When Houston Rockets Head Coach Stephen Silas sat down for his post-game presser after their March 22 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was visibly different than previous ones.
Upon his shoulders, which were slouched with dejection, was the overwhelming weight of their ongoing 20-game losing streak. In his hand sat his face, buried, awaiting questions from reporters.
His posture had left first, but then it was his voice. It was strained and only managed to muster out the word “yeah” in response to his media session’s opening question. He didn’t say it with an attitude or snarkiness — there wasn’t any malice in his voice — it was instead just a result of Silas’ somber state.
The clip spread throughout Twitter, prompting media members, their outlets, and both opposing players and fans to show him support. They, like Rockets fans, understood that the first-year head coach was trying to balance the impact of losing your franchise player and a looming rebuild; leaving him stuck between a rock and a hard place.
To be frank, it was truly a tough situation to inherit. If he were in the running for the toughest start to a head coaching gig, he would’ve made for a prime candidate. His campaign would’ve launched when James Harden moved to the east coast. He then would’ve been elected when Cam Oliver made his season debut and became the 29th player to suit up for the team, which is an NBA record.
The Harden departure was inevitable. How badly the season unfolded was unpredictable. But still standing there was Silas, and behind him stood the army that’s dubbed Red Nation, who was ready to defend him back when the current rebuild neared its beginning.
Fast forward to the present day and it’s astonishing how quickly things have changed
With how ugly the Rockets have looked throughout the young season, the employment status of Silas has been a frequent talking point throughout social media. The frustration has been stemming largely due to not only the losses, but his rotation and offensive system as well.
As for the rotations, there have been instances where perhaps a tighter rotation was in order when the opposing team goes on a run that’s sparked while key Rockets are on the bench. There have been others where a looser lineup may have provided an energy change as the starters were getting outworked and the deficit was growing. Both have rarely happened, which has led to hands scratching head tops as people try to figure out what’s going on with the lineups.
Sure, the Rockets aren’t going to win many games - but they seem to be trying to. While the final result may still end up being a loss, there are subtle rotational changes that keep a game competitive which avoids embarrassment and sometimes maybe even a victory.
The biggest discussion though has been the minutes of Alperen Sengun, the polarizing rookie that was picked 16th in the draft. He’s become a hot commodity thanks to his with his vision, strength, and overall feel for the game, which has helped him average 9.4 points per game along with 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 19.4 nightly minutes of action.
Yes, he’s been impressive, but does that mean he’s ready to start?
As all fingers point towards Silas, none are pointing out that Sengun averages 3.2 fouls in those 19.4 minutes he’s getting each outing. The rookie from Turkey has shown that he’s not a project player, but still, there are adjustments to be made. Would heavier minutes for a player that’s finished with five fouls twice and at least three fouls six times lead to him frequently being in foul trouble? Probably.
The issue with pointing fingers is that it rarely tells the full story. All it does is indicate who’s to blame rather than applying logic to a situation.
Yes, Silas has struggled with his rotations, and if Houston is going to win games then that needs to improve. But how sure are we that their offensive woes are a product of his system rather than a lack of execution on behalf of the players? How sure are we that Sengun is ready to be featured in the starting lineup and to consistently defend without fouling?
Playing the blame game is easy, so I ask Rocket fans, how sure are you that your frustration with the recent struggles hasn’t blocked your ability to navigate the entire situation at hand?
The 12-game losing streak that Houston is plastered with isn’t tough to grasp. I mean, isn’t this what was expected when the organization decided to avoid opportunities to improve their roster with established players through trades in order to have a full rebuild?
Those improvements, of course, would’ve come in the Harden trade, but neither Jarrett Allen nor Caris LeVert became a Rocket. They could’ve also come if the Beard was shipped to Philadelphia, where they would’ve picked up defensive aces Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle.
A mentioning of this decision would lead to fans explaining that those players “wouldn’t have fit the rebuild” which could be true, in due time. But right now, it’s led to the current manic state that’s led to a search of who’s to blame for the ongoing struggle.
The simple answer? It’s no one’s fault.
The complex answer? It’s still no one’s fault.
If the rebuild goes according to plan and their young players along with future draft picks develop into what it’s believed they can be, this moment in time won’t matter much.
