2013-14 Regular Season Retrospective

It is the nature of modern sports coverage and fandom to be constantly looking onwards to what is to come. The playoffs are going to be awesome this year, some of the kids in the draft are going to be superstars and you’d better have one eye on your cap sheet for when all the free agents become available. But often this focus on the future at the expense of the past leaves us makes us forget the context of the situations we find ourselves in. People erase the predictions that went horribly awry and re-adjust their expectations based on current performance. So to avoid falling into that trap, let’s take a look back at some of the big questions that surrounded the Rockets before the season began and see where the team got to in achieving them.

Will the Rockets be able to integrate Dwight Howard into the team smoothly?

Fresh off a season full of much-reported personality clashes and a dip in production, there were legitimate concerns about whether the Rockets would be able to avoid the fate that befell the Lakers a season before and successfully mesh Howard’s game with the rest of the team. Last season the team was bereft of a legitimate post-up threat – would adjusting the focus towards Howard’s back-to-the-basket game bog down the high octane offensive attack the team had developed the previous year?

This has been a big success story. There have been zero problems with Howard’s off-court demeanour this year, no evidence of the locker room cancer narrative the media constructed before the season began. On the court, progress came in fits and spurts but overall has been very positive. After initially struggling to find the right balance between post-up and pick-and-roll the Rockets have gradually started to get it right. Howard’s post-game has been inconsistent all season and he is still prone to turnovers, but it does look a lot better than it did at the beginning of the year when he struggled to deal with double teams effectively and lacked the awareness to keep the ball away from poking hands.

A big help in that integration came early in the New Year, when the Rockets unveiled a new weapon – the lob. If you cast your minds back to the pre-season, you may remember that early attempts to lob the ball up to the rim for Howard made for painful viewing. Nobody had the timing down and many an attempt went careening off the backboard. But once the team got the hang of them, they magnified the threat the team posed from the pick-and-roll and now it gets the Rockets several easy baskets per game.

Who will be the Rockets’ Power Forward?

It’s easy to answer now, but nobody was quite sure what the Rockets’ rotation at the 4 spot would look like when the season started. The departure of Delfino meant that Terrence Jones was promoted to starter, but there was uncertainty about whether he was capable of holding the position. The excellent pre-season form of Omri Casspi propelled him ahead of Motiejunas in the rotation and it appeared as though the Rockets would look to continue to embrace the philosophy that had served them so well last season of playing four out one in. At the same time, McHale planned to experiment with running a twin-towers lineup of Asik and Howard in the front court to see if their combined presence would lock up the paint.

As it turns out, Jones overcame a slow start (he played just 15 minutes total in the first 5 games of the season) to make the starting job his own. Though he occasionally struggles with consistency, his high energy and tantalising physical skill-set have allowed him to fill in the cracks in the Rockets’ offence. He is there for offensive rebounds and put-backs. He will run the floor and crush the alley-oop if you throw it to him. And he knows how to use his pump-fake to get into the lane. There are still concerns on the defensive end, where he is not great at boxing out and occasionally makes mistakes in pick-and-roll coverage, but gone are the days when Rockets fans gazed wistfully at the trade market to find their starting power forward.

Behind him, Motiejunas has supplanted Casspi as the backup PF of choice. Unfortunately, D-Mo has failed to show the same level of growth as Jones this year. His maddening bouts of foul trouble continue to appear at inopportune times, and he frequently rushes his opportunities when he gets them in the post. Every now and then he puts together a game where everything clicks and he looks like the game-changing 7 footer Rockets fans hoped he would be when he was drafted, but those flashes are rare.

McHale was forced to abandon the dual-centre line-up of Asik and Howard early into the season as they were unable to provide enough of a defensive and rebounding edge to justify the way they killed the team’s offensive spacing. However, he has taken to running a small-ball lineup at the end of games with Parsons at the 4. Casspi no longer seems to be a regular option for anything more than spot minutes.

How will Lin and Asik adapt to their new roles on the bench?

As the pre-season drew to a close, it became clear that Patrick Beverley had supplanted Jeremy Lin in the starting point guard role. Many observers felt that this was a good tactical decision as it meant Lin would have the ball in his hands more as the leader of the second unit, although others railed at paying such a high salary to a back-up. There were also question marks about Omer Asik – from the outset he was purported to be unhappy with his demotion and it seemed to be only a matter of time before he was dealt elsewhere. Nevertheless, both were highly paid players who seemed over-qualified for the roles they found themselves in, so it was hoped that they would be able to provide a strong punch when the starters left the game.

