It’s finally over. I’m writing this at 7:18 AM Houston time. The Rockets have one game left, not just in the 2022-23 season, but in an entire era of Rockets basketball. Whether this piece gets published this afternoon or tomorrow after the season concludes, it will be relevant.
The tank is over.
Who knows what the future holds next? Personally, I think that improvement will come easily. The fruit is hanging so low that it’s smacking you in the face as you walk through the orchard. Get a point guard, add a rim protector and get some veterans. Voila - an NBA team.
Getting back to contention is an entirely different matter. That won’t be easy. Yes, we’re all praying for Victor, but so are fans of 13 other lottery teams. The Gods will only smile on one.
Regardless, we’re here. It’s over. Let’s reflect on the journey.
2020-2021 Rockets season
This was probably my personal least favorite Rockets season since I started loving this team in the late ‘90s.
James Harden demanded a trade. That alone was grounds for a good cry. Once the trade details came in, we all knew we were in for a long winter.
For some time, it felt like Rafael Stone was trying to stave it off. There was a brief period where the team had a decent net rating - I can’t remember the details and they're too inconsequential to research.
The WOW factor. Wow. Was the WOW for “Wow, I can’t believe anyone could think this is an acceptable NBA core?”.
The team offered Victor Oladipo a lucrative extension. Thank God he declined it.
I am pro-Stone because I am pro-tank. I sincerely believe this is a viable method of building an NBA contender, and I believed that before the Rockets started tanking. Any concerns I’ve had about this team’s direction stemmed from this season’s apparent efforts to pivot into mediocrity.
Luckily, it didn’t go that way. A blessed 20-game losing streak made sure of that. From there, Rockets fans would watch with bated breath as those same lottery Gods decided whether the team would keep their pick or send it to the
supervillains Oklahoma City Thunder.
They did not.
2021-2022 Rockets season
Confession: I watched about ten Rockets games in 2020-21. I’m not joking. I adopted the Charlotte Hornets because I love watching LaMelo Ball. I reignited my love affair with video games, and I started making beats. Basically, any excuse to avoid the Rockets was a good one.
By contrast, I caught most of 2021-22. Jalen Green was reason enough to be excited about the team.
Not to mention Alperen Sengun. At the same time, there were reasons to be frustrated this year too. The losing was one thing - some of us had long accepted that the Rockets would be tanking for the three consecutive seasons in which they owned their own draft capital.
Wood. Be. Tanking.
Perhaps we should be thankful. Christian Wood decided he was an elite isolation scorer this season. It gummed up the offense and alienated teammates. He played defense with the same vigor that one does the laundry or their taxes with. He helped the team lose.
Side note: Wood’s season in Dallas didn’t go so well, did it? Frankly, Rafael Stone is owed some apologies, and 2022-23 has made that apparent.
“How could you trade our best player?”. Looks like that “best player” couldn’t last as a sixth man on a team that didn’t qualify for the play-in. When your best player isn’t a top-50 player, it doesn't matter if they're your best player - you need a new one.
“Shouldn’t John Wall be getting minutes?”. Right. Wall’s NBA career might be over. If the Rockets had started him at point guard in 2021-22, it would have been to tank even harder.
Either way, this season was a little more fun. Green looked intermittently like the next Jordan Clarkson or Jordan Clarkson with Flubber on the soles of his shoes. Sengun proved himself to be a draft-day steal. There were reasons to be hopeful.
There still are.
2022-2023 Rockets season
If you were to trace Green’s rookie development on a chart, it would be messy. Jabari Smith Jr.’s development would be relatively easy to look at in comparison.
He was mostly horrible, and then suddenly, he was really good.
Hey, you’ll take that. The ends justify the means. Smith Jr. has star potential, and the probability of him being a bad NBA player now looks low. If you’re an All-Rookie enthusiast, this season has been a disappointment - he’ll be lucky to make the second team. On the other hand, if you’re a big-picture person, everything ultimately came up roses.
Meanwhile, Tari Eason has been a clear hit from day one. If you’re an adamant Stone critic, you’ve got one question you logically need to answer:
How did this bumbling oaf land significant non-lottery steals in two consecutive drafts?
Anyway, here we are. Stephen Silas’ last season as the Head Coach of the Houston Rockets. Depending on your viewpoint, that's either an unfortunate byproduct of the process or the reason you just ordered party hats.
(Aside: if anyone with any influence is reading this, no Scott Brooks, OK? It would be better to take a gamble on Mahmoud Abdelfattah. Nick Nurse is the best-case scenario, but there are many better alternatives to Brooks. He’s a proven commodity - and that’s the problem).
To quote pop songstress Natasha Bedingfield, “The rest is still unwritten”.
(Aside: absolute banger).
We don’t know what will happen next. Victor Wembanyama? James Harden? Jaylen Brown? Patrick Beverley and Josh Richardson? Still, we know one thing for certain:
The Houston Rockets are no longer tanking. Thank God for that.