After eight days of no Rockets basketball, it definitely feels like a breath of fresh air and a newfound energy with the Rockets returning to the court tonight.
The Rockets have a great opportunity here to put the first half of the season behind them and move forward, especially when the last month is one you’d like to forget.
The Rockets won just two games in February and lost many more than they won. But after not watching them for a week, it almost feels like it doesn’t really matter anymore.
For the first time in a long time, the Rockets are playing with zero expectations. They’ve always had this pressure to perform well or to perform like a playoff team, but those are turned off now as they’re 6.5 games back of the play-in series.
I’m not saying the Rockets don’t have a shot at postseason basketball this season, but ask any NBA or Rockets fan on the street and they’re not expecting the Rockets to be there in late May and early June.
The second half of the season technically begins today, but for the Rockets, it will begin in two weeks once the dust settles after the NBA Trade Deadline. At that moment, the Rockets can ride with a core and stick with it.
If there’s one thing the Rockets have lacked this season, and for the last few seasons, it’s consistency.
Russell Westbrook was traded in December. John Wall came in and is still learning on the fly.
James Harden was traded in January. Victor Oladipo came in and is still learning on the fly.
Christian Wood left the lineup in February. Boogie Cousins left the team. There’s been zero consistency with this team.
Once the Rockets make their inevitable transactions, the roster and lineup will shake up once again. But after that, the Rockets might be able to settle down and gain something positive from this season. They can finally pick a core and ride it out for the rest of the season to build momentum for the offseason and beyond.
Now comes the ever-telling question, should the Rockets tank?
In order to answer this question, we have to define tanking.
My definition of tanking is losing games on purpose in order to improve draft position. In the Rockets situation, a bottom four league record will give them roughly a 52% chance to beat the protections on the pick they traded to Oklahoma City in 2019 and allow them to keep a pick that will land somewhere 1-4. Those are odds slightly better than a coin flip.
Would you let a significant moment in the franchise be determined by a coin flip? If the Rockets get lucky and retain that pick, nobody will be happier than I. But what if it doesn’t work?
The Rockets could continue for the rest of the season, lose their remaining 38 games, create the longest losing streak in NBA history and still not get a pick for it. How brutal would that look for the franchise?
The Rockets will (hopefully) win a game (eventually), but what I’m looking for is a competitive team that shows signs of development. Record doesn’t matter to me.
We need to see strides from Jae’Sean Tate, Kevin Porter Jr., and Christian Wood (yes, even Wood, who still hasn’t shown his best basketball yet). Even young guys like KJ Martin, Justin Patton and recent signee Anthony Lamb. Play these guys a decent amount to improve their development. If that results in losses, cool. If that results in wins, great. Any player or fan or any person associated with the Rockets that doesn’t want to see the team win basketball games is counterproductive towards this rebuild. You play to win the game.
For the first time in a long time, this team’s measurement isn’t wins and losses. The measurement is the discovery of a niche and identity. The growth isn’t assigned with a numeric value. It has a bit of a youth rec league basketball feel to it. It isn’t about winning the championship, it’s about getting a little bit better every day.
Yeah, it might suck to see this team lose again and again. It won’t be fun to watch other teams in the playoffs this year. But if the potential of this doesn’t excite you even in the slightest bit, you probably aren’t a true Rockets fan.