In part three of the Houston Rockets end of season round table the SCS writers tackle upper management, series strategies, strengths and weaknesses and offer series predictions.
Continuing the Houston Rockets end of (regular) season Round Table the final 5 questions dig into the men who make the decisions and what their futures
might be. The team also dives into specifics surrounding the Warriors series and go out on a limb to predict the future.
Round Table Part 3
11. Continuing with the Bickerstaff theme: it is a no brainer – – – he’s gone right? What would J.B. have to do in the post season to retain the head coaching role? Should he be awarded a full season with a training camp to turn the team around?
Anthony Nguyen: For sure he’s gone. Bickerstaff is a mere shell of Kevin McHale, much like the Thunder, theirs no difference between Bickerstaff’s Rockets and McHale’s Rockets. The Rockets needs a culture change and who better to do that than Thibs?
Ben Casey: I have liked Bickerstaff at times, but it is obvious to me that he’s in over his head. He’ll make a good head coach some day, but getting thrown into the mess that is the Houston Rockets has been more than he can handle. I’d like to see him kept on as an assistant coach and bring in Thibs as head coach.
Coty Davis: Yes! Goodbye! Adios! Hasta La Vista! At this point there is nothing Bickerstaff can do to keep his job. Perhaps win a championship as the head coach. Even in a dream scenario like that, Bickerstaff will still lose his job. How? There’s no hope he could coach Houston to back-to-back titles.
Joshua Van Horn: Bickerstaff has to go. The only thing that he could to retain his coaching spot is make it to the Western Conference finals. Even then, I still think you consider bringing in someone else. Regardless, the Rockets aren’t making it to the Western Conference finals, and the first order of business this off season should be to bring in a new head coach.
Quoc Thai: I believe Bickerstaff deserves a chance. If he could force game 7 against the Warriors, he might be able to stay.
Tamberlyn Richardson: It was a knee jerk reaction to fire McHale in the first place, but to replace him with someone who apprenticed under him and employed all the same strategies without the ability to manage the player’s egos was inane. His brutal management of the roster showcased his true failings as the SCS staff have repeatedly pointed out.
I’ve opined on people skills being equally important and I’ll drop another under developed Bickerstaff trait: No player outside of Harden or Ariza (and even those are questionable) had a mapped out role on this team. If they did it certainly wasn’t on display. Teams like the Spurs and Raptors (both top 4 teams) have clearly defined roles and know exactly what to expect game in and game out in terms of their usage.
In my opinion this is an under valued aspect of roster management. When implemented correctly players sign off on what is expected, there are no surprises and it leads to teams delivering on a more consistent basis.
Andre Cantalogo: Absolutely not. If he goes all the way to the Finals, then yeah sure let’s give him another shot. That said, Bickerstaff shouldn’t be anywhere NEAR Houston Rockets head coach post for the time being.
Next: Morey or less?
12: Sticking with management – – with recent news owner Leslie Alexander is conducting a full and thorough off season analysis how safe is Daryl Morey’s job? Should the Rockets fire him (why/why not). Or is it dependent on how the Rockets fair in the post season?
UPDATE: Although we asked this question following the initial report the Rockets would do a ‘thorough evaluation of the team from management down,’ subsequently team owner Les Alexander indicated Daryl Morey’s job was safe. To that end, an article by ESPN’s Calvin Watkins is saying Les Alexander says he will be more involved this summer:
"“ .” – Alexander I think I will change a little bit,” Alexander said after the Rockets’ practice Friday in preparation for Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series against Golden State. “More scrutiny and what they’re doing. I was thinking about doing it anyway but after this season, definitely"
Now if you’re Daryl Morey that news might be enough to either concern you regarding being on the same page, warrant you considering leaving for greener pastures, tip the hat to the writing being on the wall or give you the excuse to say “but you agreed this was the direction to go.” And the interesting times in Houston just keep on rolling!
Ben Casey: Back in early November, the majority of the sports universe expected the Rockets to be a 60-win team. Morey put together what was supposed to be an elite group, and nobody could have predicted the meltdown that this season has been. I think Morey has done a great job and I’d bet that Alexander would agree.
Coty Davis: Although his job has been threatened over the past few days, I believe Daryl Morey is safe for next season. Other than his idiotic analytics approach, Morey is a pretty good GM. Just take a look at the moves he has made over the past four years. With the exception of Ty Lawson, every move has been a home run.
