We’ve mentioned it many times before on The Dream Shake, but it bears repeating: expectations get people fired.
The Dallas Mavericks surprised a lot of fans last year by advancing past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals. Instead of pushing the Suns to the brink and being able to come back this season with the goal of making the Western Conference Finals, the entire narrative shifted. The expectation became top 2 in the West at a minimum. The Warriors were getting old, and Luka Doncic is entering his prime and would have more time to develop chemistry with Spencer Dinwiddie and the shooters. Yes, Jalen Brunson left for the New York Knicks, but the Mavs traded a first rounder for Christian Wood to give Luka a running mate and a big man scorer that Dallas has lacked since a certain German played there.
The Houston Rockets dealt with a similar situation in the 2015-16 season. They were coming off a season in which they had grabbed the second overall seed in the West on the last day of the season, then completed a near-miraculous comeback from down 3-1 against the Los Angeles Clippers. If they had lost to the Clippers, Daryl Morey and company might have decided that the team was still a couple of pieces away from contention. Instead, they basically brought back everyone and traded a first round pick for Ty Lawson. I know Lawson takes the brunt of the hate for that season, but he wasn’t Houston’s only (or biggest) problem by a long shot. Kevin McHale was fired. So was J.B. Bickerstaff at the end of the season. Morey was on thin ice. That iteration of the Rockets pulled it together by bringing in Mike D’Antoni, who made the radical decision to make James Harden a full-time point guard and the rest is history.
The Mavs are a disappointing 16-16 on the season. Not bad enough (and too early) to fire Jason Kidd, but not good enough to be meeting the expectations that they created with their magical run to the Western Conference Finals. They’ve still got Luka and he’s good enough to beat anyone, but Doncic’s extension kicked in this season. The Luka Rookie Contract Window has closed, and they must now deal with the same issues that most teams with star players have to solve: how to surround a mercurial talent with enough pieces when that star is making a third of the salary cap. Still, they’re only four games out of first in the West and their point-differential paints them as more of a 5 seed than their current ninth place standing would indicate.
For the Rockets, I’d just like to see them compete. Can they do that? Because after tonight, they’ve got a 3-game road trip staring them in the face. And right now, I don’t this Rockets team winning games on the road.
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