What have the Houston Rockets lost and added in free agency?
Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone
Losing your general manager and head coach in the same offseason usually means your team is outside of the playoff picture but that’s not the case for the Rockets. Rafael Stone and Stephen Silas might not be Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni but they are more than capable successors.
Rafael Stone has impressed in his short time at the helm of the Rockets and could be one of the league’s best general managers in the making. His move to bring in Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins should pay dividends and him holding onto Harden and bringing in John Wall should allow the Rockets to once again compete for a title.
Stephen Silas had been an assistant coach in the NBA for close to two decades before the Rockets gave him the chance to be the lead man in charge. His hiring was deserved as he was a part of the Mavericks’ coaching staff that oversaw Luka Doncic’s rise to an MVP caliber player in only his second season while playing an integral role in Stephen Curry’s development during his time with the Warriors.
The most exciting aspect of the Silas hiring is that he’ll be bringing aspects of the Maverick’s league-best offense with him to meld with the remnants of Mike D’Antoni’s five-out system from last season. The fusion of the two offensive identities could mark the future of NBA offenses and should see the Rockets continue their streak of having one of the league’s best attacks.
The Rockets’ swap of Russell Westbrook for John Wall doesn’t make the team better on paper but it has the potential to make them better on the court. The first question with Wall is going to be his health.
Since 2016-17, Wall has played a grand total of 73 NBA regular-season games because of a litany of injuries. His most recent injury absence cost him the entirety of the 2019-20 season recovering from a torn Achilles.
The good news is that Wall has had almost two years to fully recover from his Achilles tear which bodes well for him being effective. The Rockets have to hope that Wall resembles the player he used to be or else his contract will be the worst one in the league.
The player that he used to be was an absolute terror on both sides of the court. His elite athleticism and court vision made him one of the best playmakers in the entire league and allowed him to hound opposing guards.
Westbrook may be better than Wall but Wall should fit next to James Harden and the rest of the Rockets’ roster more easily. When Wall was at his best he was one of the best at finding shooters in the corners and creating easy buckets for his centers in the pick and roll.
The Rockets will miss Westbrook’s 27 points per game but Wall has been a 20 point per game scorer before and his passing should help cover for that loss. If Wall is healthy, a big if, then the Rockets won’t miss Westbrook too much and if Wall is back to the player he once was then people might forget all about Westbrook.
Micro ball will always have its detractors but Wood doesn’t really bring an end to that offensive identity as much as he helps to paper over some of its weaknesses. The 6’11 center is a credible rim protector and rebounder but he also can stretch it out to the 3-point line and take it off the dribble to get to the rim.
Wood will be central to everything the Rockets do on offense, and if everything goes according to plan, he should garner serious All-Star buzz. Snagging an All-Star caliber player at the prime age of 25 for only a $41 million commitment over three years could end up being the best signing of the offseason.
The Rockets are banking on Wood making a serious impact this season and his profile suggests he’s in the perfect environment to do just that. Wood is on the slender side, which could cause problems against some of the league’s more dominant interior scorers but low-post touches are at an all-time low so that shouldn’t be a major concern.
There’s a world where DeMarcus Cousins never gets hurt, and he’s far too expensive to bring in but the Rockets were wise to gamble on a return to form. At his best, Cousins is a low-post force who can score and facilitate all over the court.
If he’s 80-percent of the player he once was then the Rockets will have themselves a massive bargain. The addition of Wood means that Cousins can ease his way back into the rotation and if his body is too broken it won’t tank their season.
A concern with Cousins is that his notorious behavior will outweigh his production on the court and cause problems in the locker room. Those concerns are not without merit but they are very dated and harken back to his days with the perpetually dysfunctional Sacramento Kings.
Cousins was brought into the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers, the past two western conference champions, and there was not a peep about his behavior. If Cousins is content with his role then he’ll have a great opportunity to show the league that he has more yet to give.
Yes, the Rockets didn’t add James Harden this offseason but they have staved off his wishes thus far to leave, which is addition by not subtraction. The loss of Harden would be catastrophic for the Rockets because he is simply an irreplaceable player.
The reality is that a credible offer for Harden was never made and the Rockets simply cannot let him go for anything less than he’s worth. While the trade of Russell Westbrook will cast doubt over Harden staying, a credible offer has to materialize for Harden to move on.
If the Rockets can get off to a good start and make a deep playoff run it’s likely that Harden’s wishes to leave will abate. If not? The Rockets can hold out for a real offer for Harden’s services and hopefully get back a true franchise player.
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