Note that this was written prior to the Rockets-Lakers Sunday night affair. The events of that game had no bearing on the author’s assertions. – Ed.
By the time this is published, the Rockets will probably be 4-6. They’ll likely trudge along near .500 for the entire season. And at this rate, there’s a safe chance they land at the 14th pick once again. But you know what? For the first time in years, I won’t mind.
This is the first time in years that I’ve really been intrigued by some of the thematic storylines. Remember that report a few weeks back after a tough home loss of Lin and Parsons taking practice threes after the game? I dug that. Some of the current on-court problems with regard to spacing…? I’m interested in that. Why? Because for the first time since 2009, the Rockets have a set core. Let me explain.
These past few years, the Rockets weren’t really a team. They were just a collection of assets. Now I know that that phrase was used pejoratively by critics of Daryl Morey’s management of the team, but I don’t mean that negatively – I agree with how he did things and with the Harden trade, we see it all paid off. But that’s what this was: a house to incubate asset growth until realizing an expected payoff. As I said all the time, in those years, it didn’t matter if the team got out-rebounded on consecutive nights or if other troubling trends materialized. It was irrelevant. “Group” issues weren’t of any concern. Those guys weren’t going to be around when it mattered. Their only purpose was for use in trade to land the actual cornerstone. And we saw that that’s how things played out. None of last year’s team’s issues are of any significance this year.
But now, things are different. We have our core. Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Marcus Morris, and Terrence Jones are all young and locked in for the long term. Almost all of them will remain with this team for the next few years. Sure, there will likely be another big trade at some point, but most of these guys will be staying. And that’s fun. Now, for once, team growth matters. I care about the trends and what I’m seeing on the court. I care about the players as a unit.
If the Rockets go on to land the 14th pick again this year, I’m fine with that. Why? Because that means they clawed their way to a near postseason berth with the youngest roster in the league. A roster that will stay in place and has a foundation. If they make the postseason and get blown out in four games in the first round, I’ll be thrilled. Why? Because they’ll learn from that and grow and come back better next year.
Remember my irritated rants last year when Matt Bullard would talk on the broadcast about how much experience the team was gaining from those close games down the stretch? The premise was absurd because we all knew most of those guys weren’t coming back. Team experience as a whole meant nothing and did far less than a high draft pick would have. But this year, and going forward, it’s different. These guys are all sticking around.
I want to know what the coaching staff can do to get Lin and Harden to mesh. I want to know if they can find another shooting threat for when Delfino moves on. I want to know if Marcus Morris continues his jump and starts being featured in the post. I want to know what happens with Jones and Patterson. I want to know if the offense continues falling apart when Jeremy Lin sits.
Some nights, this has been beyond ugly. But this has been a blast. For the first time in a long time, I know that what I’m watching are the growing pains of later fruit.