The Pros and a Few Cons to adding the Triple Double Machine to the Rockets

Should the Rockets pursue Westbrook? Why or why not?

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Last weekend when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded all-star Paul George, it signaled the end of an era and put the wheels in motion for the franchise to wave the white flag, hit the reset button and begin the tough process of starting over. Before they can move forward, however, there is still one big piece to move and that would be finding a trade partner or partners to consummate a trade for Russell Westbrook, their final remaining superstar. Say what you will about the passionate and outspoken former MVP, you can never question his ridiculous athleticism, incredible basketball abilities and the knack he has for overstuffing a stat sheet. After the initial shock felt around the basketball world when PG13 was sent packing, the rumors started flying about potential teams that might be interested in Westbrook and where he could end up when the smoke clears and GM Sam Presti has pulled the trigger on the last big deal of the summer of 2019. Miami, Minnesota, and Detroit were mentioned as the front runners to obtain the former MVP's services, but there was also a "long shot" mentioned in the Houston Rockets who are desperate for a big move that can catapult the team forward as it heads into next season.

Rockets Chris Paul , James Harden, Clint CapelaPhoto by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

If you are the Rockets why would you try and trade for Westbrook? Well for starters he has a great relationship with James Harden dating back to their days playing together in OKC. The two have remained close and Harden would love to add a player of Russ's caliber to his Houston squad as they try and re-tool for another run at the Western Conference. Both train in Los Angeles in the offseason and they frequently scrimmage together with a full complement of other NBA players on the campus of UCLA. The bigger question when considering adding Westbrook to the Rockets is at what price is the franchise willing to pay? The city seems to be over the Chris Paul love affair and would prefer a divorce gets done before training camp starts instead of marriage counseling and attempting to rekindle the fire between the Beard and CP3. Would Sam Presti take Paul's remaining contract of 3 years and 125 million dollars remaining for Russ or would the deal require a third team? Would the Thunder be more inclined to consider Clint Capella, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and draft picks instead? As a fan, which deal would you feel better about? On one hand, you have Harden, Westbrook and a full complement of quality secondary players around them or you get 3 future Hall of Famers, Austin Rivers, Danuel House, Gerald Green and a remaining roster comprised of free agents coming from a small pool of remaining available veterans.

Rockets Chris Paul James Harden, Heat Butler DragicComposite photo by Brandon Strange

Another reason the Rockets may pursue Westbrook is GM Daryl Morey is feeling the pressure of an owner in Tilman Fertitta who wants change and improvement and so far has seen little to make him feel good about achieving either with his teams' offseason activity to this point in the summer. Morey has wavered on his plan for next season, one day saying his team should be the favorite in the West next year because he has his entire starting lineup still intact while promising to add a quality free agent, then two days later swinging for the fences in trying to trade away three of his five starters in separate deals to stockpile first round picks in an attempt to bring in all-star Jimmy Butler in a blockbuster trade scenario. Morey can't get his story straight and the fans are getting restless, and no doubt so is the owner that has a deep desire to bring the Larry O'Brien trophy back to H-town after a 25-year absence. After all the optimism and hope the fans of Houston had heading into free agency, there is an overall feeling of despair and disappointment as time keeps on ticking on the Rockets future with every passing day and free agents keep signing everywhere but Houston. CEO Tad Brown promised fireworks this offseason with Fertitta at the helm, but unless he meant the show on July 4th that lit up the night sky of the Bayou City, so far we have seen nothing short of a few smoke bombs and a fizzling sparkler. Adding Russell Westbrook would be the kind of "Woj Bomb" that would allow the franchise and its GM to exhale while giving Fertitta, the city and its fanbase reason for optimism going forward.

Rockets Chris Paul, Tilman FertittaPhoto by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

So I've given you a few reasons why the Rockets should consider adding Westbrook, but what about a little reality check as to why they should pass on the point guard and move forward without him? For all Russ does well and believe me there are plenty of skills he has mastered, he is still a scorer and not a shooter. He shoots at a high volume, but at a lower than ideal percentage, especially from distance which is a prerequisite for being a Rockets player under coach Mike D' Antoni. He struggles to knock down the 3-ball while demanding the ball be in his hands for the majority of each possession his team has in any given game. Sound Familiar? Well it should, because no one has the ball in his hands more for his team on a night by night basis than Harden. Could the two co-exist on the court together, on the same team? Would there be enough balls to go around to make everyone happy? If Paul and Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers were frustrated at the end of last season with ball distribution what would they feel like if Westbrook was added to the mix? How would Russ feel and could he handle sharing the rock with Harden and deferring to him during crunch time? If he couldn't handle playing second fiddle to Kevin Durant, would he even consider trying it again with Harden? Sure trading for Russ would be a huge splash and garner a ton of publicity, but would it end up backfiring on the franchise when all that exposure turned negative the first time the Beard and his Brodie got sideways? The last thing anyone in this town wants is another chapter in what has been a soap opera of an off-season in H-town. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Russ is going to make 170 million dollars over the next 4 years? That might be the single biggest reason why not. If you thought CP3's contract was bad, do you really want to pay Westbrook over 47 million dollars in the final year of his deal at the age of 34?

