WWE Wrap-Up

This week in WWE: Asuka and Sasha deliver a classic as tensions between Zayn and Owens begin to build

Banks suffered a nasty fall in her brutal match against Asuka. Photo by WWE.com

This is a weekly look at the action in the WWE:

 

Raw

Stephanie McMahon celebrated the success of the Royal Rumble and invited the winner of the Women’s match, Asuka, to the ring. She explained to Asuka that she may want to hold off selecting who she wants to face at WrestleMania because Alexa Bliss will have to defend her championship in the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match. Sasha Banks came to the ring to “get a few things off her chest.” She explained how she felt participating in the Royal Rumble and challenged Asuka to a match later that night. The announce team revealed that there would be qualifying matches for the men’s Elimination Chamber match. The winner of the Elimination Chamber will challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. The first qualifying match was the Last Man Standing match where Braun Strowman defeated Kane after flipping the announce team’s platform over him. Elias sang a new song in Philly, “Elias’ Night,” per usual, but Elias did not get to finish his song thanks to an interruption from his opponent, Matt Hardy. Elias won the match after Bray Wyatt caused a distraction.

Speaking of distractions, a distraction from the Mizterouge and a pull of the tights allowed The Miz to retain his Intercontinental Championship over Roman Reigns. The Revival earned a much needed win over Heath Slater and Rhyno. Michael Cole revealed that The Dudley Boyz will be entering the 2018 WWE Hall of Fame Class.

Asuka and Sasha Banks started the final hour with an instantly memorable match. It was as brutal as you would have expected a match between the two to be. Banks placed Asuka into the Banks Statement, but Asuka was able to counter it into an Asuka Lock submitting The Boss. The Bar retained their Tag Team Championships over Titus World Wide. The WWE gave themselves a pat on the back, in the form of a promo package for Ronda Rousey’s debut at Royal Rumble. John Cena took on Finn Balor in the main event and the final Elimination Chamber qualifier of the night. The Philadelphia crowd was behind Balor hard, and it began causing a distraction to Cena. Balor did all he could, but Big Match John was determined and won the match after hitting Balor with a Super Attitude Adjustment from the middle rope.

Highlight of the Night

Asuka and Sasha put on a PPV caliber match. The knees to the face, the dives to the outside, the submissions—this match had so many hard hitting highlights. Banks lost, but the match reiterated why she is one of the top wrestlers in the women's division.

SmackDown Live

Shinsuke Nakamura celebrated winning the Royal Rumble to open the show. Unfortunately for him, the celebration was cut short by Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, who are still furious about the way they lost last Sunday. They claimed Nakamura should be preparing to face them at WrestleMania, not AJ Styles. This prompted Styles to come to the ring and issue a challenge: Styles and Nakamura vs Zayn and Owens. Backstage, Daniel Bryan decided to make the match the main event to tonight’s show. Tuesday proved to be a happy Rusev Day after Rusev defeated Kofi Kingston, Jinder Mahal, and Zack Ryder to become the number one contender to the United States Championship. The Usos shared a promo where they explained how they have “locked down” the Tag Team Division. The Bludgeon Brothers defeated another enhancement tag team.

Charlotte was furious. She wanted to know who she will be facing at Wrestlemania, whether it will be Asuka or Ronda Rousey. The Riott Squad jumped the Champion, and Carmella raced down to attempt to cash in her Money in the Bank contract. In attempts to kick Charlotte back down, Carmella ended up kicking the referee, who was unable to officiate her match and “cash in” her contract. Baron Corbin defeated Tye Dillinger with an End of Days. Backstage, tensions rose between Zayn and Owens. The two will tag this week, but will face each other next week for a chance to challenge for the WWE Championship. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable defeated Breezango. The tensions between Owens and Zayn carried over to their match against Styles and Nakamura, and eventually they ended up costing them the match after Zayn left Owens to fight them, and lose, on his own.

Highlight of the night

Carmella’s attempt to cash in was hilarious. It had been a while since we even got wind of her trying to cash in. This week’s attempt was perfect, up until she actually made it to the ring. The reaction to the crowd proved people still want to see her cash in. Although it is what makes her feel so relevant, she is going to have to cash it in eventually.

The post Royal Rumble shows this week delivered like they should have. Raw gave us a first ever match between Balor and Cena that reminded us Balor can hang with the top guys. But, without a doubt, the match of the weekend, and perhaps the best match of the year so far, was Asuka vs Sasha Banks. The women’s division has been stale for months now, and this match, along with the Women’s Rumble, felt like a sort of reboot, on Raw at least. SmackDown seems to be moving forward with their stories, and, what do you know, they built two awesome matches for next week. Things are looking up, other than the ridiculous graphics. Who the hell thought those were a good idea? The Elimination Chamber and Fastlane will be the last stops before WrestleMania. With the card still taking shape, they should be some good ones.

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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