NBA legend Isiah Thomas picked the Houston Rockets to win the Western Conference. Here’s why his prediction is spot on.
The Rockets are entering this season with the most hype they’ve had in quite some time and rightfully so. It feels a little different considering the fact that the Rockets are oftentimes “slept on” so to speak. It seems the narrative of the national media is that the Rockets can’t and won’t win a title and have missed out on their opportunity. Isiah Thomas, however, had a much different take while speaking on Fox Sports’ First Things First with Nick Wright and Cris Carter.
That is alot of praise for a Rockets team that has been a punching bag for jokes more often than not. But is Thomas right in picking the Rockets to win the West? I think so, and here are my 5 reasons why.
Best Chance for Westbrook
For starters, this season likely represents the best opportunity the newly acquired Russell Westbrook will have to win a championship for the rest of his career. Westbrook is getting older and certainly won’t be paired with a generational talent like James Harden again.
Having Harden on the same team as Westbrook will mean The Brodie won’t have to carry his team like he did during the year he won the MVP. In addition to that, he’s got a General Manager in Daryl Morey who is all about making the necessary moves to take the Rockets over the top and make them better. There aren’t many GMs quite like Morey in that he’s always interested and willing to make big trades to acquire big players.
Westbrook is used to quite the opposite from his time in OKC as they traded away Harden, Oladipo and eventually Paul George all during the beginning or middle of their primes. Very rarely do we see Morey stand pat and not make the necessary moves to make the Rockets a contender. In fact, the Rockets will have a deeper roster than they’ve arguably had since the arrival of Harden, as their second unit could feature Chris Clemons, Austin Rivers, Tyson Chandler, Ben McLemore, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Gerald Green.
Another reason Thomas is accurate in making this prediction is that Mike D’Antoni‘s contract is depending on it. D’Antoni was unable to come to an agreement on a new deal which means his contract is riding on how the Rockets play this season.
D’Antoni has even more incentive to lead the Rockets to a title, as he was unable to agree to the per year value he was wanting. Owner Tilman Fertitta essentially told D’Antoni he wasn’t impressed with what he’s done as the Rockets coach so D’Antoni is coaching out the last year on his deal and will re-negotiate after the season. It would seem like D’Antoni would be able to pick his number if the Rockets win the NBA Finals.
Demise of the Warriors
Another reason, and one of the biggest reasons, is because the Rockets’ thorn in their side has been considerably compromised. The Golden State Warriors have ended the Rockets’ season in each of the last 2 years, in large part because of 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant.
Obviously Durant has moved on and Klay Thompson will be out of action for a large amount of time with his ACL injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warriors decide to shelve Thompson for the entire season if they don’t feel like his return will help them this season, which could possibly be the case. This would obviously depend on when he is fully able to return. I’m not underestimating the trio of Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell, I’m just saying I don’t think that will win them the West.
Rockets Have Paid the Price
It’s the Rockets time. There is no better way to put it than this. The Rockets have reached the Western Conference Finals twice in the last 5 years and have been defeated by the eventual Western Conference champions in each of the past 2 seasons. The Rockets have come within one half of defeating the Warriors in 2017 and came within one game this past season of getting past the Warriors.
Throughout that process, the Rockets have dealt with roster shake-ups, bad officiating, and colossal injuries throughout that timespan. They also have even had a different coach when they faced the Warriors in the 2015 Conference Finals than when they faced them in 2017, as Kevin McHale was initially the coach in 2015, prior to the arrival of D’Antoni. Sure, many teams can say they’ve faced some of these same obstacles, but the Rockets just so happened to consistently face the greatest team ever assembled in NBA history, in addition to the other barriers they’ve faced. Simply put, the Rockets have legitimately paid the price.
Commitment from Star Players
Harden and Westbrook want to make this work. They surely will want to prove everyone who believes this pairing won’t work wrong, and believe me there are many. They also know they need this to work because they need each other’s best, given the improvements made in the Western Conference, especially to the Clippers, Lakers and Jazz. Harden and Westbrook were both paired on a Finals team when they were much younger, as Harden was just 23 and Westbrook was only 24. They both are surely beyond ready to make it back as neither have been back to the Finals since then.
On top of that, they’ve known each other since the age of 10 and wanted to play together, which means they will be excited and more than willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure this team wins a championship. Obviously it will take more than just Harden and Westbrook (and the Rockets do have more than just those two), but the star players set the example for the rest of the team.
The Rockets are going into the season with championship hype, and I personally think the buzz is legitimate. I can’t wait for the season to start!