With the dog days of summer underway, NBA Free Agency is beginning to settle down, and now many players, executives and fans alike are looking forward towards the fall with a new sense of optimism, including the Houston Rockets.
The move had many pundits and fans debating if they believed that the pairing of Most Valuable Players’ will work.
For the most part, there is a consensus that Houston is still behind both Los Angeles teams as well as Milwaukee and Philadelphia overall. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Rockets with the fifth-best odds to win the NBA title in 2020.
Despite the relative consensus in where the Rockets stand in the West, there is an argument to be made that Houston is being over-looked by the shiny eye-candy in Southern California.
Here is why the Rockets should be favored in the Western Conference:
Next: No. 3
Houston retained their core
While Chris Paul was a big reason for the Rockets’ success in his two seasons in Houston, the team would not have been as successful if they did not have P.J. Tucker‘s defense and hustle plays, Clint Capela‘s presence around the rim and Eric Gordon’s versatility.
After weeks of trade rumors, it became clear that Eric Gordon remains vastly underrated around the league. Gordon was Houston’s second-leading scorer in the 2019 playoffs while being asked to start at small forward and guard the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
In 2018-19, the Rockets also added Austin Rivers and Danuel House Jr. to that core whom each left their impact on the roster. Rivers provided stellar defense in the playoffs while shooting 45.7% from the three-point line and House averaged 9.4 points on 41.6% shooting from the three-point line in just 39 games.
While House’s role was reduced in the playoffs, he is still only 26 years old and has shown more than enough potential to expect him to have an even bigger impact in 2019-2020.
With June being filled with trade rumors of Houston needing to orchestrate complicated three-team trades to acquire another star, it seemed like the chances of improving would require sacrificing a couple of these key players, but Houston managed to keep all of them instead.
In 2018, the Rockets stumbled out the gates early which ultimately cost them a top-three seed at the end of the year. With most of the team returning, Westbrook’s transition will be less tedious as he will be the only player that will need to adjust to a new environment and system which could translate to more wins early.
Next: No. 2
For the past five seasons, Houston has been one of the most successful teams in the NBA.
They have won 270 regular-season games, have had two Western Conference Finals’ appearances, have beaten the dynastic Golden State Warriors seven times in the postseason (tied with Cavaliers for most in that time) and James Harden has been in the MVP conversation four out of those five years, yet Houston has not won an NBA title.
Westbrook has also shared similar frustrations as the Rockets in Oklahoma City in those five seasons.
In 2015, Westbrook’s Thunder missed the playoffs after an injury-plagued campaign; in 2016, the Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes, just like Houston did in 2018, and failed to capitalize, and then Westbrook saw his teammate, Kevin Durant, leave for those very same Warriors and was unable to advance past the first round of the postseason for the rest of his time in Oklahoma City and was left by another co-star in Paul George who chose to play with Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.
As for Mike D’Antoni, he has won multiple Coach of the Year Awards; he has coached multiple teams to 60+ wins, but just like James Harden and the Rockets and Russell Westbrook, he has yet to win a Larry O’Brien trophy.
For the Rockets, the individual accolades there is now only one goal, and it is simple; win it all.
Next: No. 1
The Rockets are not finished making moves yet
As of Monday night, the Houston Rockets have yet to officially announce any of the offseason moves they have made including the Westbrook trade and the signings of House, Rivers and Tyson Chandler.
As crafty as Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey is, it is not hard to speculate that the delay in the announcements could be due to Morey looking for more moves to make to add to the roster.
The Rockets have been connected to Andre Iguodala since he was traded to Memphis, and it could be possible that Houston is looking to add a third-team to the Westbrook deal to acquire picks to trade for Iggy, or possibly just acquire more assets from the Thunder.
As mentioned before, Houston does possess the Bird Rights to Iman Shumpert which allows the Rockets to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him, and the Rockets can then use that contract to make the money side of an Iguodala trade work.
Memphis has been persistent in their pursuit of a first-round pick for Iggy.
The Rockets also have the buyout market later in the season to improve their team, but with the Western Conference as stacked as it is, the buyout market will be very competitive, which is another reason that getting off to a strong start early will be huge.
Many of the players who’s contract will get bought out will likely be looking to join a team they can help win a championship. The closer to the top of the standings the Rockets are, the more attractive they will be for these players.