Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The 2-3 Houston Rockets's acquired James Harden on October 27th and, after a fast start, have tapered off. It's important to remember, this is a young team with a lot of upside and a great future but the future isn't today.
The Rockets currently sit at 2-3 after a hot start against Detroit and Atlanta they have dropped three straight. Several fans have questioned Kevin McHale's rotations, his coaching, and called for moves to be made in the starting lineup. What is getting lost in the shuffle is that amidst all the hysteria of James Harden's arrival in Houston is that the Rockets are a rebuilding team. The roster is unfinished. The team has two rotation players left over from last season, as of today this Rockets roster has been assembled for two weeks. Just two. With all that being said, we need a reality check here on The Dreamshake that was mentioned last night in the game thread but bears repeating. This team has a long way to go and I'd like to take this opportunity to go ahead and talk about a few key subjects. First, we'll look at the roster as assembled. Then we'll look at the impetus to make a trade or change. Third we'll look at our coach and his philosophy. Lastly, we'll look at the grand scheme of things.
First things first, the roster as it stands today. The bulk of the scoring falls on the backcourt. Jeremy Lin and James Harden are talented guys; make no mistake about it. They are also prone to turnovers, however. Jeremy is prone to turnovers when he's pressured. He's also prone to turnovers when he drives into the lane without a plan ahead of time (We've seen this on numerous occasions). James Harden is prone to turnovers by trying too hard to facilitate for his teammates. He's also giving the ball up at an alarming rate because he gets trapped in double teams. There's a second component to the turnovers off double teams, though. The rest of the team seems content to play spectator. We've seen it on several occasions where Harden gets trapped with the ball and the only player moving for the ball is Jeremy Lin and that pass gets picked. Harden makes risky cross-court passes as well but the pass is usually on point. Defensively the roster is a pretty tenacious unit with Jeremy Lin's skills as a ball hawk and Omer Asik's astronomical rebound numbers. The paint is a relatively intimidating area when Asik is in but that's the only time it is. Patrick Patterson has had relatively notable defense against some of the league's best power forwards, as well. Let's be frank, if a guy like LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph come in and drop 20 points on your power forward that's what they do, the only thing your defender can hope to do is make them work for it or make them defend on the other end, which Pat Pat has done. Chandler Parsons has been relatively quiet this season up until last night's game against the Grizzlies but chalk that up to it being his second year and his role having been altered and I don't think there's much room to complain about Chandler. The bench is drastically suspect but you can get the feel that McHale is still looking to find a feasible bench rotation to help his starters out. The impact of gutting your roster is that it's not going to be a very pretty transition out of what you had but there will be more on that idea later. This does segue into our next discussion well, however, in that we need to figure out just how pressing is the need to change this roster with a move?
We have to look at the roster and ask two things. First, is a deal needed? Second, can a deal be done? The Rockets have been assembled for two weeks. The team was gutted over the course of the summer and a franchise player was acquired the day before the season started. I want you to step back and really wrap your mind around that. These players have had five practices as constituted together. Up until the final roster cuts were announced a mere two days before the season opened McHale didn't know he would have to work with, then the day before the season tips off, everything changes (Game strategy-wise) with the acquisition of James Harden. Did the Harden deal make the Rockets no longer a rebuilding team? The Rockets are a 23 year old up and coming shooting guard on a team with a bunch of second and third year players with only two roster holdovers from the previous season sounds like a rebuilding team. This calls into question this first component, namely that a deal is needed. Would we be overjoyed to see Kevin Love come in and man the power forward? Absolutely. Is it needed? I'm not convinced it is. This team has a lot of growth and learning to go through this season and I have a hard time believing the Rockets made Lin and Asik's bank accounts bloat just for laughs. Harden is going to be around for five years. Ultimately, the Rockets trying to upgrade anything other than the bench at this point would be putting more uncertainty into a lineup that has shown it's not even able to adjust to the drastic changes placed on it on October 27th. The second thrust of this consideration is whether a deal can be done. Look at the roster. I'll give you a couple minutes to do it... Did you check the Rockets.com site and see it? Who is there to trade out? Lin, Asik, and Harden aren't going anywhere. Delfino has proven to be too useful. Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson only go if you have a good deal for a starter lined up because the bench certainly doesn't have anyone worth promoting. Marcus Morris has started strong but after his dumpster fire of a rookie season do you think he's netting much back? Even from a salary-matching standpoint we're in a bad way with the sheer volume of players that would need to go and then you run into roster number concerns. No, my friends, the raw ingredients for a deal are not there. We dealt the Dallas and Toronto pick along with Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin for our franchise's future. The cupboard is bare. Also, despite what many Rockets fans would like to admit, Sergio Llull, although apparently one of the best PGs in the world, is not going to have anyone shipping out a Kevin Love for his draft rights. So, we've got this roster and now we have to look at the man in charge of keeping it running.