Joshua Van Horn: I just read that Les said Morey’s job is safe, and I think that is the right decision. The Rockets made it to the WCF last season. Morey brought that team back, and added Ty Lawson. In theory, Morey made all the right moves. For some reason, it just didn’t work out.
Quoc Thai: With the job Morey has been doing, I would like him to be removed as the GM. His decision to fire Kevin McHale is totally terrible.
Tamberlyn Richardson: If this season proves anything it’s that analytics does nothing to gauge heart, work ethic or chemistry. Morey may do a great job of foreseeing fundamental skills in players, but the fact his team was such a mess on and off the court this season speaks to the old school ‘eye test’ not being utilized enough. Further it’s abundantly clear the team needs to take more care in their interview process which helps to determine the qualities of the player. The Portland Trail Blazers are masters of this process as they made abundantly clear this season with their backcourt refusing to buckle despite losing 5 of their top 6 players!
Given Morey obviously lacks the ability to assess these non-analytical qualities (if the Rockets retain him) he needs to hire the appropriately qualified staff (interviewers, scouts, coaches) to look for players who possess leadership qualities, high motors, and the ability to fit roles on a team without being counter productive.
I’ll go further by stating the Kevin McHale firing was met with some cheers, but on a whole the industry was in shock with many citing it as inappropriate. Especially since Houston chose to do it shortly after the season began (11 games in). If I leave the x’s and o’s out of this, let me just say the one thing McHale did well was manage personalities. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see the major chemistry issues on this team (on and off the court). For all off McHale’s short comings he knew how to manage his players egos. In the case of this specific team, that’s an asset worth it’s weight in gold.
Side note: As per the updated news Mr. Alexander says Morey’s job is safe, remember that’s exactly what the King’s said about George Karl who is no longer the head coach in Sacramento. And in terms of said owner intending to be more involved in the off season decisions, while I wouldn’t put him in the same vein as the Knicks owner, James Dolan or Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov it’s never a good sign when ownership starts dictating strategy.
Andre Cantalogo: I believe Daryl Morey’s job is fairly safe. Still the reports about L. Alexander conducting a thorough analysis that INCLUDES Daryl Morey is a great way of keeping him on his toes. Therefore his job is likely not subject to Rockets performance in the post season.
Anthony Nguyen: Given how the season has been going, not safe at all. The regular season is the presentation of how management has performed, the post season is all about the players and coaches.
Next: Factor X?
Mar 19, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) and center Dwight Howard (12) and forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Michael Beasley (8) and guard Jason Terry (31) react on the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Rockets 109-97. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
13. Who has the potential to be an x factor in the series? Explain why.
Coty Davis: Without a doubt Dwight Howard. If Bickerstaff can find a way to get Howard more involved in the offense, it would allow him to become that dominating force we know D12 can be. At 6’11 265 pounds, if Howard can average 25 points and 15 rebounds. It would be tough for a team who plays small ball to stop Superman.
Joshua Van Horn: Patrick Beverley. If he can take his defensive intensity up another notch, he may be able to bother Steph Curry enough to give the Warriors serious problems on offense. Remember, last season Beverley didn’t get to play against the Dubs in the WCF.
Quoc Thai: Houston need to lock down Curry, if Ariza or McDaniels could do the job, then we might have a chance. Maybe Curry would have time to study Ariza’s defense. But McDaniels is a total unknown, he might be the x-factor of the series.
Tamberlyn Richardson: I’ve already opined enough on the use of McDaniels, so let me offer another possibility. Clint Capela entered last post season having played in just 12 NBA games. By the time the Rockets run had ended he had experience in 17 post season games. Assuming the script goes according to plan and the Warriors take the first two games at home. And, let’s say for sake of argument cooler heads prevail, and the team already has decided to not pay through the nose to retain Howard in free agency.
Then shouldn’t Houston capitalize on the ability to give Capela quality playoff experience? I’d even argue it merits him gaining more minutes out of the gate given Howard is unlikely to see many touches or be a game changer. Let him learn what it will take to be a winner. It’s often said when a team suffers the lowest low it lights a fire within that provides the motivation in the off season. From my viewpoint it’s hard to argue giving players who are definitely part of the core moving forward the majority of the minute distribution.
