The Houston Rockets are absolutely terrible

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 14: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets celebrates after a three-point basket during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Toyota Center on November 14, 2014 in Houston, Texas. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Through 18 games, the Houston Rockets are 7-11.  They’re 20th in offense and 27th in defense.  They’re 26th in field goal percentage, and, despite leading the league in attempts, are 29th in three-point-percentage.  They’re just a very bad basketball team, at this point in time.  What happened to get to this point?

In Episode 86 of The Red94 Podcast, Forrest Walker and I agreed that a good man was fired without fault.  This team’s flaws go beyond Kevin McHale.  He was never a great tactician, but the team enjoyed great success in spite of that.  This year, the team hit rock bottom.  Still, if the selling point behind McHale was that he was a ‘player’s coach’, once he lost the lockerroom, his time ran up.  There was no longer any reason for keeping him on.

What transpired in November is one of the most baffling months I can remember as a fan of this team.  With a roster stacked two-deep at each position, and a returning core fresh off a conference finals appearance, this team entered the season poised to seriously compete for the title.  Suddenly, the same unimaginative offense of years past has produced underwhelming results, with both James Harden and the shooters surrounding him going completely ice cold.  The defense has been downright embarrassing.  Were Josh Smith and Donatas Motiejunas that critical?

Ty Lawson has made Scottie Pippen’s stint in Houston look successful by comparison, with the former star on the verge of outright being pushed completely from the rotation.  As I mused the other night, when watching Lawson stand in the corner like a glorified Matt Maloney, one wonders if this coaching staff had even a semblance of a plan for synthesis into this offense.  It is almost as if, upon the acquisition, they thought, “great!  a secondary ballhandler!  That’s what we needed!  Now let’s throw him onto the court so he secondarily ball handles!” with not even an afterthought given towards integration.

Les Alexander held nothing back in voicing his displeasure with his team’s performance, but how must Daryl Morey feel watching this train-wreck unfold?  As a reader noted, Morey spent the greater part of his career leading up to this point, in building this team.  He inherited the flawed McGrady-Yao foundation, only to watch it crumble with injuries.  Then, in years in purgatory before stealing James Harden, and then Dwight Howard.  Then more time before finding the supporting pieces in Ariza/Brewer (with Motiejunas/Jones/Beverley already in the fold).  And then Lawson this summer as the final piece, the elusive third star.  Two-deep at every position.  And now, only to watch it all crumble, again prematurely at a crossroads.  Will he have to tear it all down before it ever bears fruit?  What a cruel ending it would be.

As I asked the other night, how much longer must this continue until Morey cuts bait and guts the team, dangling Dwight Howard in trade talks before his impending free agency?  At 7-11, Houston still sits just two back in the loss column of the eighth seed; in the West, this was the right year to suck.  I don’t know that there’s much market for Howard, at least not anything worth the opportunity cost of seeing this thing through.  And outside of Howard, there isn’t much else of value on this roster to flip a significant trade.  Terrence Jones will be a free agent as well and I’m not sure you’d even want to trade Clint Capela if the plan were to start over anew.

Some readers last night, in frustration, endorsed trading James Harden, a sentiment which can be easy to get behind given The Beard’s pathetic effort levels of late.  But cooler heads must prevail.  There are greater odds that Harden will eventually mature, either on his own, or by some external influence, in the next three years, than in finding another singular talent of his abilities.  Need I remind this fanbase of the Kevin Martin years?  Ask Danny Ainge and Celtic fans how long it can take to acquire a top-tier talent if you already forgot.

To that end, Houston has to see this through.  There isn’t enough upside to hitting restart.  If Howard walks, then he walks.  For now, just two games back, the Rockets have to focus on incremental improvement.  They’ll have to hope Donatas Motiejunas’ imminent return can provide a stabilizing force inside.  They’ll have to finally hit shots.  The season is far from over and sheer probability dictates that at some point, career norms will resurface.  How can every player on a team suddenly go cold all at once?  At some point, they have to regress to the mean, right?

There are long-term problems which will need to be addressed and which deem an in-season hiring most likely prohibitive.  Daryl Morey has gone on record, publicly, in espousing his belief in the relative unimportance of the coach in the NBA environment.  Hopefully, in observing the wild success of teams such as Golden State and Atlanta, and in experiencing the plight of his own club, his tune has changed.  Morey needs to hire someone this summer to whom he can hand over the reins, and over whom he won’t so closely dictate basketball policy.  This team needs a shakeup in philosophy – NBA defenses in 2015 are simply far too smart for teams to roll out offenses as unimaginative as the Rockets’.  One man dribbling while four watch cannot be the way, but it will take a full training camp to implement something new.  It may already be a lost cause, but there’s simply no reason why James Harden and Ty Lawson cannot thrive together in the same backcourt.

And Harden must change.  For all the lip service provided this summer about playing off the ball, this year has seen the same hogging of past years, even with more capable teammates by his side.  Harden seems to think that in order for his team to win, he must do more, when in actuality, if he took a step back (no pun intended), he might allow other players to get more comfortable.  Playing off the ball would make him more efficient, and actually give Lawson utility.  When will James Harden realize that there are other ways to contribute than just scoring on the basketball court?  He could try actually asserting effort in any other avenue.  The next coach, whoever it is, will have to be someone who can get through to Harden and challenge him professionally.  Whatever pride there was last season, after the Olympic experience, is gone, and Harden is back to his old ways.


About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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