Unfortunately, the bench unit has not lived up to expectations. Though Richard Li’s analysis would suggest that when they see the court they do not perform poorly, Coach McHale has been unwilling to entrust them with big minutes. Lin has struggled to remain consistent this season. His overall shooting numbers have been consistent (his 3FG% has experienced a slight uptick from 33.9% last season to 35.8% this year), but his scoring has tended to come in bunches and he has a tendency to go through periods where he just can’t get anything to go in the basket.  In addition, his assist numbers have gone down considerably, from 8.3 per 100 plays (per NBA.com/stats) to 6.2 per 100 plays. Though it would be unfair to say that his season was a disaster, he has not yet been able to reach the levels the team had hoped for when they signed him.

Early in the season it seemed as though the arrival of Howard was going to force the Rockets into dealing Asik. When he injured himself in early December, a narrative arose in the national media that he was in a strop and would not be playing again in Houston before the trade deadline (at which point he would be dealt). We may never know the full story, but although it appears Asik was upset at his situation, as the season went on he has grown to accept his position. Eventually he completed the rehab of his knee, and after shaking off the rust proved that he was still capable of being a very productive player. The recent stretch of games that Dwight sat out with an ankle problem have revealed just how good he can be when given playing time.

Will the Rockets achieve their pre-season goal of getting homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs?

YES THEY WILL! This was the goal management set the team for the regular season, so overall the Rockets have met expectations. Not everything has gone perfectly, but enough has gone well that they’ve ended up with a top-4 seed in an incredibly competitive conference. This is has been a season to be pleased with, and hopefully the playoffs will bring more satisfaction to Rockets fans.

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Total comments: 23
  • feelingsupersonic says 3 months ago

    It's interesting that Rockets fans are content with Harden basically being a "designated hitter" for the Rockets. There's so many mentions of getting rid of Lin and bringing in a defensive PG so Harden always has a above average defender as a backcourt mate.

    Here's a more realistic idea. How about Harden starts playing some defense? He wasn't as bad of a defender on the Thunder. A reason why might be that if he plays shotty defense westbrook or durant will let him know. On the Rockets he isnt accountable for his defense. Its selfish for a player to take it easy on one end of the court just so he has more energy on offense. You would never see Lebron or Durant doing that.

    Its not as if Harden can't play D, he sucks because he doesn't try or he gamble's for steals. Instead of hypothetical trades to get Avery Bradley how about someone tells Harden to guard his man and maybe close out on a shooter? Part of this is McHale's fault for letting Harden run the team. You think that Harden would get away with his defense on the Bulls under Thibadeau?

    I don't think Lin will be back next year, and I think that's best for him and the Rockets. But because the rest of the league knows that the Rockets would love to unload his contract I doubt the Rockets will get anything valuable (other than cap space) in return.



    This is a highly opinionated view that we get from more unseasoned Rockets fans. It doesn't merit a response and furthermore it's just poorly presented. You should take it to a Rockets message board that believes this is a major event in the Rockets season. Here at Red94 this has been discussed extensively and we are kind of past this kind of thinking.
  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    Nobody want's Avery Bradley and Harden is one of the best post defenders in the game.

  • Steven says 3 months ago It is the freaking REGULAR SEASON. It means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Now that the REAL season has started, his energy will be there on both sides of the ball, and everyone will see the real James Harden.
  • uojoe82 says 3 months ago

    It's interesting that Rockets fans are content with Harden basically being a "designated hitter" for the Rockets. There's so many mentions of getting rid of Lin and bringing in a defensive PG so Harden always has a above average defender as a backcourt mate.

    Here's a more realistic idea. How about Harden starts playing some defense? He wasn't as bad of a defender on the Thunder. A reason why might be that if he plays shotty defense westbrook or durant will let him know. On the Rockets he isnt accountable for his defense. Its selfish for a player to take it easy on one end of the court just so he has more energy on offense. You would never see Lebron or Durant doing that.

    Its not as if Harden can't play D, he sucks because he doesn't try or he gamble's for steals. Instead of hypothetical trades to get Avery Bradley how about someone tells Harden to guard his man and maybe close out on a shooter? Part of this is McHale's fault for letting Harden run the team. You think that Harden would get away with his defense on the Bulls under Thibadeau?

    I don't think Lin will be back next year, and I think that's best for him and the Rockets. But because the rest of the league knows that the Rockets would love to unload his contract I doubt the Rockets will get anything valuable (other than cap space) in return.

  • feelingsupersonic says 3 months ago

    Nice summary. A top 4 conference finish for the first time in 18 years? I would say that's a successful season already. There is quite a bit that could have gone wrong, as you pointed out. I still think that under different circumstances, my Lakers could have contended last year - but everything that could go wrong went wrong. In Houston this year, it was the opposite. I've always been a McHale hater (at least since 1984), but he's to be given credit for getting his players to accept new roles. It helps when you are dealing with younger players (who are more willing to listen and to adapt), but Howard and Harden learning when to step up and when to step back, and Asik finally accepting coming off the bench, are big reasons for their success. The fun part starts now.



