For the last several seasons, on the week of the NBA regular season opening, we’ve offered up the record prognostications of the TDS writers and also gave you a chance to share yours. We also have a special guest joining us to give us their prediction. So without further ado, it’s the 2020-21 Rockets season prediction piece.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener):
It’s so hard to make a prediction for a team with this much unpredictability, especially surrounding James Harden. This season, I think we are going to anticipate that inevitable Woj bomb that pops on our phones every day until March 25, the NBA’s trade deadline. Stay on your toes, Red Nation.
Their apex is the third seed in the West behind the Lakers and Clippers. That’s if Harden stays with the team and continues to put up MVP numbers, if Eric Gordon stays healthy, if Christian Wood shows those same flashes from his preseason appearance, if John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins bounce back to be enough of who they were pre-injury, and if the team can acclimate themselves enough into Stephen Silas’s system.
However, the chances of the Rockets hitting on every single item of that parlay are slim.
One thing we can bank on — this will be an interesting season. The addition of Silas as head coach should put a spring in your step as a Rockets fan as we can already see some effects of a much-needed culture shift in the organization. We’ll root for David Nwaba, Wall and Cousins to come back into their pre-injury forms and wow at the marvel of guys like Christian Wood and Jae’Sean Tate.
If the Rockets do end up trading Harden, it’s because they are getting a significant package that will keep the Rockets in contention, so expect this team to be in the thick of things come playoff time.
Predicted Record: 42-30, fifth seed in Western Conference
Michael Brown (@UHBigRedHatGuy)
This season for the Rockets can go in a 100 different directions. If they keep James Harden, they will be a Top 4 seed in the Western Conference. I am convinced that the Rockets are playing the long game with Harden, and will not just trade him for the sake of trading him. If they do trade him, there is no way for them to get equal value, thus they will become a fringe playoff team. There are multiple aspects of this roster that I am excited to watch this season: Jae’Sean Tate, Danuel House Jr., Christian Wood, Boogie Cousins, and John Wall. Can 1st year Head Coach Stephen Silas help develop this roster into a contender with our without James Harden? I believe so, but it remains to be seen.
Ultimate prediction: Rockets enter the playoffs as the 6th seed, and get knocked out in the 2nd round by the Clippers.
Special guest former TDS Managing Editor Ethan Rothstein
The John Wall Experience will be super fun for as long as he’s healthy. I watched 25 minutes of him in preseason and I am all in on rooting for this guy. I think he and Boogie teaming up together coming off catastrophic injury sets the Rockets up to be narrative sweethearts, especially if they deal Harden and it’s a scrappy group of slighted underdogs who the big bad superstar blew off.
The only thing that could really jeopardize that, outside of their injury histories just making it feel unlikely to happen for a full season, is Harden not getting traded. While the recent leaks out of the Rockets front office sure seem like they’re motivated to do a deal, color me skeptical that anything happens before the deadline, and even then I’m not so sure.
With the trade deadline in late March this season, that’s a lot of months of basketball watching that will feel weirder than ever: Do we root for Harden’s success in the interest of wins and his trade value? Do we root for him to suck because it’s been exhausting defending him for 8 years only to request a trade at the first hint of things not going exactly his way? Every night I might feel differently! It will be exhausting.
So I’m focusing on the parts of Rockets basketball that will give me joy: John Wall running pick-and-rolls with Boogie and Christian Wood with shooters all around — and if Eric Gordon has his stroke back (a HUGE if over the course of a season, I know), I think this might be the best cast of shooters the Rockets have had with him, Wood, Cousins, House, Tucker, McLemore and Sterling Brown.
Bonus prediction: Every second Jae’Sean Tate finds the floor will be a delight and if the Rockets don’t make him a key part of a post-Harden rebuild I will be inconsolable.
Coty M. Davis (@Cotydavis_24)
With all the turmoil created by James Harden, it’s hard to predict what is in store for the Rockets this season. I believe this team has the potential to be a top-five seed. But this all depends on if Harden buys into Stephen Silas and his new teammates. If not, this team will still be in the running to qualify for the postseason based on their talent.
Harden says his personal goal is to be “the best basketball player in the world,” and I am expecting another MVP caliber season regardless of what is going on.
John Wall will flourish in Houston as he regains his All-Star form. And the Rockets should have one of the league’s best second units with Silas moving Eric Gordon to the bench. But the Rockets’ most significant improvement will be the production coming from the frontcourt. Each time they step onto the court, the Rockets will no longer be at a size disadvantage — unlike the previous season. DeMarcus Cousins’ and Christian Wood’s versatility allows Houston to play a five-out offense, and someone who can match the likes of Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokić on the defensive end.