Running is a gracious word and I may have to swap the term to sputtering. Kevin McHale has been forced to have players log heavy minutes. We can complain all we would like that Harden shouldn't be playing 40 minutes a night but when we look at the bench and we look at the need for points, what do we expect? Tony Douglas and Daequan Cook cannot shoulder the scoring load of James Harden. The rest of the starters (Jeremy Lin notwithstanding) don't seem too interested in playing basketball so much as they want to watch James Harden play basketball. Carlos Delfino really needs to be dialed in on a given night to do damage to a team. Cole Aldrich has shown signs of offensive skill but defensively and rebounding-wise he's just maddening. Marcus Morris is showing signs of "getting it" but he's as equally frustrating when he's on the floor. Coach McHale has had to adjust to a lot on the fly. In the game against the Grizzlies McHale has an opportunity for his first "tough love" session. Unfortunately there's no video of it I can find quickly for this article but in the fourth quarter as Jeremy is trying to lead the Rockets back into the game he calls for a pick and roll with seven seconds left on the clock. The players space the floor and actively tell Jeremy, "No." This is flat-out unacceptable. Coach McHale was at the helm of some Timberwolves teams that had some growing pains and this will be the first time that K-Mac will have to address something of that ilk here in Houston. It's to be expected, all different personalities, totally new team, a pair of frustrating losses hanging over your head, but this is where growth happens. When the Rockets are getting behind late in games people question Kevin's rotations but it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Do you substitute defensive guys and fall further behind? Do you sub in offensive guys and hope to catch them? Do you maintain the status quo and hope momentum falls into your lap? No matter what there's a draw back to every plan. Do you throw in the rookies for significant minutes for a different look or hold on to them as a deterrent? Do you let the team build continuity because several of the guys on your roster came in expecting time (Either through their trades or their signings)? The rookies came in without that expectation and we're five games into the season. If the Rockets make it to 25 games with a bad (Read: .25 win percentage) losing record and the rookies haven't logged a single minute, then yes, get out the pitchforks and torches. Shy of that, McHale has to integrate a huge amount of new plays, rotations, and personalities and he deserves some slack to be cut regardless of how you feel about your favorite player. Your favorite players may be an integral part of the future but the future isn't here yet (That's how you do a transition sentence, kids).
The Rockets enter into the next offseason with enough cap room to offer a fat contract to another player. There is a pretty fair free agent and restricted free agent crop next season. At the very least there's a great deal of players you'd want to field one of the stronger benches in the NBA. The Rockets are young, they're learning, and they're going to need to develop stability. There is room to upgrade the starting line up and introducing one new player in the lineup won't damage anything. The important thing to remember is that the Rockets you're used to seeing aren't there anymore. We complained a lot about the wheel of mediocrity for three years but that bred continuity. The current Rockets don't have that. Remember that when you're clamoring for a big splash or a bunch of moves to be made. If you keep turnover going you're not going to find that cohesive basketball you want. That's not to say you need to be content with what you're seeing or that Daryl Morey cannot make another move. That's to say that it may be a better idea for the offseason to be the time to start patching up the holes on this roster. More to the point, if the Rockets do poorly enough, they don't convey their pick to anyone (If they make the playoffs their pick becomes Atlanta's via Brooklyn trading the pick originally obtained in the Terrence Williams deal to Atlanta for Joe Johnson). If that pick is good enough that can turn into something worthwhile. Motiejunas and Jones are yet to see the floor and Jones looked to be a difference maker in the preseason and summer league. The thing here is patience in general. The Rockets have to have their shiny new toys (Lin, Harden, Asik) log some rough minutes so that they can learn to win and learn to lose as a team. The depth we've tended to enjoy isn't there (Cry depth all you want, right now we have bodies who haven't played NBA competition and it's all an unknown, that's not depth until it's a known commodity). The experience we've had over the years is gone. The future in Houston is bright but it's still just that. It's the future. No amount of short-term patchwork moves or prayer for a big splash will expedite time. We all knew this year was going to be ugly and getting James Harden put the light at the end of the tunnel. We need to not lose sight of the fact that we're still IN the tunnel.
Fell free to call me a moron in the comments below.