Vernon Maxwell knew the Houston Rockets had their work cut out for them in the playoffs with their small-ball style of play.
Once the Houston Rockets pulled the trigger on trading away Clint Capela for Robert Covington, there was no turning back from small ball. The move guaranteed that no one taller than 6-8 would hit the hardwood for the team, relying on team rebounding and hot shooting to make up for shortcomings.
The league knew the strategy could be dangerous enough to win a title, but many didn’t fear due as a legitimate title-contending style. As it turned out, the extreme version of small ball ended up being more of a fun gimmick than a winning strategy when the Rockets ran into the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs.
“They were overmatched against the Lakers,” began Maxwell. “And then playing that small ball, I just don’t understand that. You’ve gotta have a big. Your tallest guy on the court can’t be 6-7.”
Vernon’s comments hardly come as a surprise, given that he had the honor of playing with all-time great big men like Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson throughout his 13-year career. Hakeem specifically will likely remain the best player in Houston Rockets history for years to come.
Why the Houston Rockets flamed out against L.A.
What really doomed the Rockets when they ran into the Lakers was when Frank Vogel adjusted his lineup to play his mid-sized players that would still dominate on the boards while also not being beaten on the perimeter. In a sense, he beat Houston at their own game by pitting his own version of small ball against the Rockets’ micro ball.
“That’s just not gonna work against AD and LeBron,” continued Maxwell. All they were doing was playing bully ball. I said it before the series started. I felt like the Lakers were gonna win that series in the fashion that they did. I pretty much knew that.”
Now with several questions to address this offseason, Maxwell was also asked for his thoughts regarding his petition for Sam Cassell as the team’s next head coach.
“Sam is a jolly personality,” said Maxwell. “He’ll keep the team upbeat. I think he’ll do real well with the Rockets, with the guys they have on the team. He’ll do a great job because he’s a people person, and he’ll be just fine if given the opportunity.”
Even while answering the question about Cassell, Maxwell reiterated what the Rockets need above everything.
“They should probably bring in a big, though,” said Maxwell. “That’s first and foremost. Gotta get him a big.”
Vernon isn’t a believer in small ball as a playoff-winning strategy, and I can’t say I disagree with him. The Rockets would be wise to address what caused them to burn out this year if they want to compete for a title in 2021.