With the Houston Rockets not appearing to be contenders this season, should they blow up their core and start over?
Heading into the 2019-20 season the Houston Rockets felt they finally had a legitimate chance to win an NBA title, and rightfully so. The Golden State Warriors, who had been the Rockets’ biggest rival had finally been dismantled with the departure of Kevin Durant and the injury to Klay Thompson.
Although everything seemed to indicate that the Rockets were finally in store for what was “their time” the season has stated otherwise. The Rockets have been unable to close games, James Harden hasn’t quite been the same player we all watched during his “unguardable tour” (although his averages may indicate a different narrative), and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has had the look of a coach who is on the hot seat, which is just and fair.
Although the Rockets are on pace for 52 wins, it’s quite clear that the Rockets aren’t favorites to win the Western Conference, and we would be lucky if they advanced past the first round. So what’s next?
It’s an interesting question because we’ve never had to envision life without Harden, and it’s also hard to digest because Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has worked to pair Harden with another star, and he’s finally found his match, as Harden and Westbrook have historically been one of the best duos of all-time.
On top of that, we’ve always had Harden to turn to as our savior, but he’s shown to be unable to fill the shoes of Hakeem Olajuwon and bring a title to Houston, although he’s easily one of the best players in franchise history, in addition to league history.
But if this core isn’t enough to legitimately compete for a title, the Rockets have no other option but to break it up and rebuild. Harden certainly has value around the league, and Westbrook does also. PJ Tucker would certainly yield a low first-round pick, at the very least.
And where does Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta stand on a rebuild? He’s shown himself to be comfortable with the Rockets being good enough to make the postseason but hasn’t necessarily been demanding enough to make changes without them winning a title, in part because he possibly hasn’t given Morey the green light to stockpile the necessary assets. This has obviously been in fear of the luxury tax.
A rebuild right now would certainly be difficult for Rockets Nation, but that’ll always be the case, regardless of whether it happens now or later. The positive side of a restart is that the Rockets would surely get a boatload of draft picks for both Westbrook and Harden, especially if we mirror the manner in which the Boston Celtics hit the reset button.
The Celtics traded away Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry at a point when they were well past their prime, and they only missed the postseason once. The C’s were able to land four first-round draft picks, which ultimately turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, which is one of the best young duos in the league, if not the best. And that was for the 36-year-old Pierce, the 37-year-old KG, and the 35-year-old Terry, so just imagine what the Rockets could get for Russ and Harden, who are both in the prime of their careers.
Granted, this would be much different than the Celtics from that standpoint, but the situation would be similar in that the Houston Rockets would also get rid of coach Mike D’Antoni and keep general manager Daryl Morey, which is what the C’s did that year. The Celtics shipped out Doc Rivers for Brad Stevens and kept General manager Danny Ainge. The C’s duo was able to withstand the losses of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, and was able to bring in superstar Kemba Walker to form a trio.
Rockets fans have gotten accustomed to playing in the postseason, so a reset is hard to stomach, but what if it lands them a duo like Brown/Tatum? Or a third piece to pair with said duo?
Sure, it may take a year of tanking but would that be worth it? And what’s the alternative? Do we think the Rockets will win a championship during the James Harden era? The Rockets would be able to land another star player (or two) with the myriad of first-round picks they would land by dealing Russ and Harden, which should also be tempting.
We’ve seen the Rockets struggle against non-contenders this season, as they had lost 10 such games, heading into Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who they also struggled against, in spite of the absence of Karl Anthony-Towns.
Obviously the Houston Rockets aren’t going to restart their franchise, but it may not be a bad idea, especially considering what we’ve seen of late.