The list of reasons the Houston Rockets have become a vastly better team in just one season is rather lengthy, and something maybe best saved for a book one day recapping this truly amazing turnaround after a (hopefully) deep playoff run.
To really give the right amount of respect for everything that Les Alexander, Daryl Morey, and James Harden did to make the Rockets great again (no political puns intended), would take thousands upon thousands of words.
Until that time comes, we should talk about something that just doesn't get enough respect, not nationally, locally, not anywhere.
One of the least-discussed plots of the Rockets’ season was the fact that head coach Mike D'Antoni willingly accepted a "defensive coordinator" with the addition of Jeff Bzdelik.
Harden becoming the team's full-time point guard, might be the leading candidate for Rockets talking point of the year, and a close second would be the better shooting they have surrounding him with (and the perpetual OMG THREES AND LAYUPS storyline). But the yin and yang between D'Antoni and Bzdelik does not get nearly as much love as it should.
I'll always remember back at D'Antoni's introductory press conference. The whole city of Houston was perplexed by the hire, but Alexander reassured everyone, "hey dummies, you complained about the team never having an offense, well I fixed it, and I'm also tired of hearing about the team never playing defense, so I fixed that too."
That might not be exactly a direct quote, but it was pretty much the gist of what he was getting at.
D'Antoni brought the glitz, the glamor and the stats to Houston, while Bzdelik has helped keep the team from having a one-track mind.
"Players hear one voice offensively and one voice defensively," D'Antoni said recently when talking about Bzdelik's role on the NBA A-Z podcast. (For those interested, MAD Radio sat down with Laurel D’Antoni, Mike’s wife, and she does go into a little bit of detail about everything the coaching staff goes through.)
The NFL coaching model of having one coach run the offense and another run the defense is rarely the case in the NBA. There are plenty of coaches on an NBA bench, but the head coach is the guy that runs everything.
In Houston, it's a little bit different and more of a shared job. When an offensive play needs to be drawn up, D'Antoni goes to work and figures out what they need to do. For defense, everyone looks to Bzdelik.
It's actually pretty inspiring to see both guys working together. D'Antoni usually paces up and down the court and calls out what he want's done on offense, but on defense, you'll always see the players looking over to Bzdelik for instruction.
Seeing no ego on the coaching side of things might be a big reason why the players have all bought into the everything this season.
On offense, everyone has a job and they know what to do as they run D'Antoni's pick and rolls to perfection.
For the defense, there is a sense of trust and a level of communication that just wasn't there a year ago. Bzdelik didn't make the Rockets into the next Utah Jazz or San Antonio Spurs, but he's part of the reason the team exceeded everyone's expectations.
I mean, the Denver Nuggets scored the third most points per game this season, but they couldn't stop anyone on the defensive end so they are at home while the playoffs are underway.
Every year since Harden has been in Houston, the Rockets have made the playoffs — that's kinda amazing when you think about it — and while they made the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago, this team, this year, is the one that's truly special.
Harden upped his game, he's made the players around him better, and the coaching on both sides of the ball have helped tie everything together in a neat little bow.