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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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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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