Rockets long-time analyst explains team’s strategy towards tanking

Head coach Stephen Silas of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Head coach Stephen Silas of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets‘ 2020-21 season has been a major disappointment, as the Rockets are currently a half game away from last place in the Western Conference, with a 13-37 record. The Rockets have undergone a changing of the guard, as former coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey both decided to leave the franchise, with Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone becoming their replacements.

The changes didn’t stop there, of course, as Russell Westbrook was sent to the Washington Wizards for John Wall, while James Harden was later sent to the Brooklyn Nets shortly after the season started. The Rockets also dealt P.J. Tucker to the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline and even decided to part ways with Ben McLemore, who led the team in 3-point shooting in 2019-20.

The Rockets have had the look of one of the worst teams in the league, if not the worst, as 26 of their losses have been by double-figures, including a near 50-point blowout to the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the season. This is certainly not anything that Rockets fans are used to, as the team has been one of the most winningest franchises in the NBA of late.

Although this group will likely be known for losing 20 consecutive games, the Rockets also nearly pulled off defeats of the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, who hold each of the top two seeds in the Western Conference. This has led many to question whether the Rockets are intentionally losing games, or “tanking” if you will, as the team is certainly better than what their record indicates.

Houston Rockets insider explains the team’s strategy towards tanking

Rockets insider Jonathan Feigen, who covers the team for the Houston Chronicle, explained the Rockets’ approach towards tanking during NBC Houston’s Texas Sports Nation.

“They’re not tanking.  They’re trying to win. They’re not winning but they are trying to. And that’s how it should be, because they are trying to keep these players.

And also what’s the point of trying to lose? What’s the point of having a tanking strategy if you can lose anyway, which they can?

And keep in mind, their schedule is the toughest in the league the rest of the way and it’s not close. It’s just a remarkable schedule, so they’re going to lose a lot of games regardless.”

The idea of tanking has been discussed, in part, because of the team’s current situation as it pertains to their first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets finish the season with one of the four worst records in the league, their draft pick will go to the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the pick was included in the 2019 trade that was made between both franchises, which sent Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.

But Feigen pushed back on the idea of purposely losing games, and gave his reasoning.

“If the idea is to develop their younger guys, well you only develop them against that level of competition if you’re trying to win.

So they need to really work to try to win, let guys grow up into being NBA players to being guys who can win NBA games. You can only do that by trying to win, and that’s what they’re doing.”

The Rockets have just 22 games remaining this season, as their season finale will be against the Atlanta Hawks on May 16th, which is a little over a month from now. This final stretch of games will give the Rockets plenty of time to develop their younger players, such as Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood, and KJ Martin, who could all benefit from the reps and playing time with one another.

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In addition, the Houston Rockets stand a strong chance of getting their own pick, as their schedule will make it challenging for them to improve their positioning in the Western Conference, as Feigen points out. From that standpoint, the Rockets will be able to get the best of both worlds, which would turn the 2020-21 season into a positive.