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Is Rockets Owner Tilman Fertitta Really Building a Winning Culture in Houston?

By Dylan Sonnier
Houston Rockets Tilman Fertitta (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Tilman Fertitta (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
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Is Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta building a winning culture in Houston? His recent actions may prove that he is doing the opposite.

When Leslie Alexander announced that the Houston Rockets were for sale in 2017, Rockets fans far and wide started to wonder who would take his place. During his 24 year tenure as the owner of the Rockets, the team only failed to make the playoffs eight times. The team also won two NBA championships and Alexander was well-respected amongst Houston fans. Needless to say, the next owner had some pretty big shoes to fill.

When it was announced that Tilman Fertitta was purchasing the Rockets it seemed like a no-brainer. He was already very well-known within the city of Houston and was an outspoken fan of Houston sports. Despite this seemingly match made in heaven, his first two years as the owner of the Rockets have not gone exactly to plan.

The 2018 NBA playoffs saw the Houston Rockets face the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals for the second time in four years. The Rockets seemed poised to finally bring down the Warriors until Chris Paul injured his hamstring which effectively derailed their chances of victory.

During the 2019 NBA playoffs, the Houston Rockets were defeated once again by the Golden State Warriors. This time they were sent home in the conference semi-finals in a very disappointing 6 game series. After the series, Tilman Fertitta was very outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the way things played out and told Mark Berman, the sports director for local news station Fox 26, that the team would adopt his mindset as time goes on.

“I’m a fighter. That’s my culture. The longer I own this team they’re gonna pick up more of my culture..We had ’em.”

For the casual fan, statements like those Fertitta made after the 2019 NBA playoffs may give them hope. The hope is that Tilman is going to do whatever it takes to make sure that the Houston Rockets are going to win an NBA championship.

On the surface, the moves that the Rockets made this summer seem to indicate that this is exactly what Fertitta is doing. The Rockets traded Chris Paul for former league MVP Russell Westbrook, gave Eric Gordon a contract extension, and have kept the majority of their core from last year intact. However, it seems as though these are just superficial moves to hide the fact that Tilman will do whatever it takes not to pay the luxury tax. As self-proclaimed salary cap enthusiast Albert Nahmad points out, the Rockets have avoided the luxury tax for the upcoming season despite these moves and can still avoid it next year.

Some people may not see this as a problem but I assure you it is. The problem is that there is still a need for a veteran wing. A need that the Rockets declined to address last season. Instead of bringing back a player like Luc Mbah a Moute they put their faith in Danuel House and Iman Shumpert.

This proved to be very costly in the 2019 playoffs. House exceeded expectations during the regular season but played poorly during the playoffs. At times, it seemed as though the stage was too big for him. Iman Shumpert showed flashes during the playoffs but more often than not seemed to struggle to adapt to the offense.

It is pretty reasonable to think that the Rockets would like to avoid making the same mistake again right? Unfortunately, it feels like that is exactly what is going to happen. Former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this summer. Since then the Grizzlies have been fielding trade offers for those who wish to add the veteran to their squad. Iguodala is a proven NBA veteran who has come up big in huge moments for the Golden State Warriors. He plays exceptional defense and can knock down open shots during crunch time. Although he is now 35 years-old, he would still be a valuable asset to this Rockets team.

Sadly, according to reports, Tilman Fertitta is not willing to acquire him because of the hefty luxury tax bill that would follow the acquisition.

If this is the “culture” that Tilman Fertitta believes will permeate throughout the organization then fans of the Houston Rockets should get used to coming up short in the postseason. A winner will do whatever it takes to when no matter what the consequences might be.

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Fertitta is talking a good game but he is not backing it up with his actions. Sure one could argue that the team as currently constructed is definitely a team that can contend for a title. But if you have the chance to add a veteran with a championship pedigree that can only help your team why would you not? For the moment, it looks like Fertitta is more concerned with being frugal than winning. Will he prove me wrong? I surely hope so.

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