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Jermaine Every: The Rockets lost. So now what?

Daryl Morey will have to take another run at it. Rockets.com

I was filling in on SB Nation 94.1 yesterday doing the national broadcast in the morning from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. My co-host, and podcast partner, Craig Koshkin and I went over the potential machinations of the impending matchup. Most Rockets fans were very optimistic, especially since the Rockets were at home. Lots of media members weren’t. However you felt going into Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, it captivated the audience.

In the end, I chose the Warriors because they have more firepower, and Chris Paul was out. Craig chose the Rockets because of home court advantage and intangibles. If you know us, you’d know how weird that is. Upon leaving the station, we were asked to do a post game show, to which we happily obliged. I knew it hinged on the Rockets winning, and never had a good feeling about it.

I grabbed some food, went home, took a nap in between watching the Star Wars marathon on TNT and laughing at my crazy kids. I was excited, but felt leery about the Rockets’ chances. I knew the Warriors were going to come in waves and wasn’t confident the Rockets could handle it.

As the first half unfolded, the Rockets were in firm control. They weren’t playing their best, but were up by 11 going into halftime. I left the house and headed to the station. There was a sense of “they may actually pull this off” mixed with “the Warriors are about to make their normal third quarter move.”

Low and behold, it happened. The Rockets missed 27 straight 3-point shots, including 0/14 in the third quarter while the Warriors took the lead and never relinquished it. There would be no need for a post game show. That realization sunk in during the third quarter. I almost left then, but stayed to watch the ending, all the while hoping things would change, knowing there was extremely slim chance of it happening.

Now what? The offseason is here abruptly. Fans are disappointed. I consider this season a failure. General Manager Daryl Morey stated that they were obsessed with the Warriors and had constructed a team to beat them. That didn’t happen. There are several key free agents on this team. Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza are both unrestricted, while Clint Capela is restricted. Losing them could be disastrous. Or could it?

The No. 1 free agent out there will be LeBron James. He’s all but guaranteed to opt out of his player option for next year and test the market. Getting a player of his caliber automatically boosts a team's chances at winning a title. The only way I see him coming to the Rockets is if he loses in the Finals to the Warrior. There is truth to the rumored beef between he and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, and he’s not impressed with the offseason the Cavs produced. However, there is a high probability he stays in Cleveland, or stays in the East. The path to the Finals goes through whatever team he’s on in the East.

Paul George also has a player option he’s all but guaranteed to opt out of this offseason. Playing in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook can be taxing. He wanted out of Indiana, but couldn’t find his way back to his hometown of Los Angeles. This may be his chance. The Lakers will be attractive because they have cap space and young talent to build around. But if he thinks joining the Lakers will topple the Warriors, he’s crazy. George is a juiced up version of Ariza. He’s a good defender, and more potent offensive threat that can create for himself or others. He’s already proven he can play with another star.

Should Capela leave by the Rockets not matching whatever offer sheet he signs, he needs to be replaced. DeAndre Jordan is the first name that comes to mind. He has experience with the pick and roll offense. He also is a better rebounder and rim protector. He’s not versatile enough to switch and cover guards like Capela, but his size and jumping ability guards the rim while changing shots. The Pearland native has made it known he wants to come home, and almost signed with the Mavs a few years ago. Another potentially cheaper option to replace Capela would be Nerlens Noel. He’s only 24, still very skinny, and hasn’t lived up to his potential.

Bringing back Chris Paul is a necessary evil. Sure he’s on the wrong side of 30, but his not being able to go in Games 6 and 7 made a huge difference. He’s made a ton of money in his career and seems as if he’s more concerned about winning, hence him turning down the max extension from the Clippers. The questions remaining about Paul are his age/health, and is he willing to take less in order to build around himself and James Harden?

There are several other guys out there for the Rockets to look at. I’ll dig deeper into potential free agents later on in the offseason. None of these moves are possible unless Morey can unload Ryan Anderson’s albatross of a deal. That deal has stood in the way of a ton of potential moves the team could make. Thank God it prevented them from getting Carmelo Anthony. Morey has turned chicken sh-- into chicken salad before. He’s managed to field a competitive team while rebuilding on the fly. This offseason will be a true test of his skills. For Rockets’ fans, here’s to hoping he can Jedi mind trick the league into giving him the pieces he needs to finally take down the Warriors.

 

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NASCAR is coming to Texas! Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s an All-Star weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway. As most fans know, this race is extremely different from what we see on a usual Sunday. This race is an invitational event featuring the winners from the 2021 and 2022 seasons with a few qualifiers including past champions and past All-Star winners over the last ten seasons. As it does every year, the format for this race has changed. It will be divided into four stages, and the winner of each of the first three stages will take up the first three spots on the grid (as long as they finish 15th or higher). The final stage will be fifty laps and if there is no caution between laps 15-25, then the yellow will be thrown to stack everything up. Probably the most important and intriguing change to the format won’t take place on race day, but during qualifying. The field will be given one lap and the fastest eight will advance to the final round, where they will each face-off head-to-head in a bracket. Each paring will have a mandatory pit-stop before exiting, and the first car back to the finish line moves on. This is a unique way of deciding who starts where, I would not be surprised in the slightest if it comes back somewhere down the line in the future

Last week, Kurt Busch went on to score his first victory of the year. It didn’t come easy for the 2004 champion, he had to fend off Kyle Larson and his brother Kyle Busch. The race was marred by numerous tire failures, as it seemed drivers could only go 25-35 laps before running into an issue. Luckily for Kurt, the cautions fell at the right time and he was able to manage his tires as he dominated the race by leading a race-high 116 laps. This was the first win for the #45 car at 23XII racing, as now both Busch and his teammate Bubba Wallace both have victories. While it’s been a frustrating season for this team, this win couldn’t have come at a better time.

While Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan celebrated their team win, Stewart-Haas racing was on the opposite end of the spectrum. All four of their cars finished outside the top ten, including their franchise driver Kevin Harvick. It’s worth noting that despite the disastrous day that he had, Harvick could bounce back with a respectable 15th-place finish. This team has a lot of questions regarding the future of their driver lineup. We know that next season Aric Almirola will retire, but after that who will fill the seat? Will it be their reserve driver Ryan Preece? Could it even be Kyle Busch? With these types of disappointing results from Harvick, many have wondered if he might decide to retire at the end of the 2022 season. This will be a team to follow in the coming months.

As we reach the dog days of summer, the infamous silly season is right around the corner. This is when the rumors start to become louder and louder about who will go next season and what rides will be available. As I mentioned earlier, Kyle Busch is easily the biggest question on the grid, with Mars leaving at season's end, can Joe Gibbs racing find him a sponsor to keep him in the #18 Toyota? There were reports on Thursday that the team was in negotiations with a “major tech company” to sponsor the car for one season. It’s clear that re-signing the two-time champion is the number one priority for Joe Gibbs and Toyota. TRD Executive David Wilson stated that losing him would be, “Unacceptable.” It will be interesting to see this story develop.

With that, the driver I have winning the All-Star Race this weekend is none other than Kyle Busch. Overall, it’s hard to find active drivers with better stats here at this track than him as he’s won here four times, the most among the field. He’s also led over 1,069 laps here, almost more than double the amount of the next closest driver (Martin Truex Jr with 674). When Jimmie Johnson stepped away from the sport in 2020, it was clear that the torch was handed over to Kyle as the best driver at this racetrack. He will be the driver to beat for the million dollars when the checkered flag falls.

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