Rockets offseason outlook

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

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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.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

THE CASE FOR COLIN KAEPERNICK

Over the weekend Colin Kaepernick had a workout. It was a circus and there was a lot to be said about it. Stephen A Smith and Max Kellerman could have done a whole special on the issues hovering over this one and I know there's plenty of people who say that alone is a good enough reason to not bring this guy back. If you're a fan of some teams right now though, you might need to be rethinking your position and honestly there's plenty of reasons to bring him back.

SO MANY BAD QUARTERBACKS ALREADY

If you're the Washington Redskins, you could easily absorb another controversy because as far as your front office is concerned, nothing is wrong in 1-9 Washington and maybe the O-Line won't laugh at this guy as he begs them to block. Tampa Bay keeps talking itself into giving $20 million dollars to Jameis Winston who has never shown he is worthy of this much patience. The Bengals could use anyone else at quarterback as Andy Dalton is having a meltdown on the field in real time and will this guy even be in the league next year? The Titans have already quit on Mariota and got nothing else to lose. The Chargers long time starter just threw four interceptions in a game they had to have against a division rival, so wouldn't it be nice to know there's someone behind him to look towards as they continue their LA transition? The Broncos still don't have a quarterback and just IR'ed Flacco after he said they are the problem (to be fair, he probably thinks Baltimore was the problem too). The Bears are a quarterback away from being a wild card team and the Lions are back to playing Lions football and Carolina has no clue if or when Cam Newton is coming back. That's nine teams that don't have a very good reason to not at least give a look at bringing Kaepernick onto the roster.

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER

A few years ago Teddy was the guy in Minnesota. They had him and Adrian Peterson and spent money on offensive players and really thought they were going to be the jewel of the NFC North and then Bridgewater suffers one of the most horrific knee injuries in recent major sports memory during a practice, with rampant speculation about whether or not he'd ever play again starting immediately. It takes all of the 2016 season and then in 2017 he plays in one game. He then signs in New Orleans and plays in five games and looks good and New Orleans loves him and paid him decent money to stick around and he passed up a chance to start in Miami to stay in New Orleans according to rumors. Then this year he steps in for Drew Brees and keeps the Saints season alive to hand back to Drew when he's healthy. I say all of this to say, the right team could manage the rust off of Colin like New Orleans did for Bridgewater. Kaepernick could come in on pitch counts and work his way back in if the issue is being in shape, and if he's in shape and playing then he buys a franchise a few years at starter so they can take their time in finding the next franchise quarterback.

MICHAEL VICK, TYREEK HILL AND KAREEM HUNT

There are guys who played in the league after going to prison (Michael Vick). There are guys in the league who are on video assaulting women (Kareem Hunt). There are guys in the league who have failed drug tests (Josh Gordon). There are guys in the league who have plead to DUIs and DWIs (numerous). There are guys who are accused of beating their children (Tyreek Hill). There are guys who have pled guilty to reckless assault after being charged with a felony for child abuse (Adrian Peterson). That guy recently admitted he still uses a belt to discipline his children. Greg Hardy played another year in the league after allegedly beating his then girlfriend and throwing her on a pile of assault rifles and threatening to kill her. I say all of that to say Colin Kaepernick hasn't had any of these kinds of issues, he made a political statement and it seems to say more about the people who don't want to see him come back but have been far quieter about the other guys who have come back over the years.

AND SO...

I know there's controversy to deciding to bring Colin Kaepernick back, but the reality is there are bad quarterbacks in the league now, there are bad teams in the league and there are worse guys in the league than him. So what hill exactly are we all trying to die on here? What's the point of the fight to keep him out? Because he disagreed with some people politically and chose a visible way to get their attention to show them as much? I won't get into the rights and wrongs of kneeling or not kneeling, the hypocrisy of the NFL making the US armed services pay them to recognize veterans while asking the fans to please stand and honor the troops. It's a disservice to us the tax payers and an insult to us as Americans the way the NFL has turned patriotism into ratings and therefore Kaepernick into a problem. Bring him back and prove him wrong or prove him right by how you react next time someone says something you disagree with.

Feel free to check out my brand-new comic book Another Day at the Office or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where some proceeds help people struggling with cancer or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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