Harden and company need help for another long playoff run

Rockets on Texans path this season

P.J. Tucker is a key member of the Rockets. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rockets have been on quite a roll lately after starting the season underachieving. Their best player has been out of this world as they have strung together a couple solid winning streaks and have climbed out of the cellar, straight into first place in their division. Sound familiar Texans fans? The point is, your basketball team is on the same path as your favorite football team and, spoiler alert, it doesn't have a happy ending.

As we all know by now, the Texans ran off nine straight wins after starting 0-3 to become the first team since 1998 to make the playoffs after starting the year with three straight defeats. They ended up winning the division as an added bonus, but were quickly bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. The team was just good enough to capitalize on a weak schedule and some opponent miscues along the way to turn around their regular season and trick the sports world into believing they were a possible playoff contender. Unfortunately the post season proved to be their truth serum as their weaknesses were exposed and their best players were unable to carry the load, pick up the slack and get them to the promised land. Watson, Watt and company will get plenty of awards and recognition for the great year that they had, but the lack of a complete team made for an end to the season that turned out to be quite sad.

The Rockets have been playing great basketball for the last month and have gone from the second worst record in the Western Conference to a solid playoff team only one game out of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. James Harden has been on another planet as he has become the leading candidate to win a second consecutive league MVP, while single-handedly carrying his squad night after night with record-breaking stat lines. Harden broke the Rockets record for most 40 point games in a season, including 5 games in a row, and he tied Kobe Bryant for the NBA record for consecutive 30+ point games at 16, after scoring 38 in a loss last night to the Magic. He has done most of the heavy lifting while Chris Paul rehabs another hamstring injury and Eric Gordon rests a knee issue, but how long can he keep it up? A better question might be, even when Gordon and Paul come back, do they have enough firepower to make another run to the Western Conference Finals?

If you answered my last question "no" then you better hope Daryl Morey dives deep into his contact list and starts looking at ways to fill out his rotation and roster and make this team better before it's too late. The main difference between this year and other years, is that the Rockets don't have a surplus of talent on the team that they can afford to part with in order to improve and upgrade the roster. Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker have the most value around the league but the team can ill afford to part ways with either, as they both have stepped u their game and proved to be irreplaceable to Mike D'Antoni and his staff. Gordon has been up and down, but he is better than anyone else they have when it comes to scoring, shooting, defense and versatility. If Morey was to trade Gordon in a package, he would have to get back a Gordon-like player and more to make the trade worthwhile. His latest injury and struggles from the floor this season has made that possibility less and less likely. Tucker on the other hand has become more and more valuable on both ends of the floor and in the lockeroom, to the point that he has become untouchable. The fact that he has been friends with Chris Paul since childhood and is one of Harden's best friends on the squad only adds to the chances that he will remain a member of Red Nation for the rest of the season and beyond. So, if a trade doesn't seem to hold the answers to improving this year's team, what other types of moves could be the boost the squad needs?

The moves that have produced the best return on investment this year have been the savvy free agent pickups like Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers. The two have fit right in from the first day and played a style that makes it easy for D' Antoni to trust them and insert them right in the rotation and eventually the starting lineup. I really think the best chance for Houston to catch lightning in a bottle and find a player or two that may be able to strengthen the team by adding depth and talent, is by keeping an eye on the waver wire and potential buyouts of veteran players who are set free to give younger talent a chance to play. Tyson Chandler is a perfect example. He was released by the Suns after negotiating a financial settlement and was picked up by the Lakers to add leadership and depth to their front court. He has been huge for LeBron and company since he joined the Lake Show. Rivers has done similar things for Houston and so has House. Maybe a few more opportunities turning other teams' trash into H-town treasures is the way to go in getting this team Warriors ready and stocked for another run? Let's hope so, otherwise it may be an end to the season eerily similar to the one suffered by the football team down on Kirby just over a week ago.

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The Texans can address receiver in the NFL Draft. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Texans traded away Brandin Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday for a 2023 fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick in 2024.

Cooks’ move, while not eye-popping from a draft capital standpoint, opens the door for the Texans to pursue a receiver with one of the draft picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Houston has been known for having a top receiver for most of the franchise’s history. First with Andre Johnson and then with DeAndre Hopkins.

Now with the top spot up for grabs, here are some prospects at receiver the Texans could pursue with either the 12th overall pick or even into the second and third round of this year’s draft.

Quentin Johnston — TCU

Johnston has all the characteristics of a star receiver. He is 6 feet, 3 inches and weighed 208 pounds at the NFL Combine. The Temple native recorded a 40.5-inch vertical jump and 11-foot, 2-inch broad jump at the combine as well.

He hauled in 60 receptions for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns for the Horned Frogs in 2022 in a year that culminated in the College Football Playoff championship game. Johnston caught four passes for 139 yards in the Big 12 Championship Game, and he also caught six passes for 163 yards against Michigan in the College Football Semifinal.

Johnston’s biggest concern heading to the next level is his ability to make catches in traffic. In TCU’s College Football Championship Game against Georgia, he was held to just one catch for three yards. In order to reach his potential, Johnston will need a lot of development that will fall on the shoulders of Ben McDaniels and Bobby Slowik if taken by Houston.

Jordan Addison — USC

The former Trojan and Pittsburgh Panther caught at least 59 passes in every season of his collegiate career.

His best year came as a sophomore when he caught 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021. Addison had 875 receiving yards and eight touchdowns with Caleb Williams under center in 2022 for USC.

Addison, who stands at 5 feet, 11 inches, ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, had a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump at the combine. The Frederick, Maryland native’s consistency in college makes him an attractive pick for Houston that is going to be looking for versatile players at the receiver spot for the next signal caller under center.

Some of Addison’s drawbacks include his ability to win battles off the line of scrimmage when facing against physical corners. Similar to Johnston, he likely will not be there in the second round when the Texans pick, so if Houston really likes him, it might take the 12th pick.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba — Ohio State

Smith-Njigba could be the biggest question mark of the draft at the receiver position. After having a productive 2021 season for the Buckeyes, in which he caught 95 passes for an eye-popping 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns, he missed most of 2022 with a hamstring injury that limited him to just three games.

He stands at 6-foot-1-inch and 196 pounds, and he had a 35-inch vertical and 10-foot-5-inch broad jump at the NFL Combine. While excelling at the slot receiver position in 2021, having only one strong season is a big cause for concern.

If he is available after the first round, the Texans should consider taking a chance on him. If he is not, he might be too much of a question mark to take in round one.

Tank Dell — Houston

In a season that was defined by a lot of inconsistency from the Houston Cougars, the one constant was Dell at the receiver spot. Tank Dell, who’s real first name is Nathaniel but don’t call him that, caught at least five passes in every game for UH in 2022.

Despite being the No. 1 option, and in some weeks, the only reliable option at receiver for Houston due to injuries, Dell consistently produced, which is a trait every team in the NFL should love.

Dell finished the 2022 season with 109 catches for 1,398 yards and brought in 17 touchdown receptions for the Cougars. Tank officially measured in at 5 feet, 8 inches at the NFL combine. He ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, a 1.49-second 10-yard split and a 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump.

Dell’s biggest cause for concern is his size. If he is still available when the Texans are on the clock at 65, he could be the steal of the draft.

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