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Denver vs Miami - A new hope for Rockets fans?

Talent, Culture, & New CBA Realities

2023 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets
2nd Round 2 Time MVP, Finals MVP
Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

I hope you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs this year, because they’ve been great. That’s what inserting uncertainty can do for a competition. Instead of a coronation, we had a competition. We had the expected (if you were paying attention) in that the best team in the NBA all season, Denver, was the best team in the NBA at the end of the season. We had the unexpected - a play-in team not only made the Finals, but worked certain contenders (Bucks) like a speed bag. That’s not bad.

(So much for Eastern Conference Dominance for another year.)

What we didn’t have was a triumph of super teams, of aggregated colossi. We may not really see that sort of thing again, given that this NBA CBA, according to almost all experts in the matter, is a true “hard cap” on NBA “ over the cap” spending like the Warriors or Clippers. Now, this may lead to certain tearful breakups, but it also should lead to some more hope for teams that didn’t manage to assemble the Traveling Wilburys.

So far, so interesting, but what does this mean for the Rockets? Possibly something very good.

First, Denver is largely an organic team. Denver drafted three of its best four players. The one they traded for was a victim of Orlando’s “Perpetually Promising Rebuild” not quite working, again. (Which is why I’m not as enthused about the Magic as some. Let’s see something, first.)

Denver drafted an MVP, and now, a Finals MVP, in the 2nd round. There’s of course a painful Rockets angle, but it’s widely known at this point. They drafted Murray #7. They took a risk on a falling Michael Porter Jr. in the draft, betting they could get some good years before he imploded in some way. Those players are largely on their second, not third, contract.

Then Denver cleverly added good, but not too expensive veterans in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, as well as drafting a useful guy out of Kansas somehow in Christian Braun.

The point being, this isn’t a spotlight team, it’s just an excellent one, with a strong “team first” culture. Their coach, Michael Malone, was fired by the Kings.

Also notable, and hopeful for Rockets fans, is that Jokic’s “defensive shortcomings”, which are real, he’s not fast, were overcome. Denver added a strong, mostly traditional PF in Gordon who IS fast, and two really solid perimeter defenders in Caldwell-Pope and Brown. Porter Jr now competes on defense, and is really tall, which makes up somewhat for him never passing.

Now Jokic’s best traits - great rebounding, being a giant brick sh*thouse, come to the forefront, instead of his worst - foot speed. Centers often look better on defense when guards and wings don’t get launched from an aircraft carrier catapult at the rim. It takes a special defensive center to be the stopper for a whole defense.

I’d submit that for the Rockets, Sengun will “suddenly turn a corner” on defense when the perimeter defense improves.

That brings us to some other Rockets points. The Rockets have drafted a lot of talent. I truly believe this. So much so that it’s unclear if they can develop it all, and also compete fairly soon. Now, do the Rockets have an MVP? That very much remains to be seen, as of course, only one player wins that per season. Do they have a team that has the high end talent to compete for titles, if it goes well? I think so.

Even if they don’t, though, look at the other Finals team - Miami. No one on Miami is any threat to win an MVP anytime soon. Yet, with, damnit, Heat Culture, great coaching, and their tenacity and intelligence, and ability to find diamonds in the rough, on two way deals, the Heat were in the Finals.

If the Rockets can find a way to develop their talent, and rebuild their culture (maybe one of the more serious losses over the past three seasons), there’s no reason they cannot compete for a title as their young players reach their early primes.

(Because, yes, that matters. Denver is young, but not 20ish. Development takes years, and next season will find out just how much has been happening in Houston over the past three seasons. Because even if you have a Cunning Plan, those seasons still count.)


These Finals made me feel

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Hopeful For The Rockets
    (31 votes)
  • 20%
    Happy not to endure the usual suspects, narratives.
    (24 votes)
  • 25%
    Ready for the draft and summer league.
    (30 votes)
  • 5%
    A Mile High.
    (7 votes)
  • 16%
    All of The Above
    (20 votes)
  • 6%
    (8 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now