First came the reality of failure. When a team becomes humbled in the playoffs in the same manner as the Houston Rockets, the organization from the owner to the training staff tend to take a long look in the mirrors to get a sense on what went awry. That is the reality the Houston Rockets are currently in after unexpectedly being punched in the gut and ousted by the Portland Trail Blazers in their first round playoff series. After establishing themselves throughout the season it was expected for the Rockets to challenge San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and the other Los Angeles franchise, for the top spot in the West. Sometimes reality rears it's ugly head to show where you are weak. But after failure, there always comes another truth: reflection. This is where the Houston Rockets stand now, with a chance to reflect and to decide on their next course of action to turn their weakness into strength.
It is a well documented that Daryl Morey will attempt to make his usual free agent moves, along with his annual draft trades, to overcome his team's shortcomings. But what players would help the organization the most going forward? Whoever displays defensive intensity? Incredible athletes who can change the tide of the game on one play? How about three-point specialists? Yes, all of the above would be nice to additions to the roster. Morey could also pull the trigger to acquire Carmelo Anthony or Rajon Rondo. That would be going for it all right now. But even those moves might not be the best for the franchise. While there is mystery surrounding the Rockets off-season plans, there is one trait the team desperately needs for next season from the current squad of players: a team philosophy of taking charge in the clutch situations. A collective effort by the team to not the let the moments of the present slip away. That was the one attribute the Rockets needed when it mattered most this past season.
Now, are there individuals on the team currently who are capable of possessing such a quality? Yes, there is. Dwight Howard and James Harden carry the franchise on most nights, and are the marquee players whose words carry a certain extra weight. There has to be others willing to step up though. Every player on the roster needs to show up in the clutch. Portland was able to, and that left Houston reeling. But this happens when one of the younger teams in the league advances to the playoffs. Inexperience becomes more of a cold reality. Being indecisive or wild in games, like the Rockets tended to be against Portland, usually lead to more destructive results in the playoffs than the regular season. Young players such as Patrick Beverley, Chandler Parsons, and Jeremy Lin will learn from this, just as Howard and Harden will. Coach McHale must push his players into that mindset as well. The coach sets the tone and atmosphere for the team every season. It always starts from the top.
The Rockets front office recently decided to display the two championship trophies in the locker room to remind the players of the ultimate goal. While the symbol of winning it all remains a powerful one, there is also a story of the journey it took to get there. Those championship teams were filled with players not afraid to take charge. Players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Mario Elie, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, and Vernon Maxwell exemplified this trait. Rudy Tomjonavich led them to embrace that oft-spoken mantra of the heart of a champion. Their collective experience should serve, as a reminder for the current Rockets squad that there are certain undeniable traits a team must have to reach the ultimate goal. Their success is why we call Houston "Clutch City" after all. Now is the time to reflect on the past, but soon that will past for a new season: the time to improve.