This was really predictable.  The team makes a blockbuster trade and team blogger subsequently scrambles to compose a list of the top factors predicating the team’s success, citing the recent transaction above all else.  Oh so, so predictable.  But this really wasn’t that obvious.  You could argue Harden’s the biggest factor; or you could argue for the Howard maintenance plan, depending on how you see it.  For instance, if Dwight’s not healthy, Houston doesn’t stand a chance.  But Lawson’s production is the item of greatest variation from last season’s mean.  Harden is pretty likely to be about as good again, and Howard is pretty likely to have better health, if even only slightly.  (If he only plays half a season again, they already won 56 games withstanding that output).  But Lawson is what can push the Rockets completely over the top.

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I can’t stop watching this.  When Hakeem moves, birds take flight.  The sun sets brilliantly in the horizon.  A cool summer breeze fills the air.  This is beauty in motion.  Cue other imagery.

Hakeem, man.  I didn’t appreciate you as a 10-year-old kid.  I thought those dance moves were normal or just kind of cool.  I didn’t realize if you played today, you’d break the internet with a nightly Vine.  And I’m embarrassed that I wanted to trade you for Doug Christie, Kevin Willis, the #5, and #12 when that was on the table.

Two things come to mind watching this clip.  First, I’ve never found the right word to describe Dream’s movements.  ‘Fluidity’ doesn’t suffice.  There’s a certain rounded, liquid quality to the way he moves on those spins that isn’t imitable even by the closest greats in the footwork department in Kobe and Michael Jordan.  I don’t know how to expound.

Second, what makes Steph Curry so entertaining, and what makes it unfortunate that Hakeem missed the Internet era, is that both players’ styles embody the term ‘imagination’.  There have been other greats, even the greatest of the great, but they all were/are improving upon things that are already in our conscious, or putting their personal flavor upon the move itself.  Kobe basically was Jordan, and Jordan himself was just taking things that Dr. J was already doing.  Shaq was just a more powerful version of other big men.  And even Iverson’s crossover was just an exaggerated version of something already created.  But Hakeem and Steph Curry did things that people don’t think is in the realm of possibility.  It’s not that a pullup 3-pointer is inherently more difficult than a Jordan turnaround, but people just don’t do it.  How did this become a conversation about Curry?

Hakeem, of course, shared the court for team Africa with Dikembe Mutombo, a pairing that could have been possible, as I tweeted earlier in the week.  Recall that the first iteration of the Barkley trade would have seen Houston send Sam Cassell and Robert Horry to Denver, Mutombo to Phoenix, and Charles to Houston – meaning Houston could have kept Mutombo for themselves, had they desired.  Would opponents have ever scored?






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Clint Capela was the greatest postseason revelation in Rockets history since Rudy T. invented the concept of the modern day stretch 4, sliding Robert Horry up into Chucky Brown’s spot in the lineup.  Okay, maybe not.  But anyone who watched this team last year, from the regular season into the playoffs was equally in shock over Capela’s insertion into the postseason rotation, and subsequent contributions.  Like, this guy played like a total of seven or eight minutes the entire year and then promptly went nuts in the real games, catching lobs and blocking shots like he didn’t know what was at stake.  Because, as Forrest Walker put it later, Capela literally didn’t know the difference or that there was any difference from the regular year.

But of course, the Dwight Howard maintenance plan is primarily about its namesake, Dwight Howard.  There isn’t really much left to debate over its efficacy: Howard came back fresh and dominant after sitting out over half the year last season.  And there isn’t much room for debate, probably, over its necessity: there’s nothing more important to Houston’s title hopes than a fresh and spry Dwight Howard; perhaps no force in the league more disruptive than a healthy Dwight Howard.  And there’s historical precedent: see The Dwyane Wade Maintenance Plan (2014-2015) (Heat rest Wade for half the year), also see The Tim Duncan Maintenance Plan (2010-2015) (Spurs rest Duncan for half the decade).  But would Howard be willing to comply?

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dmo

If Donatas Motiejunas were to have entered this summer’s NBA draft, he undoubtedly would have been a top-5 pick.  He’s a legit 7 feet, with above average defensive ability, one of the best arsenals of post-up moves in the league, and passable 3-point range (37% overall from deep).  He finally started putting it all together last season before a back injury sidelined him for the playoffs.  Curiously, his value remains underrated even among some factions of Rockets fans.

Motiejunas is the third most important key to the Rockets’ season because the options behind him have thinned, and the Houston roster really has no other holes.  That’s an amazing point to consider: the Rockets now have star power at every other spot but power forward.  (Trevor Ariza can really be considered a star among peers who play a similar role as stretch defensive wings).

Josh Smith is now a Clipper, and it will be some time before Montrezl Harrell is ready to join the regular rotation.  That leaves just the mercurial Terrence Jones and Motiejunas to man the ‘4’ in a West overflowing with talent at the position.  What does Houston need from D-Mo this year for a repeat trip to the Final Four?

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You’re probably thinking 4th is too low for Harden’s growth as a factor, but I strongly disagree.  This isn’t 1995, or even 2002 when having the best player in the league usually meant winning the championship.  Those were kinder, gentler days, when a pick and roll could be trusted to deliver a shot, rather than being needed to set up a second pick and roll.  In today’s league, you just need a top 5 player, but its more important to have a diverse array of weapons around him.  To that end, if James Harden simply repeated his production from last season, not improving one bit, the team could still improve, just from help in other avenues.  The Rockets don’t really need James Harden to get any better.  But that’s not to say it wouldn’t help their chances if he did…

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