After just one season with the MVP backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rockets found themselves making yet another change in the backcourt, for their second time in as many years. The Rockets, who had just traded Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook in 2019, were trading Westbrook for John Wall in the 2020 offseason.
The deal made sense because Westbrook and Wall were both under supermax deals, so moving their salaries was fairly easy, and the Rockets were able to get a first-round draft pick out of the deal. This was important at the time because former Rockets GM Daryl Morey had emptied the cupboard of first-round picks, so the Rockets needed to stockpile as many picks as possible.
The Rockets got off to a bad start at the onset of the season, which didn't bode well for their chances of trying to convince James Harden to stay in the Space City, as Harden had already made it known that he wanted out, which was a wish that the Rockets eventually granted the long-time franchise player. The Harden trade forced the Rockets into a rebuild just one year after reaching the Western Conference Semifinals and finishing as the fourth-best team in the West.
The 2020-21 season was a nightmare of epic proportions, as the Rockets went on a lengthy losing streak and were forced to plug-and-play G-League players due to injuries. The Rockets were rewarded in the draft lottery with the second-pick, which was used to select Jalen Green.
But although the Rockets enter the 2021-22 season in a clear rebuild, unlike last offseason, former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy doesn't believe this franchise reset will last long.
Jeff Van Gundy says Houston Rockets will have speedy rebuild
On Tuesday Van Gundy was on The Wheelhouse with Jake Asman, Cody Stoots, & Brad Kellner on ESPN 97.5 Houston and gave his reasoning.
"I think they have done a tremendous job after being dealt a very difficult challenge with Westbrook and Harden both wanting out simultaneously. And every transaction is now scrutinized to the nth degree but if you look in totality at what they've been able to accomplish, obviously they had a rough year last year, they're going to have some growing pains going forward, but what they have now once again is hope.
And I think Stephen Silas and his staff weathered that storm last year as well as you could. This year they go into it with a different challenge, which is to grow these young players and bring them along with some of the veteran guys.
And I think Houston can get good quickly. I do, I think they have the ability now through what Rafael and his staff have done to put an exciting team on the floor. "
Van Gundy added, "They have genuine hope now for a better future." Van Gundy's comments echo those of Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, who cited the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns as proof of how a franchise could have a quick turnaround.
With four 19-year-olds on the Rockets' roster, who all have different skillsets, the onus will be on Rockets coach Stephen Silas and the Rockets' veterans, such as John Wall and Eric Gordon to ensure the development of the rookies. In addition, the Rockets will be relying on Kevin Porter Jr. to continue the development that he underwent in 2020-21 while playing a new position.
But if the Rockets are able to spring-forward the development of the aforementioned younger players on the team, Van Gundy could very well be right about them being a contender fairly quickly. In most cases, the challenge is identifying the talent and getting it on the roster.
But in the Rockets' case, they appear to already have the talent, it'll just be about developing it.