HOUSTON — The last time the Houston Rockets held their annual media day inside Post Oak Hotel in Uptown, the organization was drastically different — much like the world.
It was September of 2019, and the number one question surrounding the team was how the addition of Russell Westbrook could accommodate the Rockets’ desire to win a championship title. Twenty-four months later, the top question surrounding the Rockets was Stephen Silas’ ability to win games throughout the 2021-22 season with the seventh youngest team in the league.
The days of Westbrook, Clint Capela, and James Harden are long gone, with Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Christian Wood as the new faces of the franchise. The Rockets will begin the journey of their 55th season in franchise history on Tuesday, when they open training camp in Galveston.
But before hitting the road, the Rockets reflected on the tumultuous 17-55 record and the lessons learned from the prior season Monday afternoon. Here are three of the top takeaways from Rockets’ media day in Houston.
Stephen Silas has found his coaching voice
Stephen Silas is entering his second season as coach of the Rockets. And despite the team undergoing a significant rebuild with the loss of two Hall of Fame talents and substantial role players since taking over the job in October, Silas does not feel the 2021 season was a loss.
He says he learned a lot about the ups and downs of being a head coach in the NBA. But most importantly, Silas feels he has found his head coaching voice.
It was a journey of discovery that started to take form during the final weeks of a season full of trials and tribulations. And after an offseason of self-evaluation, Silas believes he is more comfortable and confident when compared to his inaugural season as Houston’s coach.
His head coaching voice goes beyond teaching the X’s and O’s on the basketball court, but putting in the effort to develop personal relationships with his players. During the summer, Silas took several visits to Miami to bond with Wood and is one of two sounding boards for Porter on and off the court.
But his attempt to build a bond with his players doesn’t stop at Porter and Wood. Every player that spoke during Media Day discussed how Silas has gone out of his way to develop an intimate relationship — including Alperen Sengun, who said he has spent quality time with Silas after he was drafted in late July.
“Tomorrow [Tuesday] is going to be a hard practice. I’m going to be teaching them how to be professional and what it takes to be a winning team. The grind it’s going to take for us to grow and to be good. We are also concentrating on off-the-court stuff to make sure they are taken care of and that they don’t feel lonely. We want them to feel great to be a Rocket.” — Silas
Winning is still a top priority for Silas ahead of the new season, but it appears that his second precedence as head coach is to help his players be just as prosperous in life.
Christian Wood is more motivated than ever
If not for an ankle injury last season, Wood may have received Most Improved Player of the Year honors and perhaps his first All-Star nod. He had a breakout year in 2021, averaging 21.0 points while shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 37.4 percent from three-point range, to go along with 9.6 rebounds in 32.3 minutes per game — all career-highs.
Each night he stepped onto the court, Wood did so with the high determination to prove that he was one of the league’s best big-men. But after a small taste of success on an individual level, Wood is even more motivated heading into the 2021-22 season.
Wood says he spent the offseason honing his skill set but with an emphasis on passing, as he expects more double-team coverages to come his way down on the low post. But his most significant determination is to get through the season fully healthy.
Wood appeared in 41 out of a possible 72 games and says he is back to 100 percent. He took a month off to make sure he gave his ankle the appropriate amount of time to rest and now is ready to get the season started.
Although his top individual goal is to make the All-Star team, Wood has not lost sight of helping the Rockets bounce back from recording the NBA’s worst record.
“I’m excited. I feel like we have a nice group of young guys who are very, very talented. J-Green has impressed me the most just in terms of his versatility, and him being able to shoot, and he’ll be able to drive with his athleticism. He’s been impressive. KP he’s been playing to his strengths, he’s been playing the one in some five-on-five. We’ve been looking great. We’re ready to run and gun.” — Wood
John Wall will be with the team, but will not play
Silas and Rafael Stone went through enough drama over the past 12 months with veteran players forcing their way out of the organization.
But before they can start building the pieces of a new season, Silas and Stone are staring down the ol’ too familiar problem again. This time, it’s John Wall who is trying to force his way out of Houston.
But instead of partying with a rapper in Atlanta or bailing on the team amid a road game in Sacramento, Wall will be an active affiliate on the roster as an advisor to the Rockets’ younger players.
Wall and Stone gave some clarity on the situation that the two parties will work on finding the five-time All-Star a new NBA home, but there are still no plans for a buyout.
During Houston’s final press conference in May, Stone mentioned that Wall “was fired up” about the possibility of returning for his second season with the Rockets. However, Stone credited real life and a change of perspective into the reason why Wall and the Rockets have agreed to part ways four months later.
“My job is to be a veteran presence for these guys until something happens. Nobody knows when that will be. But my job is to mentor these guys as much as possible, keep myself in shape, and prepare myself for whenever I get the call, or if I do.” — Wall