A year removed from an amazing season that saw the Houston Rockets finish second in the West and go on to the Conference Finals the Texan team find themselves out of the playoff picture. But why? It’s time to take a look at what went wrong and isolate the team’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’.
Let me start by addressing the fact that yes, the Houston Rockets could still clinch a spot in the coming playoffs but they would have to win every remaining game and still hope for the Mavericks or the Jazz to slip up.
And whether it’s still debatable if reaching the playoffs or not is a good idea at this point, one thing is clear: This year has been disastrous and disappointing for the Rockets.
It’s not only that the Rockets couldn’t follow up last season’s expectations after reaching the West Finals, the team simply failed across the board: bad performances, chemistry issues, locker room gossip, coach getting fired etc. Everything you would expect from a failing franchise – not the Houston Rockets – happened to this team in the 2015-2016 season.
So, with no further delay (and since it’s hard to find ample reasons to keep watching the Rockets) let’s get to the matter at hand: ‘The Houston Rockets Seven Deadly Sins’ and figure out which were Red Nation’s biggest mistakes.
Next: Rookie Mistake?
Oct 7, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Sam Dekker (7) warms up before playing the Dallas Mavericks at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 1: Draft Night – With the 18th Pick the Houston Rockets Select Sam Dekker
I know it’s probably unfair to single out a rookie in his first year as one of the biggest deceptions that led to one of the worst seasons in Houston Rockets recent history.
Still, I’m not criticizing Sam Dekker as much as I’m complaining at the Houston Rockets decision to actually draft him.
As I’ve said previously and discussed many times in other articles, even if the plan was already in motion to trade for a more experienced point guard (and it probably was as the Rockets traded for Lawson weeks after) there was absolutely no good reason the Rockets shouldn’t have drafted another point guard even as insurance in case something happened to injury-prone Patrick Beverley or the veteran Jason Terry.
And while the Rockets are still missing key pieces in the point guard department, they are pretty much set at small forward with a talented young SF already awaiting his shot in K.J. McDaniels.
Finally, Sam Dekker didn’t do much to help his cause with Rockets fans, and I’m not even saying that in comparison to what fans and critics alike expected of him but in comparison to what all (really, ALL) other rookies did.
Of all 65 rookies that played this year, Sam Dekker is amazingly the last one of them in every stat. It’s pretty much all zeros across the board.
Last one in minutes played, games played, no points, no assists, nothing!
True he might’ve had a lot of trouble with injuries and what not: it still doesn’t do his cause any good. Take Montrezl Harrell for example: he created his opportunities, forced his way on the team, conquered his minutes with hustle and during power plays made his presence felt.
The only thing Sam Dekker did this year was take part in a couple of preseason games where we could clearly see he was not yet ready for the jump as he appeared extremely shy and nervous.
Next: Missing the Point?
Dec 9, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) talks with Rockets guard Ty Lawson (3) against the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Rockets won 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 2: Trading For Ty Lawson
There’s not much to be said except that this was likely the biggest disappointment of all season regarding a player.
When the Rockets traded for Ty Lawson everyone expected fireworks from the beginning: and rightfully so. Ty Lawson was one of the premiere top point guards in the league and for years had been buried on a Nuggets team going nowhere.
It was time for Lawson to once again get to the big stage and lead a team during playoff time. Comparisons and rivalries with Stephen Curry immediately emerged as Lawson gunned for the reigning MVP saying he thought Curry was just chilling on defense the whole year with no one going back at him.
However, as the season progressed and losses came, the hope for a shining future with Lawson leading the assault to the NBA Finals faded as fast as the point guard’s production.
The reasons for that vary, though it’s customary to say that James Harden’s ball dominance and style of play that favors the ball in his hands at most times may have hurt Ty Lawson’s play as he too needs the ball to produce.
I still maintain that Ty Lawson was fazed by the Houston Rockets struggles this season and gave up: on the team and on himself.
Specifically his production fell from 15.2 points, 9.6 assists per game last season to a shallow 5.8 points and 3.4 assists per game this season.
Then Lawson lost his starting gig, got DNP-CD’s, was waived and the rest is history.
As a member of the Houston Rockets Ty Lawson didn’t once display the same ability and skill set he showcased every night as a Nugget.
Next: Trigger Happy?
Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale calls for a timeout agains the Boston Celtics in the second half at Toyota Center. Celtics won 111 to 95. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 3: The Premature Firing of Head Coach Kevin McHale
In the spirit of full disclosure I’ll be the first one to admit that I too was complaining about Kevin McHale’s work by the time he got axed.
To be fair, McHale’s work was far from perfect, and he made some poor decisions. Coaching the Rockets against the Clippers for example starting the “hack-war” while his team was ahead in the score something that completely disrupted Houston’s rhythm in the game.
However, he also had the guts to keep Harden on the bench while the Rockets mounted that amazing – for the ages – comeback against the same Clippers.
At the same time whenever I look back at that fateful Boston Celtics game when the Houston Rockets got completely obliterated, my feelings betray me as after that game I felt exactly like Leslie Alexander: Something had to be done.
"“ .” – Leslie Alexander I’ve never seen my team play as poorly and with less effort. I’m not attributing it to the coach. I had to do something"
In the midst of his flaws and hits the fact is: with him at the helm the Rockets accomplished a Western Conference Finals appearance for the first time since the 96-97 season. Add to that the remarkable record of 56 wins. A feat accomplished for the first time also since the 96-97 season.
Some thought it was a desperation move, some said it was a necessary evil, looking back we all arrive at the same conclusion. Firing McHale so soon was a mistake especially if we take into account our next Deadly Sin…
Next: JB Overwhelmed?