    And they're completely serious. Of all the things to discuss and we are talking this. How about those Blazers guys?

    These games versus the Blazers will be games of streaks for sure.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 months ago Avery Bradley is pretty deadly from mid range and is getting better at the three ball. I don't see how someone could get him for under 9-10 mil a year.
  • SadLakerFan says 3 months ago

    Let me make sure I understand this. Your team is in the playoffs. If your team can beat two teams against whom they have a 7-1 regular season record, they will be in the Western Conference Finals. But, the topic is whether to add Spencer Hawes? Really??

  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    Why does Lin has a cap hit of 15mil?

    He doesn't. He has the same contract as lin.

    First off I meant 4 years 30 million, not three, so my bad. Secondly, yes the math does add up...we have an owner will pay into the luxury tax, he has openly said that many times. Third, D-Mo is NOT a great defender, I am not sure what you are watching...he gets into foul trouble very quickly every time he tries to play defense.

    Even though demo is prone to foul, statistically he's a pretty good defender since the last few months. Its like a light bulb went on in his head.

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    Dan G, I stand corrected, I did not realize that they both had contracts set up to where the cap hit was spread evenly over the three years, with escalating third year total payouts.

    Nonetheless, I still stand by my opinion that Avery Bradley and Spencer Hawes are both upgrades, and can be gotten from a financial perspective.

  • Dan G says 3 months ago

    Texan Ensemble

    First, I want to correct you on Lin and Asik's contract next season. They both will count about $8.4 mil against the cap next season, but each will make just under $15 mil.

    Here is a link for how their contracts work:
    http://www.shamsports.com/2013/07/omer-asik-and-jeremy-lins-contract.html

    As far as the other part of the discussion concerning trading for Melo or signing anyone else, I think all that depends on if we can somehow trade Lin and/or Asik, and it is of my opinion that if we could not trade either during this season, I have little faith that we will be able to do it next season unless we practically give them away, which I doubt Morey will do. People can say all day long that expiring contracts are an asset but they are not as big of assets as they used to be since GMs are signing players to much shorter contracts. I'm not saying expiring contracts don't have any value but their value has diminished since the new CBA. Then you add to the fact that Lin and Asik will make $15 mil next season and most of the teams that would want Lin or Asik have penny pinching owners. I just don't see how we are going to move Asik or Lin.

    I will agree that our owner is willing to go over the luxury tax to add to the team. We have different ways to do that even if we are not unable to unload Asik or Lin. It's been a while since I studied the exceptions and such we have at our disposal, but I do believe we get one just for being over the cap for a full season. I'm sure we can use those to add depth to our team, but alot of the players that have been mentioned so far would be out of our price range.

  • BrentYen says 3 months ago

    Why does Lin has a cap hit of 15mil?

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    First off I meant 4 years 30 million, not three, so my bad. Secondly, yes the math does add up...we have an owner will pay into the luxury tax, he has openly said that many times. Third, D-Mo is NOT a great defender, I am not sure what you are watching...he gets into foul trouble very quickly every time he tries to play defense. Fourth, it would not knock either Jones or DMo out of the rotation...if you bring in Hawes, which was actually a possibility this year, he is not starting over TJones, and he would push and compete with DMo for some minutes, but that is a good thing. Lastly, yes, Jones could in theory become a good defender, but that does not mean he will and bringing in Hawes would not be about defense. Our defense, with our starting 5 healthy, is actually top 10 on a per possession basis and our FG percentage allowed is also top 10. Lastly, if you dont think Avery Bradley is an upgrade from Jeremy Lin, I am not sure you know what you are talking about. Same thing goes for a rotation of Jones/D-Mo/Hawes vs Jones/D-Mo/Casspi. Its all about adding depth to our rotation, better complimenting our stars, and adding a bit of defense, and cutting down on turnovers (we have worst turnover differential in the entire league)...which is what these additions do. Again, the numbers work, whether we get rid of Lin and Asik and save 23 million in cap space (Asik 8 million cap hit and Lin 15 million cap hit in 2014) or just get rid of one and go over the luxury tax...the numbers work.

