Not to invoke creepy PR-damage-control ads, but I have found the last week of Rockets basketball about as enlightening to the team’s current situation as any stretch of games all season. Houston simply could not be the 3-10 debacle that damned the Rockets’ playoff hopes in the minds of those on the outside looking in, nor was the team the powerhouse that easily stepped over most of the sub-.500 competition in December. Instead, the Rockets look down and find themselves sinking slowly into the sandpit that is NBA mediocrity, where seven and eight seeds can get excited about the extra money a owner may have to spend from a few home playoff games (three if lucky). Five consecutive losses may spell doom to the untrained eye, but anyone watching the Rockets’ last week of basketball could see a team tugging and pulling against the contenders, losing by double digits just twice and possessing fourth quarter leads in all of those three single-digit losses. Blaming the failures on that lack of intangibles, “clutchness” and other such nonsense, does not sit right with me, an easy exit for a team never so easily explained. But then there are those leads, those ephemeral moments of hope that keep being ripped from fans by some All-Star candidate (Aldridge, Anthony, Millsap… you fill in the name; the Rockets have fallen to him), that simply can’t be sustained. After looking back, the question remains: what else could it be?
Asking for a star seems as redundant as it does futile at this point. So-and-so isn’t walking through that door, but the argument for waiting, waiting for progression of the team’s youth or for its “stars” to better fill their roles as playmakers and shot creators, should fall on deaf ears at this point. This team needs drastic change; no, replacing good players with sacks full of hope or that dreaded word “upside” will not make this team amount to any more than the dregs in New Jersey or Indiana. Long separate from the dungeons of the NBA, Houston has been the kind of team in recent years that fans could cheer for regardless of record because of its effort and guile, the tenacity that made watching Hayes stop Pau Gasol in his tracks or Battier outstretch his hand of shadows over some unsuspecting jumpshooter’s face almost as thrilling as cheering for a team that just won all of the time. But Battier’s gotten old. Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau have not been connected to this team for years. Yao Ming may never play an NBA game again. This team has been built on a false premise, one that relied far too much on one broken pillar, and for that, none of us can be blamed for believing, not even Daryl Morey or Rick Adelman.
But the time has come. The time for innovation, the time for experimentation, the time for the scariest unknown of all nouns in sports fandom: rebuilding. This team has earned its fanbase of undying believers, the “Trust in Morey”-ites who have found their initial incredulity about names like Mike Harris and Carl Landry rewarded by a vision of what could be were these men, this organization, given the proper amount of time to go to work and be able to change the roster. Not just tinker, mind you. No”rebuild on the fly”. Change. It is not simply a campaign buzzword. That idea must seep into every move made, every roster upgrade, every new rotation.
The NBA has gotten better, and the revolution has been televised. Let’s not be too stubborn to get in on the fun.