ROCKETS REBUILD

Here's why the Rockets next move must start with this critical first step

The team is reportedly interested in dealing Wood. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Last Saturday night, at halftime of another Rockets blowout loss, guard Kevin Porter Jr. decided that was an excellent time to throw a temper tantrum and get into a shouting match with respected Rockets assistant coach John Lucas. Porter Jr. left the arena at halftime and went home. We don’t know if he took his ball with him.

Earlier that New Year’s Eve, forward Christian Wood missed a mandatory Covid testing window, showed up late for warmups, was taken out of the starting lineup, scored no points in eight minutes in the first half and later refused to sub into the game. The Rockets lost, 124-111, to the Denver Nuggets at home in Toyota Center.

Yeah, this was exactly what head coach Stephen Silas and the plummeting Rockets, owners of the worst record in the NBA's Western Conference, in the throes of a seven-game losing streak, needed. Silas promptly suspended the two idiot players for the next game Monday night, which turned out to be another lopsided loss, 133-113, to the Philadelphia 76’ers.

What were Porter Jr. and Wood possibly thinking? These bad actors aren’t veteran superstars who wield power with the owner and can get a coach fired. In fact, in Porter Jr.’s case, he couldn’t have picked a worse coach to mess with. Lucas is respected by the NBA universe. He’s a hard-ass, no-nonsense figure. He reportedly laid into several Rockets players, including Porter Jr. and Wood at halftime, after the Rockets gave up 47 points in the second quarter.

Porter Jr., 21, was a first-round draft pick (No. 30) by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019. He promptly was traded to Cleveland and was suspended during his rookie season for making contact with an official. The following year, he was arrested on a weapons charge, which was later dropped. Last year, after Porter Jr. threw a locker room tantrum, the Cavs announced they would either trade Porter Jr. or release him. The Rockets acquired him for a future second-round pick.

Wood, 26, went undrafted in 2015. He has played for six teams during his six years in the NBA, with a few visits to the G League along the way. He has a reputation for being pouty and moody. Earlier this year, the Rockets were rumored to be offering Wood in a trade.

According to media reports, the Rockets intend to keep Porter Jr. and deal with his anger issues. The team is interested in dealing Wood, despite his trade value diminished by this latest episode.

It’s time for Silas and the coaching staff to take charge and lock down the locker room. That’s the first step toward respectability. Because right now, this team is a rudderless clown show and Silas’ nice guy personality isn’t offering any promise of a brighter future.

Lucas is just the guy to play bad cop. To be honest, I’m scared of Lucas and he’s not even the boss of me.

I have history with John Lucas. Several years ago, I played in a media doubles tennis tournament. During one round, a local newscaster, it might have been Linda Lorelle, and I played Lucas and his partner. Lucas hit a kick serve at me that burrowed into the clay court then bounced over my head wide right. I had never seen a serve like that. It defied physics. I jumped at the ball and swung and whiffed. I was embarrassed and awestruck at the same time.

In addition to being an All-American basketball player at Maryland and the NBA’s overall first draft pick in 1976, Lucas was an All-American tennis player and two-time ACC singles champion. He played pro tennis for two years before focusing only on basketball.

Several years later, I finally exacted my revenge against Lucas on a tennis court. Charlie Pallilo and I had reserved the court at Judson Park in West University Place. When we got there, we found Lucas playing former Top 10 women’s pro Lori McNeil, who made the semifinals at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Pallilo and I looked at each other. What do we do? I said, “Charlie, I have no problem doing this.” I walked on the court and told Lucas, “You’re one of my favorite players, although I hated what you did against the Knicks. You’re a great coach, I admire what you do educating players about substance abuse, and my kid attends your summer basketball camp in Houston. He kind of worships you. But I have the court reserved so you have to leave.”

Lucas looked at me like “seriously?” I said “seriously.” I think that was the only time I ever impressed Pallilo.

Forward to about six months ago. A friend and I were having lunch at Cleburne Cafeteria on Bissonnet Street. Lucas walked in, noticed me, and came over to my table. He told my friend, “I was once playing tennis with Lori McNeil and this guy kicked me off the court.” Then he turned and kept walking.

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ROCKETS FALL TO WARRIORS

Critical takeaways from Rockets' 105-103 loss to Warriors

Rockets fall short against Warriors. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

This wasn't the typical Houston Rockets-Golden St. Warriors game when Mike D' Antoni and Steve Kerr were having an offensive battle of wits. James Harden, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets, was nowhere in sight for the Rockets Friday night. Although the Rockets are in rebuild mode, it was still an interesting game. The intensity was high throughout the entire game. Emotions between Stephen Silas and Kerr were heavy, as they were yelling and jumping up-and-down along the sidelines.

A series of runs and back-and-forth scoring gave a slight reminder of the old rivalry between the Warriors and Rockets. Steph Curry was having a tough game, but with 5.1 seconds left, he was able to create great separation from a step back and drained an incredible midrange shot over Kevin Porter Jr. It was heartbreaking because Porter played great defense on Curry throughout the entire game, with Curry only making 6 out of 22 shots. Porter had a tremendous first-half defensively on Curry and recorded an 88.9 defensive rating. Porter had a good feel for guarding Curry, he didn't allow himself to switch away from him. He anticipated passing lanes and ripped Curry a couple of times.

Besides Porter playing great defense, the Rockets played good as a whole. They finished with 10 steals. Their main technique was to switch everything on defense, and Kenyon Martin Jr. and Christian Wood did a good job. It's never easy staying in front of Curry and Jordan Poole, but if they could hold their ground for five seconds, it became possible. Porter did a great job at times by communicating on defense, so he could tell Jalen Green and Eric Gordon when to switch.

And speaking of Green--- he had a strange night offensively. He went 0-11 from the field but made two great plays in the fourth quarter. Instead of Silas keeping Green on the bench because of his cold hand, he kept him in the game for learning purposes. Green made an outstanding play on Curry at the 2:52 mark in the 4th quarter. Before that, he missed a shot from three but fought hard for the rebound, then found a cutting Wood towards the rim. Green might of struggled, but the effort was there.

This was a tough loss for the Rockets, but they are steadily improving. The Rockets are 3-5 in their last five games.

Up next: The Rockets face the Spurs on Tuesday night.

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