I like Royce White a lot, and not just because of that gnarly neckbeard he’s got that easily eclipses the scruff and scraggle that will cover the rest of the Rockets’ league-youngest locker room. No, I like him because he’s one of those guys, those “future of the NBA guys”, the ones with the skill sets that seem to have no real limitation (but almsot invariably involve a big man with the ability to pass/dribble/both), the ones that teams waste first-round picks on to take a stab at being the one organization that can fix him and render him less “the next big thing” and more “the thing”. When I look at this new Rockets team, and my God, since the last time I wrote an article is this a new team, I see a litany of paradigm-shifters and positional-revolutionaries, from Motiejūnas’ aggressive Dirkness to Jones’ wiry rebounding prowess. What anyone else looking on sees,though, is a damn mess, and that’s perfectly fine because if there were ever a time in this league to batten down the hatches and pretend to exist in one’s own summer league for a year or two, this might be that moment.
This summer, the team that just represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals drafted a player that just a year previous had been pegged by most draft boards as a top 10 prospect, this player perhaps providing crucial backup at a pair of positions at which this team seemed woefully outmatched in said Finals. And the team that outdueled them, the reigning champion Miami Heat? A pair of the league’s best three-point shooters in all of its history, theirs for a paltry sum. And the twisted part of all of this? Those moves don’t even hint at the kind of league-altering world destruction that Mitch Kupchak hath wrought on this offseason, somehow transferring discussions about the Lakers from “Can they put one more run together?” to “Well, maybe Dwight Howard’s back is still messed up or somet… oh, who the hell are we kidding?”. Add in the upgrades in Brooklyn, Indiana and Denver and the sustained threats in San Antonio, Memphis and the other side of LA, and this upcoming season’s sure looking like an attractive one for the full rebuild.
A fanbase promised Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol and Howard cannot be mollified with Jeremy Lin and platitudes about building a title contender organically, but even the frothiest-mouthed Rockets diehard has to see the writing on the wall for the next couple of years. Whichever Team USA member’s team dominates the league over the next few years, we can all be rest assured that the ketchup and mustard, Howard-or-not, would not have been privy to this title hunt. This simply isn’t an easy fact to swallow, but the faster we do, the more likely it is that this rebuilding process actually produces a foundation for future success. And until then, we can all just chill and watch the arms race.