JOEL BLANK

Rockets problems are far bigger than Carmelo Anthony

The Rockets have bigger problems than this guy. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Everyone wants to blame Carmelo Anthony for all that ails Houston's favorite basketball team. It's the easy way out, the fastest way to point fingers. The average fan and all the outsiders can say the aquisition of Melo is the reason the team is below .500 and can't seem to score 100 points anymore.  The truth is, the problems are way deeper than that and are spread far and wide accross a team and roster that is light years away from the squad that should have been in the Finals a season ago.

By now you all have read and watched and listened to me vent about how important the losses of Jeff Bzdelk, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were to this team. The defense has been a disaster through the first ten games and they can't get stops and can't slow down teams when they get on a run. Their two best players have been below their averages at best and have each spent time out of the lineup due to injury and suspenson. The team that was supposed to be able to score with anyone has found it difficult to score 100 points in a game lately. They can't make the most important shot in their offensive system, the 3-ball, and struggle to make free throws and even layups occasionally. Eric Gordon looks like a shell of his 6th man of the year self and has struggled to adjust to his new role with Melo on the roster. The list goes on and on. So, sure, the defense is bad, but there is so much more to this story and a majority of it starts and ends with the General Manager that loves to soak up the accolades but hates to be in the cross hairs of criticism.  

Daryl Morey is a General Manager that cannot stand pat, period. The same reason he has made a trade at the deadline virtually every year he's had a say so or control of an NBA roster, he can't seem to sit still and "run it back" with the same roster or close to the group that got you so far, so good last year. He was fine with Ariza and Luc leaving, which most observers agreed with, but where he screwed up was not replacing them with players that had similar skill sets and could play the same system the same way as their predecessors did.

He brought in a handful of guys that can't shoot the 3 ball and can't defend individually or collectively the way this team needs players to play in order to be effective. He made a trade to unload another mistake he made previously in Ryan Anderson and brought back a wasted lottery pick in Marquese Chriss that seems disinterested at best, as well as a back up point guard coming off major knee surgery in Brandon Knight.

The roster at first glance is exactly what I thought it would be, a bunch of dudes, just guys, a few folks past their prime and some more who were going to be asked to do things completely different from what they did a year ago, and of course, two of the best players in the game. there is no continuity, no chemestry and no chance of them playing the style and brand of basketball that they played all of last season as currently constructed. 

Morey brought in Anthony, a player that he had pursued for more than seven years, that he had to have and was convinced he was the missing piece to the Rockets championship puzzle. It was like a Wall Street wolf that was so obsessed with a stock that he buys it too high and way too late to have any ROI, but it doesn't matter because he finally got the prize he had coveted for so long! He was so adamant that Melo be in Houston that he ignored the negative past history that Mike D'Antoni had with him and basically told the coach that he would not only have Anthony on his roster again but that he better find a way to make it work.

That's not even taking into consideration the back story between the player and his first NBA coach, Jeff Bzdelik. Not exactly the kind of treatment you give a guy that won you more regular season games than you had every seen your franchise win in a regular season and the guy that turned your defense into a top six squad in the league as opposed to the bottom feeding "D" the team had played previous to his arrival. 

If the GM really believed in the squad that he constructed for this season and thought it was talented enough to win a title, then why was he in such hot pursuit of Jimmy Butler? Why was it rumored that he was willing to give up four first round draft picks and a couple of major rotational players for just one guy?

Is that the sign of a guy that liked what he saw in the first month of the season or a guy that knew he had plenty of work to do to try and re-construct a roster that wasn't going to cut it in a loaded and talented Western Conference, let alone compete for a title? Now that Butler has been traded to Philadelphia, that dream is over and the heat that has been on the H-town GM is getting to a boiling point. There aren't too many all-stars out there to be had and there aren't too many GM's in the West in a hurry to help out Morey. The Anthony situation is up in the air, but the rest of the roster should be too. Regardless of what happens with Melo, Morey had better be on the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to add better pieces to this puzzle and a supporting cast that can make shots, execute a system and get stops better than the roster he has right now. There's still time to right the ship and get back on course with sights set on a return engagement with the Warriors, but time is of the essence and there is no quick fix in sight.

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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