Andre Cantalogo: Realistically Michael Beasley or Clint Capela could be intriguing weapons to surprise the Warriors. I reckon that in order for the Rockets to actually put up an effort and grab a couple wins though, the x factor must be Dwight Howard DOMINATING, IMPOSING his will on Andrew Bogut.
If Howard shows that Bogut has no business sharing the same court (let alone the paint) with him, than the Rockets have a chance. But that’s it. He must shut out Bogut and take control of the paint, go for thirty each night and if the Warriors switch Bogut with Green, then Dwight must run over him, send Green to the second or third row with his strength.
That’s the only, absolutely only way I see for the Rockets to steal some games in this series, dominating the inside.
Anthony Nguyen: K.J McDaniels. To play well against the Warriors you have to have the pedigree to match up to their awareness, activity level and physicality. K.J will have a factor defensively and around the rim. Don’t expect him to light the net up for 20 plus points but keep an eye on everything he does outside of the box score that contributes to wins.
Ben Casey: I’ve said it a couple of times before, but I think KJ McDaniels could be the X-factor. If he got significant minutes in which he gave 100% effort to hounding Steph Curry as tight as possible, I think that could really disrupt the MVP’s rhythm and mindset. He’s faster and more athletic than Curry and should be able to stick with him for the most part. There’s not a man on earth who can stop Curry, but KJ has a better chance than anyone else on the Rockets to slow him down.
Next: Plus and Minus?
Feb 23, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and center Dwight Howard (12) leave the court after the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah won in overtime 117-114. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
14.What do you see as the Rockets greatest strength in this series versus their greatest disadvantage (or weakness)?
Joshua Van Horn: The Rockets greatest strength is Harden’s ability to create offense. To be honest, that has been their only strength all season. Their greatest weakness is their defense. Going up against one of the greatest offensive teams of all time, the Rockets will collapse if they are unable to play better defense.
Quoc Thai: The Rockets greatest strength is their individual talent. Everyone on the Rockets has enough talent to be as good as the Thunder. The greatest weakness is maybe their inconsistency and the lack of urgency during the first halves.
Tamberlyn Richardson: Statistically the Rockets get more steals and are better rebounders on one end of the floor. Yet, the obvious strength is James Harden, but he will be need to display super human qualities for it to matter beyond a single game. In terms of weaknesses, though I could point to their defense specifically on the perimeter there are other glaring weaknesses. Three come to mind immediately:
- lack of consistent effort
- iso ball to end games (everyone knows Harden is taking the shot or orchestrating who does)
- and arguably the most important thing is the lack of team chemistry which pales in stark contrast to the cohesive unit of the Warriors.
Andre Cantalogo: The Rockets biggest weakness is obvious – the team’s issue defending the three (21st in the league) versus the Warriors ability to defend the three (2nd in the league) arguably the Rockets most used weapon. There’s also the home court disadvantage.
Rockets single advantage on the Warriors is their ability to create turnovers by stealing the basket and hopefully the hunger and thrive to beat the best team in NBA history.
Anthony Nguyen: Houston’s greatest disadvantage is that they happen to be playing a team who has the best single season record in NBA history. Putting yourself in Golden State’s shoes, imagine accomplishing that and not winning the title. The Warriors are hungrier this year than they were last year.
Ben Casey: Their greatest strength is the fact that James Harden will be as motivated as ever. I imagine that seeing Steph be a shoo-in for MVP this year pisses him off, especially considering his lack of consideration for the honor. When James is locked in, he’s just about as dangerous as a player can be. Additionally, I’m expecting the Warriors to come into this series cocky as all get out, which will be something that Houston can try to take advantage of. The Rockets greatest weakness is the fact that their defense hasn’t looked in sync for more than a few minutes at a time this season. For a team that’s about to face the best offense in the league, that’s bad news.
Coty Davis: If they use Dwight Howard the right way, Houston would have an advantage with their inside game. Their biggest weakness would be getting caught up in a three-point contest with Golden State.
Next: And the winner is?
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
15. Let’s face it the Warriors were the best team in basketball this year. How confident are you the Rockets can win a game in the series let alone upset Golden State?
Quoc Thai: I believe the Rockets will be able to win a game at home. Harden is too talented for the Rockets to be swept. If the Rockets play like they did the last three games, they would give the Warriors a hell of a run. I think the Rockets have a 10 percent chance of upsetting the Warriors.