This season will not end embracing the Larry O’Brien trophy, but the Rockets will be a dark horse should commitment and health permit.
Ultimate prediction: The Rockets will finish the season with a 45-27 record, but will get eliminated in a close seven-game series by the Lakers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
I predict we will be even more tired of James Harden rumors, because I don’t think he’s going anyplace for a while. The Rockets seem to be both attempting to get value for Harden (nearly impossible), while also not really wanting any trade to occur.
Also, even as a Rockets fan, and accustomed Harden defender, it’s difficult to be sympathetic to his position. He’s not Kemba Walker, or Anthony Davis, stuck on some truly dreadful teams. The Rockets have been good, often great. If the roster doesn’t look the way he likes, he should look in the damn mirror, not at Brooklyn.
As for the season, this is the most complete Rockets team in years, and a lot of it was just spun up out of nothing much. Which makes me wonder if Daryl Morey was similarly phoning it in during his last season? Like Mike D’Antoni, he didn’t do anything wrong, but nothing extra either. Perhaps he had the Philly job in his back pocket all along?
So, basketball, the ostensible reason for all this. This is an exciting Rockets team, once the caveats are out of the way (health, Harden). I am looking forward to seeing the complete roster play, especially about 15 games into the year. The roster is deep, the coach seems to have some real ideas, the Rockets have options. Other teams will largely not be able to deal with the Rockets scoring output and versatility, and positive garbage time will start early many nights.
45-27 3rd in Western Conference
I’m not sure if anyone has figured this out yet, but a lot of Houston’s season hinges on the resolution of the James Harden Trade Demand Saga (JHTDS). Oh, you had figured it out? Months ago? Oh.
I think the prospect of trading for Harden is a daunting one for teams. They know they will be gutting their rosters for him and that is always a tough price. I also believe that Tilman Fertitta imagines a world in which arenas have full capacity and the Rockets have Harden to draw in sellout crowds post-COVID. Are John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Christian Wood fun? Heck yeah. Are they going to sell out Toyota Center every game? Eh...
Every year I say the same thing about the Rockets: if Harden stays healthy, the floor is 50 wins and a spot in the West. That projects to 44 wins this season, but doesn’t take into account Harden’s mental state, which is clearly not in a great place. The team also appears to be lacking a “Guy who yells at everyone during timeouts and gets them to try harder” now that Russell Westbrook is gone and P.J. Tucker is disinterested. We’re going to see the Rockets get blown out a lot this season.
As for things to be excited for, the aforementioned Wood and new head coach Stephen Silas are at the top of the list. Wood brings a youth infusion that we haven’t seen in a while, and Silas has said all the right things so far in handling the JHTDS.
Prediction: 44-28, 6th in the Western Conference
Conrad Garcia (@ConradBuckets)
Last season, I was confused as to how good that Rockets team would be. This season, I’m even more confused.
The success of this Houston Rockets team hinges on so many what-ifs. What if Harden leaves? What if John Wall isn’t as good as he once was? What if Christian Wood isn’t as good as we think he is? (The good news that both of those guys looks great so far.) What if Cousins and Nwaba can’t stay healthy? What if Eric Gordon never looks similar to the guy that won Sixth Man of the Year?
At their worst, this is a team that has a bunch of guys that are shells of their former selves with a newly added center/power forward that bamboozled this team into a contract after 20-ish good games last season. At their best, they’re the ‘17-’18 Rockets lite — Harden, a good point guard, a good, athletic center, and some strong, athletic wings who can defend and shoot — and that’s not the worst comparison in the world.
Prediction: 44-28, 4th-6th in the West
Darren Yuvan (@DarrenYuvan)
In the SB Nation league-wide preview, I said that if James Harden remains on this team, they’ll be competing for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and I’m sticking by that story.
I think this team has the right combination of veterans with a chip on their shoulder or something to prove and younger guys looking to make a mark, and I think they’re going to really surprise some people who have predicted (i.e. rooting for) this team to fail.
Christian Wood’s gonna be a beast, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins should have bounce back seasons, while James Harden will be looking to shut up critics. This team has low national expectations but a bunch of guys determined to make their mark, and I think that’s a bad combination for the league.
Prediction: 45-27 4th in the West and a trip to the Western Semis once again
What’s your prediction for the season?
This poll is closed
NBA title, baby!
Top half of the West playoff seeding, Conference Finals or Semis
Bottom half of the West playoff seeding, first round exit
Miss playoffs entirely