Jimmy Butler would be a big acquisition for the Rockets. Tim Warner/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, the Houston Rockets were looking to get back to the Western Conference Finals. Today, they're looking for answers. As the Rockets welcome the return of Chris Paul back into the lineup, they do so in exchange for an injured James Harden and a team that could be staring at a 1-5 record by early next week. The answers are coming, but they might not make it in time.
The multitude of early season tweaks and pulls and twists and strains has become laughable, but their collective effect on the Rockets 1-3 record is anything but. A team with championship aspirations can't afford to be hamstrung (no pun intended) so early in the season.
Enter Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ savant general manager, who clearly sees the writing on the wall:
This is a great team, and this is their window.
Last night word leaked that the Rockets had offered four first round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for all star guard Jimmy Butler. A Houston team previously content to wait out Butler's high asking price had suddenly become very aggressive.
The move makes sense. The Rockets can survive with one or two guys out, teams do that all season long. When six guys are out though and your starters are forced into 40 minutes of playing time, it's easier to understand why the Jazz were able to run away with the game Tuesday at the end.
Charlie Pallilo said it best earlier this morning on his show: “It's not ok to overreact, but it's ok to react.” The truth is that the Rockets need reinforcements at the moment due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, and there happens to be a power shifting option staring them in the face.
I was neither here nor there when word initially broke that the Rockets were interested in acquiring Butler a few weeks ago. That's because the Rockets are reportedly interested in everyone all the time, and also because I saw a great team that would benefit but not necessarily need a third star to remain competitive. The situation has changed, however. Adding Butler isn't a move to put the Rockets over the top anymore. It's a move to keep them afloat.
Now is it too early to panic? Yes, absolutely. I still contend that, when healthy, this is one of the league's best teams. What these first four games have done, however, is expose the Rockets’depth (or lack thereof). A trade for Butler would address that issue in spades by allowing knicked up players to rest without sacrificing victories.
Whatever the case is, it's clear that the Rockets are all in on getting Butler now. I can't envision a scenario where acquiring such a top tier talent - provided he stays healthy - doesn't ultimately develop into a massive coup for the Rockets. Circumstances have a funny way of playing out, and the irony would not be lost in me if a Butler acquisition and possible title run were sparked by the worst possible way to start a season. A possibly great ending to a terrible beginning. Either way we'll find out sooner than later whether the Rockets will be welcoming Butler into the locker room.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.