Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey spoke with Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney earlier in the week about the team’s offseason, particularly the James Harden extension.  Said Morey, on the extension:

“Even through trade, those deals are often made to teams that the player wants to go to. It was a pretty easy analysis in that you need the [top-tier] player no matter what and you want to be able to signal to those players across the league that if you’re in Houston, at any given moment, the team’s always going to try to take care of you—whether it be with money or a top team you’re playing with.”

In conjunction with my thoughts from last week, however, while a “signal” to top players is certainly a direct outcome of the extension, the more significant function is that retaining Harden in the first place is a necessary condition to luring another star.  Essentially, it is of little use to have players think highly of how one treats its stars when one does not have a star to begin with.  Thus, to build upon what I wrote last week, Houston relinquished its remaining flexibility to enter the weird stage of their history in which they’re now in: not really contending and not really seeming to have a clear plan towards contention.  Just sort of hanging around, but being fun, you could call it.  And as I said in the piece last week, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong therein, at least from a business perspective.

Morey hasn’t completely broken from his ideological roots, however, as the team is still playing hardball with Donatas Motiejunas, smartly allowing the market to dictate price.  They did this, famously, with Carl Landry, and then Kyle Lowry, and then Chandler Parsons, and most definitely did not do this with Moochie Norris, and Maurice Taylor, and Matt Maloney [during the previous regime].  You can afford to risk goodwill with the Motiejunas’ of the world, but Harden is a different equation.  If he’s upset, or if he is the center of uncertainty, it sinks the ship.  I do wonder though, would a younger Morey have offered this extension?






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On the Houston Rockets’ current path

during game two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA PLayoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 21, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.

The morning it was reported that Al Horford had narrowed his list of desired destinations to one which did not include the Houston Rockets, I tweeted that the team needed to begin exploring options to trade James Harden immediately.  The thinking there was that with no real avenue to enter contention, management would be best advised to avoid the unenviable situation in which the Oklahoma City Thunder now find themselves with Russell Westbrook.  Since that time, Houston agreed to terms with Harden to secure his services for at the very least, an additional three seasons.

The uncertainty now is gone.  The team will have a top-5 offensive player as its centerpiece for the short future.  But where do they go from here?  Followers of this team during the Daryl Morey era have become accustomed to a forward-thinking strategy with an eye towards the next move.  But as currently constructed, even with the expected cap increase, Houston is not expected to have funds available next summer for a frontline acquisition.  It begs the question as to how the Rockets plan to improve their team.

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Revisiting James Harden at point guard

Over the weekend, Daryl Morey called Eric Gordon “the perfect complement to James Harden.”  Then, in an interview released today with Adrian Wojnarowski, Mike D’Antoni said about Harden:

I think he’s at the point where I think we can move him over.  Now I don’t know yet, and we’ll experiment, we’ll talk about it, does he bring the ball up every time, does that wear him out?  Does he do it a couple quarters?  We have to figure out exactly his rhythm of the game…He averaged 7 or 8 assists last year, I’d love to see 12 or 13.  I’d love to see where he starts the offense, and the ball gets back to him, but after the ball has moved around two or three times.

As you all know, I’ve been writing since last season about the prospect of making James Harden the full-time point guard of this team.  To respond to the inquiries of many of you on Twitter: the significance in a positional change for Harden is not about Harden himself, but rather about who he plays beside and about the offense as a whole.  The distinction as to whether Harden is the actual point guard or just serving as one is not of relevance – he’ll function roughly the same within the offense.  But if he’s bringing the ball up too, it frees the team to start an actual shooting guard beside him, like Eric Gordon, rather than someone who can just passably hit open 3’s, like Patrick Beverley.  It makes the offense that much more dangerous. [read more…]






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Jan 29, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon (10) signals against the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as it became clear that Dwight Howard would no longer be a part of their future, sometime back mid-season, the Houston Rockets’ plan had been to pair Al Horford and Kevin Durant together using the expected $46 million of cap space they would have had available to them this summer.  After suffering the grave indignity of not even being granted a meeting by Durant, Houston quickly moved to Plan B, securing meetings with Horford and swingman Kent Bazemore.  Then, after being shunned by those Hawks, they came to terms with Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

With the signings, the Rockets are improved.  They’ll have a top-5 offense.  (They were 7th last year featuring a lineup that included essentially just James Harden).  But at a thematic level, the predictable outcome represents the difficulty inherent to attempting to build a team through free agency.  By its very nature, free agency is a crap shoot.  Each summer, there are only so many free agents, most of whom typically stay with the same team; and in a summer like this one, most everyone in the league has cap space.  Those aren’t exactly optimal market conditions for a buyer.  A popular outcry among Rockets fans is that “no star player wants to come play in Houston, with Harden [and Howard].”  While that may be the case, that it hasn’t happened doesn’t make the statement necessarily true – it just seems that way because the Rockets always put themselves in a position to try each summer.  And just by the sheer odds, they are likely to strike out each time, as would any other team.  Dwight Howard was the exception, not the rule.

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Farewell, Dwight Howard

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The Dwight Howard era in Houston has ended.  A marriage that began with so much hope and promise dwindled away towards Friday evening’s almost anticlimactic divorce.  In three seasons with the Rockets, Howard appeared in 183 games, averaging 16 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocked shots per game, shooting 60% overall from the floor.  In the playoffs, those averages increased to 17.9 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocked shots per game.

This ending has seemed inevitable for some time.  As I’ve been writing for some months now, from a basketball standpoint, it was time to move onthe fit was just not right.  But for everything to have deteriorated so quickly still is quite the shock.  I theorized just last summer, looking ahead to today, that the challenge in this present moment would not pertain to the question of whether Houston was better with Howard, but whether they could stomach the number of years on the deal it would take to bring him back for the one or two remaining superstar years they still would need from him to contend.  That ended up not even being a decision that needed to be made.

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