Houston decided to gamble instead of taking players that could potentially speed up a rebuild by passing on them and flirting with the draft lottery in hopes that they can consistently land one of the top picks until they are ready to make the jump back towards being a contender.
There hasn’t necessarily been an explanation on why they decided to build their roster this way, nor would there ever be in this situation. But after being harassed by the Golden State Warriors for years, the thought process isn’t tough to understand.
The Warriors had won a championship, and nearly another, before bringing in Kevin Durant. So while he had turned them into an oppressive force - they were a team that was otherwise built through the draft, while Houston had been built a different way. The Rockets were able to land superstars like James Harden and eventually Chris Paul then Russell Westbrook through trades, though they never had that complete chemistry, depth, and well-roundedness that was needed to capture a championship.
The front office chose the gloomy times of today with the belief that it’ll lead to brighter days in the future, which is almost similar to the 76ers “process”. The main difference here is that Houston is looking to win games with their youth movement while Philly was fine with losing, which somewhat backfired, because it crafted a culture of mediocrity.
This, perhaps not in such a depressing fashion, is what the Rockets wanted. There is only one thing that can determine whether the route they are taking will work or not and that’s time; which is why patience is constantly preached when a team is rebuilding.
But as you’ve probably been able to tell, there isn’t a whole lot of patience directed towards this team right now.
When a team is struggling, it’s common for players to get singled out. It becomes easy to look down a line of players and point at a guy that’s been struggling, and in this case, it’s been Kevin Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. has been plagued with the turnover bug and has been unable to find any consistency, which means that the burden of losing and the rumblings from fans has begun to creep into the back of his head as seen in his post-game tweets. At times, his play suggests that he’s not ready for the moment. This, in turn, makes it easy to forget that he’s a 21-year old point guard that’s operating a group of starters that hasn’t played more than 14 official games together.
That potential that he once oozed with isn’t gone, it’s just being compressed with the mental barrier of trying to play your game while also making sure to get your teammates involved. The hard part about professional sports is that you learn on the fly and do so in the spotlight, making you an easy target for criticism rather than a product of much-needed patience.
If you happen to find fingers that aren’t pointed towards Silas or Porter Jr, you might just find them pointed at heralded rookie Jalen Green. He hasn’t gotten off to the unrealistically hot start that fans expected of him, which has caused him to be a subject of criticism. The complaints only grow louder each time Evan Mobley provides the Cleveland Cavaliers with an impressive outing.
There were so many that were quick to describe Mobley as a project draft pick while convincing themselves and likely others that Green would step onto the hardwood and make an immediate impact; as if he isn’t a rookie. He’s had his struggles on the offensive end but has also shown flashes of brilliance, but because he isn’t scoring 20 points per night despite not even playing that amount of games yet - it’s somehow an issue.
So no, the state of the Rockets isn’t on Silas, Porter Jr., Green, or even Daniel Theis and Danuel House Jr. This is just the direction that was chosen.
If you haven’t noticed that the blame game is being played yet, just pay attention to the next time a media member says that Mobley should’ve been a Rocket or a fan wishes that he was. You’ll see a response that says well he didn’t want to be here so we don’t want him, which is a true statement - if you were to flip it around.
Back when reports surfaced that he wasn’t going to give Houston a workout, it came after a post-lottery draft process that consisted of the tiresome narrative that he lacked passion and didn’t love the game, or that he had “bust” written all over him, or that he simply just wasn’t the right guy. Once it became evident that both the organization and its fans wanted Green, Mobley was bound to be a Cavalier. He isn’t in Cleveland because he didn’t want to be a Rocket; he’s there because Houston didn’t want him to be here.
Each move that the front office has made has been one that they believe will result in the best possible outcome
They elected to give Silas his first head coaching job in the Association in the hope that he can eventually become a gem. They chose to build through the draft rather than grab guys that can make an immediate impact, then paired Green in a backcourt with Porter Jr. in hopes that they can thrive in a guard-oriented league.
If you agreed with their decisions at the time, then of course you weren’t expecting things to get this bad, but it’s the route that you supported. And if you have hated each decision up to this point, it’s far too early to fully assume that things won’t work out.
Instead of pointing fingers at each person in the organization, just try to have a little patience. There could end up being light at the end of the tunnel, but you won’t ever know until you get through the mud.