthy. This year they shot 17-39 from 3-point range. No James Harden slump, no Chris Paul clunker. This year they just weren't good enough.

Houston now finds itself in an unenviable predicament. Paul still has three years left on his deal roughly $40M/yr deal and, while still good, his game play took a drastic step back this season compared to 2017-2018. Between Paul, Harden, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon the Rockets have zero cap space to work with.

Once again the Rockets will watch difference makers leave. It will be hard to imagine guys like Austin Rivers, and Kenneth Faried returning. They were signed after they were bought out midseason, so playing with the Rockets was essentially a showcase for their next team. Bench guys like Gerald Green, Iman Shumpert, and Danuel House could likely be headed out as well.

Chris Paul is 34. Defensive star P.J. Tucker is 34. Nene is 36, with no guarantee of returning. Eric Gordon is 31, and Harden will be 30 when next season tips off. There is an understandable sense of urgency, but there are no clear ways to improve.

Trading will be difficult. Houston has no draft picks this off-season and the only tradable assets are Gordon, Capela, and Tucker. Tucker and Capela are most likely untouchable, but without any draft picks to dangle next to Gordon, you won't see him being traded for an upgrade.

In short, Houston's chances at improvement this offseason don't look great. But with their starting 5 locked up, their chances of being worse are fairly small.

General Manager Daryl Morey has made a habit the past few years of keeping his core guys and slapping the bondo equivalent of journeyman players on the bench to soak up regular season minutes. They're usually redemption projects that fit Houston's unique system, signed for veteran minimum contracts or scooped midseason like this past one off the buyout market. It's a very hit or miss tactic though. Sometimes you get a Luc Mbah A Moute, and sometimes you get a Michael Carter-Williams.

As it stands, if the Rockets go that route and simply fill in the inevitable bench holes, they will still be a great team. Will they be better than this year's? It's difficult to think so, but they will still be competitive.

In order to improve beyond being this generation's Knicks to Bulls-esque Warriors, the Rockets have shown that they need to improve. That task seems incredibly difficult to pull off given the Rockets' financial constraints and lack movable assets, but if there's a GM out there that can find a way, Morey is certainly among them. Until then, Houston fans will have to be something they've become frustratingly accustomed to:

Patient.

Astros take another from the Tigers

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 2 hits from the 6-3 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After holding on to win the series opener by one run in a game expected to be more lopsided, the Astros were back on the field Tuesday night to try and keep their newly-created winning streak going. Here is a recap of the second game of this four-game series:

Final Score: Astros 6, Tigers 3.

Record: 81-46, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brad Peacock (7-6, 4.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Spencer Turnbull (3-12, 4.05 ERA).

1) Both teams trade early blows

The Tigers were able to strike first, getting a leadoff home run to start the game against Aaron Sanchez and take an immediate 1-0 lead. Sanchez was able to get through the rest of the inning; then his offense backed him up with five runs over the next two.

George Springer hit a leadoff home run of his own, getting a solo dinger in the bottom of the first before Jose Altuve made it back-to-back jacks in the next at-bat to take a 2-1 lead. Then, in the bottom of the second, Houston tacked on three more runs after Altuve hit a perfectly placed dribbler down the third-base line for an RBI-single then Michael Brantley hit a two-RBI single, extending the lead to 5-1.

Detroit didn't go away, though, putting it to Sanchez in the top of the third by loading the bases with no outs before Sanchez would walk a run home. He would get one more out before A.J. Hinch popped out of the dugout to end his night early and bring in Brad Peacock, making his first appearance since returning from the injured list. Peacock seceded one run on a groundout then got a strikeout to end the inning with Houston still in front 5-3.

2) Astros extend their lead and cruise to third straight win

Collin McHugh was next out of Houston's bullpen to throw in the top of the fifth and worked around a leadoff single to Miguel Cabrera to retire the next three batters. In the bottom of the inning, Martin Maldonado extended Houston's lead to 6-3 with a one-out solo home run.

McHugh returned for the top of the sixth and was able to record another scoreless frame to strand two runners after a couple of singles in the inning. Joe Smith was the next reliever for Houston and put together a quick inning of his own to maintain the three-run lead.
Ryan Pressly took over in the top of the eighth and was able to strand a one-out single by getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the top of the inning. That provided Roberto Osuna with another save opportunity, and he would earn it to close out Houston's third-straight win.

Up Next: This series will continue with game three of four on Wednesday night scheduled for another 7:10 PM start. Justin Verlander (15-4, 2.81 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston against his former team, going up against Daniel Norris (3-10, 4.82 ERA) for Detroit.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome