20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Are the Rockets Imploding?

It has been an interesting offseason for the Houston Rockets, a team that squandered a 3-2 lead versus the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 playoffs, including a game seven loss at home, and then lost game six at home to the Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors in 2019. The Rockets loudly and repeatedly claim that their roster has been built to beat Golden State, but they perform like a team that has been built to lose to Golden State no matter how favorable the circumstances; historically, home teams win game seven nearly 80% of the time in the NBA playoffs, but with James Harden as Houston's best player we have already seen that playoff meltdowns are not only possible but are to be expected. Houston fans sometimes say ridiculous things like "No one has come closer to beating Golden State than Houston," ignoring the facts that (1) Cleveland beat Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals, (2) Toronto beat Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals and (3) obtaining favorable circumstances against Golden State two years in a row only to choke is not a meaningful indicator that Houston can or will beat Golden State in the playoffs.

Daryl Morey proclaims that all is well in Houston's Potemkin village but several cracks are showing. After the Rockets' latest playoff collapse, the front office fired most of Coach Mike D'Antoni's staff, including his number two man/"defensive coordinator" Jeff Bzdelik. D'Antoni wants a contract extension but not at the below market rate that the Rockets offered to him, so D'Antoni's long-term status with the team is far from certain; as of now, he is only under contract for next season. D'Antoni is a creative coach, and a successful regular season coach--but is he a championship level coach? That is a legitimate question for the Rockets to ask--they might have wanted to ask that question before they hired him in the first place--but publicly embarrassing D'Antoni is not a good business practice, regardless of whether or not the team ultimately keeps him.

The decision to try to build a championship team around James Harden was questionable, and then adding Chris Paul on a long term, max deal as 1B to Harden's 1A was even more questionable. I predicted from the start that Harden and Paul would not be compatible:
Paul has proven to be a feisty and divisive player who feuds with coaches and teammates. He has never taken a team past the second round of the playoffs despite being surrounded by excellent talent for most of his career, so it is puzzling that he is so often praised as a great leader. Paul is generously listed at 6-0 tall; he is powerfully built but ultimately he is a small man in a large man's game and thus he is injury prone and has a tendency to wear down in the playoffs.

Harden gives minimal to no defensive effort and his gimmicky offensive style is not nearly as effective in the playoffs against good teams as it is in the regular season against lesser squads. With Harden at the helm, the Rockets have lost in the first round three times in five years under three coaches.

Another major concern for any savvy Rockets fan is that Paul is a defensive-minded player but Coach Mike D'Antoni and Harden do not share that defensive mindset. Paul will confront anyone at any time, while Harden pouts when he is criticized; the interactions between those players after Harden blows multiple defensive assignments will be very interesting.

The other side of the court could also be challenging as well. Paul and Harden both want to monopolize the ball and control the pace of the game, with Paul preferring to grind it out in the halfcourt set while Harden likes to push the tempo.
It is not at all surprising that Harden and Paul openly feuded on the court as Houston's 2019 playoff run unraveled, and several reports out of Houston suggest that the relationship between the two stars is broken beyond repair. Paul is understandably not happy with Houston's Harden-centric offense and Harden's unwillingness to do anything on offense other than monopolize the ball--Harden does not move well without the ball, and his playing style on both ends of the court makes it clear that Harden is focused on personal glory, not team success; Paul is also upset by Harden's lack of attention to detail on defense.

The Rockets are committed to doing anything necessary to please/appease Harden, and thus would likely trade Paul if they could, but who in their right mind wants an aging, injury-prone, undersized point guard who has a track record of not leading his teams very well--or very far--in the playoffs?

The unfortunate injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson may very well have opened up the competition for the 2020 Western Conference title, but the Rockets are not likely to take advantage of Golden State's misfortune. 

Labels: , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 10:08 AM



At Saturday, June 29, 2019 9:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the larger issue is whether the NBA may be imploding. The integrity of the product is in question: blatant tanking of 76ers in recent seasons etc., the Pelicans farcical use of Anthony Davis this season re: minutes restrictions, the current dream-team sweepstakes reading like a soap opera of what superstars will end up playing with what other superstars, fans not knowing if the superstar they paid their hard-earned money to see a given night may be taking the night off due to a random DNP coach's decision, the game's biggest star all but bragging about "chill mode" during the regular season, etc. Each team's 82 regular-season games should be bona fide, but if this keeps up, fans will start thinking that the teams aren't playing the regular season in good faith. That the NBA product is corrupt. That the NBA is more like WWE than its big-three North American rivals.

At Sunday, June 30, 2019 10:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Those are valid points, and I have discussed several of them in previous articles. Not every team is tanking and/or imploding, though. The Rockets have made several bad and/or risky decisions under Morey, and they are soon going to be paying the price, both literally--in term of Paul's contract--and figuratively.


Post a Comment

<< Home