Expectations are everything in the NBA. How you’re judged before the first jump-ball of the season determines how your season will be viewed in retrospect. That seems to be especially true of the Houston Rockets narrative. That cuts away from the truth, though.
Expectations are worthless.
Dwight Howard expected the Atlanta Hawks to treasure his return to his hometown. They traded him after a year.
Kevin Durant expected his detractors to back off when he won the NBA title. In fact, winning that title only made those fans feel vindicated in their disdain.
The Thunder expect that the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will make them title contenders. (Narrator from the future: They did not.)
What about expectations about the Rockets?
Three years ago, the Rockets were coming off a disappointing first round series loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on a shot that still induces acute bouts of depression, so we’ll move on.
The following offseason was a disaster for Houston. Chris Bosh played them and used the leverage from their impending max offer to get Miami to keep him around at the maximum salary. That decision in turn forced GM Daryl Morey to let do-everything wing Chandler Parsons walk in free agency to the rival Dallas Mavericks. Houston brought in the solid-yet-unspectacular Trevor Ariza and a group of misfits and rookies in the form of Jason Terry, Joey Dorsey, Kostas Papanikaolaou, Tarik Black, and Clint Capela.
That season was expected to be a retooling season. The Rockets would settle in around the 4-6 seed in the West and use their cap space to entice a star the following summer. The Rockets instead won 56 games and the Southwest Division. After a gentleman’s sweep of the Mavericks, they escaped a 3-1 deficit in the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers including one the most incredible games anyone will ever watch. They ran into the eventual champion Golden State Warriors but kept the games close. What’s more, they did all of that without Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas.
Thus, expectations were sky-high for the Rockets in 2015-16. They were furthered by the acquisition of Ty Lawson for spare parts and first round pick. The Rockets seemed to be serious contenders. Zach Lowe picked them to be the biggest challengers to the Warriors. There was talk that a great season could induce Kevin Durant to come play with longtime friend James Harden. Instead, the Lawson integration was a disaster, locker room tensions between Harden and Dwight Howard were apparent, Kevin McHale was fired, and the team barely snuck into the playoffs at 41-41. Durant wouldn’t even meet with Houston.
So guess what the expectations were for 2016-17? If you guessed, “not great, Bob,” you get an imaginary sticker. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson weren’t going to move the needle. Mike D’Antoni had proven he was a good coach, but not a great one. Still, once again, the Rockets bucked expectations and finished with 55 wins and the third seed in the packed West. After yet another gentleman’s sweep over the false MVP, they ran into a San Antonio team that figured them out. However, due to expectations being so low for the team, the Rockets took home Coach of the Year AND Sixth Man of the Year awards at the end of the season, and definitely should have the reigning MVP on their roster as well.
You know what happened this summer. You also know that the expectations are pretty high. Zach Lowe picked the Rockets to be the biggest Warriors challengers once again (thanks for that, Zach). Morey has basically stated that they’ve placed a bullseye on the Warriors. The expectation is that the Rockets will at least be in that tier below the Warriors. One injury to a major piece of Golden State helps even the playing field (even if the Dubs would still be the favorites).
Expectations, much like predictions, are worthless. They’re not worth the paper or screen space they occupy. All that matters is what happens on the court. Never forget, expectations can change or be repurposed in order to screw James Harden out of an MVP award.
Plus, you know, the Rockets disappointed the last time expectations were high and they brought in a star point guard. So let’s definitely not follow that path again.
Maybe let’s try to enjoy a team that’s going to shoot upwards of 50 triples per night. Let’s see what Tilman Fertitta’s management style means for the future of this team. Let’s enjoy the best point guard of the last ten years. And for the love of everything, let’s enjoy James Harden. He’s kinda the best.
Finally, if you insist on being a downer after the Warriors inevitably stomp the new-look Rockets tonight, remember this: the team that lost Golden State’s opener last year won the NBA title. So losing should be the better long-term strategy, right?
That’s the expectation, anyway.
Tip-off is at 9:30pm CT.
P.S. I’m so glad basketball is back. I’ve missed you guys.