Tamberlyn Richardson: Though the Rockets talent base is undeniable they take plays off and although Harden could go off for 50 or deliver a triple-double on any given night the fact remains the Warriors are driven to repeat. I’ll point you back to last summer when these two teams met in the Western Conference Finals. One team won the title and one overcame incredible adversity and just missed out. Ironically it was the team with all the spoils who dedicated themselves through the off season to improve, not the team who lost. Rather, the Rockets franchise player was in the news more for his partying, endorsement deal and ‘Hollywood relationship’.
It’s tough because many of the SCS staff are loyal, passionate dedicated Rockets fans (just like the Red Nation fan base is) who just want their team to win. I’m proud they’ve maintained their professionalism on nights when their hearts have been heavy seeing the team they love struggle on and off the court. I empathize with them as I’m a Toronto native who has lived through season after season of disappointment. I watched Tracy McGrady walk for nothing (a move which ultimately lead to the CBA creating the rookie extension contract), Vince Carter traded for a player with a bad kidney that never played one game in a Raptors uniform or countless other let downs. I understand the blind faith one has when they love something so dearly they can’t imagine the alternative.
I knew Lowry and DeRozan were hurt entering the post season last year, but I still kept hoping they could summon the courage even just to win one game. But my gut knew on the very first play as Paul Pierce pulled Kyle Lowry to the ground and drove his elbow into his barely healed back it was over before it started.
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If there is a silver lining let me point to where the Raptors are this season. And while they’ll still need to get past the first round for many to commend their fourth best league record, there is a foundation in place which showcases a program definitely headed in the right direction. It took being swept in embarrassing fashion for the team and it’s stars to understand that, and perhaps if that should happen to the Rockets it will pay dividends over the long haul.
For all the dedicated Houston fan base I truly hope that is the case – – for as much as the team failed to live up to their famous moniker the fans this season truly were the definition of ‘Clutch City’.
I fear the Rockets are in for a swift exit as these Warriors continue their laser focused effort in pursuit of a repeat. And while I see Houston being swept I hope it motivates whoever remains to ensure the Rockets return to the upper echelon next season.
Andre Cantalogo: Not confident at all. They might get one at home but that’s probably it.
Still it’s the same team (minus Beverley and Motiejunas) that gave the Warriors a run for their money in a couple games last year in the WCF. Everything’s possible in the NBA. Hey, about 9 years ago a #1 Texan team was eliminated by an #8 seed Warriors, there’s no reason why the Rockets can’t return the favor in place of their beloved state neighbors!
Anthony Nguyen: I don’t believe this series will be as easy as many think it will be for Golden State. Keep in mind that this Houston team, though not the exact same, went to the Conference Finals last year with two key players missing (Beverley and Motiejunas). If we’re looking at this series from an angle, Golden State has absolutely all the pressure on them to win. Breaking the single season record and not winning the title would ultimately be a failure for them. Houston on the other hand has just had a season where literally every analyst in America gave them crap every single night and yet they still made the playoffs. The chances are higher than expected and I really wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Warriors melt down.
Ben Casey: I’m always guilty of being a little optimistic when it comes to things like this. Realistically though, I do not expect the Rockets to win this series. The Warriors are the best team in basketball history (at least that’s what their record says), and it took Houston all 82 games to clinch a playoff berth. It just makes sense for the Rockets to lose. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of last year’s match-up, with Warriors taking it in a gentleman’s sweep, 4-1. The Rockets could steal another one if they caught Golden State napping, but I’ll be floored if this series is competitive at all.
Coty Davis: The Rockets have no chance of winning this series what so ever! However, I do believe Houston will be able to win at least one game. James Harden is too great of a player to allow his team to get swept. He will have a game where he goes for 40 in a home victory. Other than that, the Rockets have no chance of defeating a team who won 73 games.
Joshua Van Horn: I wouldn’t be surprised if he Rockets won a game or two. As far as pulling off an upset, the Rockets at doing that are close to zero. The fan in me will continue to root for them, and secretly believe it is possible, but it’s not gonna happen. It will be a fun series, and afterwards we’ll just have to hope the Rockets hire a proven coach this summer who can instill a sense of discipline.
Part 1 of the Round Table can be linked to here
Part2 of the Round Table can be linked to here
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