  • Cooper says 3 months ago The season went about as well as one could hope besides the early asik issue. Regarding Monroe, he is a max player (his max is only like 11mill), had a down year but that's what happens when you play with both Jennings And Jsmith. He has better post skills than anyone besides Duncan, Big Al, Boogie and probably brook Lopez. He's not a shot blocker but just being big makes him an average defensive player if he's trying. Bradley is a 5million dollar player, at most he gets a deal like Jeff Teague around 7-8. If they wanted a stop gap pf Thad young is the way to go for a late first or whatever.
  • Buckko says 3 months ago 10 million a year is more than Lin's 8.3. The salary wouldn't allow for those kind of contracts and you basically bump jones and demo out of the rotation while demo is a great defender and jones ca become one. What you are saying isn't possible and wouldn't help us. I'm done discussing this but the math would never work in the first place.
  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    A PG rotation of of Beverly and Bradley, and a PF rotation of TJones, Hawes or Monroe and DMo is an upgrade for both rotations as they are currently are. It also still allows you to play "small" with three guards and two seven footers.

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    Bradley is not going to a contract worth the same as what Lin is currently making, 3 years 30 million is about what he will get. Yes I agree that Hawes doesn't play defense, but there isn't a power forward on the market that does play defense that we can afford. Hawes isn't someone you bring in to play defense, he comes in to help the depth at the power forward rotation. D-Mo and Casspi just dont do it for me. Monroe wont get max money either, he has taken steps backward this year...but I bet he ends up in Dallas.

    My whole point is that we do not need to bring in another superstar. We need to bring in better complimentary role players, and re-sign Parsons. If there is a power forward that we can get who will be fine coming off the bench AND plays good defense AND can stretch the floor, please enlighten me.

  • SadLakerFan says 3 months ago

    Nice summary. A top 4 conference finish for the first time in 18 years? I would say that's a successful season already. There is quite a bit that could have gone wrong, as you pointed out. I still think that under different circumstances, my Lakers could have contended last year - but everything that could go wrong went wrong. In Houston this year, it was the opposite. I've always been a McHale hater (at least since 1984), but he's to be given credit for getting his players to accept new roles. It helps when you are dealing with younger players (who are more willing to listen and to adapt), but Howard and Harden learning when to step up and when to step back, and Asik finally accepting coming off the bench, are big reasons for their success. The fun part starts now.

  • Buckko says 3 months ago You don't replace one overpaid 6th man with another. Hawes doesn't play defense at all and would be destroyed by western PFs and Monroe is going to get a max or near max contract. He also is not that athletic and is a terrible defender. With those contracts, you would kill your cap and not be competitive enough to win a championship.
  • thenit says 3 months ago

    I think we did well. If we played in a different division with weaker teams we could have grabbed the 1st seed IMO.

    Our division has 4 playoffs teams and an young good team in the Pelicans. So happy with the regular season.

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    And I am as sure as I can be that either Lin or Asik will be traded by the trade deadline next season. Lin is the most likely, if for nothing else because Asik has shown his value to be so great after getting over himself and playing again, I think Morey will keep him unless he is sure he can acquire a suitable replacement as soon as any Asik traded is executed.

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    I would like to hear why you think neither of those players do not fit, I will explain why I think they do.

    Avery Bradley would replace Lin (assuming we can get rid of Lin). I picture a PG rotation of Beverly and Bradley. This ensures a defensive minded perimeter player at all times, someone who can hit the three (Bradley actually can hit the mid-range jumper as well), and we can still play small ball if we want with Harden in with both. In my opinion Bradley is a starting caliber PG on a lot of teams, but is the perfect third guard in the rotation on a championship team. In my opinion he is a huge upgrade to Lin, Lin just turns the ball over way too much, puts people in bad spots with the ball, and goes into big/long shooting slumps.

    Next to Ryan Anderson, please name a better stretch 4 better than Hawes? Hawes also rebounds. I love TJones, and hope/expect him to make a leap next year, but Hawes definitely upgrades the four spot rotation currently made up of TJones, DMo, and Casspi. I love TJones and DMo, but we can not waste our 4-5 year window simply relying on young talent to blossom into championship caliber pieces, it might happen, and then great we leverage that after the fact one way or the other, but upgrade now for insurance. Hawes shoots the three and rebounds.

    Greg Monroe of these three makes the least sense, but I simply see him as a replacement for Asik (Assuming we trade Asik, as like Lin, he will become an expiring contract day one of the offseason). Plus, Monroe is MUCH more athletic than Asik and a twin towers lineup with him would work much better, and Monroe can also play the four versus A LOT of teams if we put in Bradley, Beverly, Harden (We have seen Harden successfully, with help, guard bigger players like Aldridge).

  • Buckko says 3 months ago None of those players you mentioned would fit on our team but I agree with not being a melo fan.
  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    The question is though, how far are we actually behind the Clippers and Thunder? Hopefully we get a chance to answer that in the playoffs. And hopefully we address it in the offseason. I am not a fan of going after Melo. I would rather go after players like Avery Bradley and Spencer Hawes/Greg Monroe. Id rather fill two holes with players who fit a specific need, rather than one player compliments what we already do best. All this is assuming we can dump Lin and/or Asik.