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The Astros will look to Framber Valdez to pitch Game 6 of the World Series. Composite image by Jack Brame.

They may not have finished the regular season with the best overall record in all of MLB, and they may not play in one of the toughest divisions in the league. Yet, the 2022 Houston Astros showed plenty of signs this season that their pitching staff was operating at an elite level, and paired with a more-than-adequate offense, they were the best team in baseball all along.

Pitching their way back into the series

The World Series isn't over yet by any means, with the Astros needing to get the final win in Game 6 or a possible Game 7 to finish things off, but the performance their arms put on in games 4 and 5 has to instill a sense of destiny about what's to come. Let's go back to Game 3, where, due to tipping or not, the Phillies offense completely dismantled Lance McCullers Jr. on their way to handing Houston a disheartening 7-0 loss.

That gave Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead after the first of three games at Citizens Bank Park and left Houston searching for a significant flip of momentum and quick. Boy, they got it, with Cristian Javier righting the ship with his spectacular start, going six hitless innings followed by a non-surprising quality night from the bullpen to finish the combined no-hitter.

That tied the series, setting up a big moment for Justin Verlander. After his Game 1 implosion continued his World Series woes, the presumptive Cy Young award winner must've felt some pressure heading into Game 5, knowing that another disappointing start may cost his team the series. Instead, he finally gets his first win in the Fall Classic, making it through five innings while allowing just one run before his bullpen would finish things off for him. Speaking of the bullpen...

Pressly for WS MVP?

Let's talk about Ryan Pressly and his ascension with the Astros. He joined the team via trade in 2018, coming in as a middle-innings reliever. In 2020, then-closer Roberto Osuna suffered an injury, and Houston decided to move Pressly to the closer role. That change has paid massive dividends for the team, and there's been no better display of it than Pressly's performance in this World Series so far.

In Game 1, he enters in a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth and sits down the nine, one, and two hitters of the Phillies to give Houston a chance at a walk-off, though they would go on to lose in extras. In Game 2, he allows the only hit he's given up to the Phillies, which would score after an error but still held on to finish off the victory that tied the series 1-1.

After not appearing in the lopsided Game 3 loss, he enters in the ninth of Game 4, which despite being a 5-0 game, still had a high level of stress with a combined no-hitter on his shoulders, which he would get across the finish line. Then, the night after finishing that no-no, he has the most impressive outing so far.

In the midst of one of the most stressful games of the year for Houston, their bullpen allows a rare run in the bottom of the eighth, making it a 3-2 game and giving the Phillies a chance to put together a series-defining rally if they could take the lead and go up 3-2 in the series. Dusty Baker opts to trust his closer, bringing in Pressly with runners on first and third with one out in a one-run game, asking him to escape the jam and get a five-out save.

The first batter he faces, Pressly does precisely what he needs to do, getting a three-pitch strikeout to allow any out to end the inning, which he would get against the dangerous Kyle Schwarber to send the game to the ninth with the Astros still in front. Then he's faced with the heart of Philadelphia's order in the bottom of the ninth, with Houston still owning a one-run lead. Strikeout, fly out with a fantastic Chas McCormick assist, a hit batter, then a groundout to win the game.

There will be more offense to consider for Jeremy Peña, Alex Bregman, and others that are also firmly in the discussion should the Astros win the series. Still, with how Pressly's going, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Houston's closer takes home the World Series MVP trophy.

Run the playbook one more time

Before the trophies start getting handed out, Houston needs to check off that final box, which is getting one more win. Their recipe for success continues to be having one of their elite starters get as far into the game and with as minor damage as possible, then trusting their bullpen arms to navigate the rest of the way.

With the uncertainty of a Game 7, the Astros need that playbook to work in Game 6, where they'll have their "other ace," Framber Valdez, on the mound looking to replicate the success he had in Game 2, where he went six and one-thirds innings while allowing just one run. After the day off to rest the bullpen, if he can get into the middle innings with a close game, Dusty Baker will be able to piece together the rest with his cast of near-untouchable arms, and Houston will be champions once more.

Bench Framber

Astros Framber Valdez, Justin VerlanderBench FramberComposite image by Brandon Strange

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