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff looks on during player introductions prior to the game against the Toronto Raptors at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 4: J.B. Bickerstaff the Wrong Coaching Choice
I’ll take a guess and say that this was probably the least unexpected of the Seven.
To me J.B. was completely overwhelmed by this job.
One of the youngest coaches in the league right now, Bickerstaff might’ve been elevated to this job perhaps too soon.
Having to deal with two superstars and their egos while also trying to achieve what is expected of him and the franchise as well as balancing injury problems, chemistry issues and off court drama is no joke for someone at only 36 years of age. Let’s be honest Bickerstaff is no Brad Stevens.
Pressure got the better of him as Bickerstaff has had to fight for his job with the Rockets. Many thought this could’ve been his golden ticket to a lasting Head Coach career – – IF – – he changed the tide in Houston’s favor.
Suffice to say that is something he didn’t do. With the team in his hands the Rockets showed glimpses of their full potential on rare occasions. The best example was against the Spurs on Christmas:
But the team also showcased a handful of problems, inconsistencies and a high level of risky unpredictability to the point where you never knew exactly what to expect from Houston Rockets or Bickerstaff. Which leads us to our next point….
Next: Rotation Issues
Mar 29, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives on Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 5: Rotations All Over the Place
J.B. Bickerstaff’s weird rotations and bench selections have been widely debated here on this website, (mostly by me). You can catch up on those articles here and there. Other writers like Curt Low also wrote on this subject: with a similar opinion.
The general thought is that Bickerstaff simply has problems figuring out who should play each night.
Recently against the Suns Bickerstaff utilized K.J. McDaniels for a puzzling 1:24 seconds in the game! Donatas Motiejunas was another one that suffered with Bickerstaff’s reasoning alternating big minutes with DNP-CD’s.
That’s still not mentioning Marcus Thornton’s minutes where the situation goes from odd to wacky -you can check the details in the articles above.
Want some more? The Rockets this year used an incredible 50 different starting lineups. The only other teams that beat the Texans in this aspect were the (injury-riddled) New Orleans Pelicans – 55, the Philadelphia Sixers – 56 (of course) and the (completely unstable) Sacramento Kings – 52.
McDaniels was also part of one of the most ridiculous scenes of the season when Bickerstaff fielded him to foul Andre Drummond 5 times in a row.
Oh and H-town lost that game, by the way.
Editor’s Note: To put a fine point on this situation, players are creatures of habit. Knowing their roles and approximate playing time allows them to prepare adequately and develop confidence. In the absence of those parameters players are in flux never knowing if they’ll see playing time and that leads to them not being fully prepared. Though they are professionals who should always be prepared regardless, the reality is teams who have clearly defined roles (including expected playing time) are the ones who tend to succeed over teams who don’t.
Next: Perimeter Problem?
Apr 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after scoring during the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 6: Live By the Three, Die By the Three
This old basketball adage has never been more accurate than using it to describe the season of the Houston Rockets.
And while H-Town played with the same mentality and won last season, this time around the Rockets died by the three.
The Texan team is knocking down 34.5% of their three-point shots whereas last season they scored 34.8% of their treys.
It’s true the percentages are close but when ranking the percentages of the 30 teams of the league, Clutch City actually fell 8 spots from the 2014-2015 season to the 2015-2016 season. While the team ranked 14th last year in 3-point percentage this year the plummeted to rank 22nd.
And though a 34.8% would only get them the 19th spot in 2016 it only goes to show the direction the league is taking.
Meanwhile, the Rockets instead of improving with the league, seeing how they were one of the teams that headed the three-point revolution, they actually went backwards!
H-Town is still one of the teams that shoots the most three-pointers in the league they just can’t hit them and insist of doing so even when the odds are clearly against them.
The irony is the Rockets refusal to abandon this strategy in favor of taking a better (unexpected) shot cost the team at least three in games. This is relevant since those 3 victories are exactly what could have clinched a playoff berth.
Next: Off Court Drama!
Dec 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a foul was called against Rockets center Dwight Howard (not pictured) while playing against the San Antonio Spurs in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sin 7: Off Court Problems: Chemistry Between Stars, Bad Preparation, Way Too Much Harden Drama, Players-Only Meetings
It was just too much to handle.
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Take your pick of the myriad off court stories that surrounded the Houston Rockets this season:
- Reports of Dwight Howard being unhappy “playing second fiddle” to James Harden.
- The on again off again Harden/Kardashian relationship
- McHale calling out James Harden for coming in to preseason overweight and out of shape.
- Howard being on the trade block
- Who was really in control of the team
- Or any number of stories leaking out the gossip regarding Rockets issues got completely out of control.
That’s not all as the team still had to deal with one too many “players only” meetings (according to Donatas Motiejunas) and the whole Adidas/Nike issues involving superstar James Harden.
This last one at least provided us some pretty awkward/funny videos to go with the drama.
Looking back, with all these curve balls, you have to admit it’s lucky the team still has a shot at the playoffs as they currently reside in ninth place.
That said, the question at this point moving forward is precisely how many changes need to be made in the off season. Certainly the chemistry issues need to be addressed or Red Nation could find themselves in the unenviable position of repeating what happened this season. And, no one – – team, players, fans or those of us who write about the team wants to go through anything close to what occurred in 2015-16.
Space City Scoop is always looking to add new talent to our writing team. Currently we’re looking for individuals with a specialized focus. The first area of focus is perfect for someone who is constantly surfing the web for breaking news on injuries, trades, insider info etc. This individual would select the top news items and provide timely quick hits to keep SCS readers in the loop.
The other area of focus is someone who possesses a strong social media background who likes to interact with Clutch City Fans. You’ll promote SCS team content on facebook and twitter while also making sure to promote the best content coming from H-Town fans. If you have this capability and are interested check out this link and fill out an application.