The Houston Rockets had high expectations coming into the 2018-2019 NBA season after they had just recently taken the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the conference finals. Though, after a shaky offseason and a terrible start to the regular season, things just weren’t looking so great for Houston, and they weren’t able to live up to the lofty expectations set by the media, the fans, and the players. The Rockets finished the year as the fourth seed, and with 12 fewer wins than the previous year. Even with the underwhelming results of the regular season, the Rockets were still filled with optimism as they received a second chance to play their biggest rivals, the Warriors. But once again the Rockets fell short, and are now looking forward to a pivotal offseason as they look to improve the team in any way possible.
Offseason Plans for the Houston Rockets
Creating Cap Space
As free agency is soon to begin, the Rockets need to find a way to open up cap space in order to go after key free agents. The Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, has openly said that everyone’s available for the Rockets, so a huge offseason trade shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody. This has opened up many discussions on possible trade scenarios for Houston, and one of the most common trades included star point guard, Chris Paul.
The Chris Paul Dilemma
Chris Paul is set to make $41,358,814 for the 2019-2020 NBA season and is taking up much of the Rockets cap space. Moving his contract out should be the number one priority for the Rockets as he has not been playing at the all-star level that they had expected him to play at. As he is slowly exiting his prime, he continues to be a financial liability for the Rockets. The only problem in this situation is that not many teams are willing to take on his lofty contract. As the NBA continues to thrive off great young talent, not many teams are looking forward to paying a 34-year-old 41 million dollars to lead their team.
Bringing Back Key Role Players
In-Season Pick Ups
If it wasn’t for the great in-season pick-ups by Daryl Morey, the Rockets arguably wouldn’t have gone as far as they did this past season. Austin Rivers played a pivotal role for the Rockets all throughout the regular season and even a bigger role during the playoffs. His great on-ball defense allowed the Rockets to contain Stephen Curry during the Western Conference playoffs. Kenneth Faried also played a key role when Clint Capela was out and provided great minutes off the bench. His great play in the pick and roll allows him to fit into the Mike D’Antoni system easily. These two players can continue to give the Rockets great depth to back up the main stars on the team.
The Two X-Factors
Throughout the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Rockets had two X-factors who were key to the their team success last season. These two X-factors for the Rockets were P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon. These two players were the biggest keys to the Rockets’ successes last season and must be brought back in order to continue the great results they had.
P.J. Tucker was the so-called “heart and soul” for the Rockets last season, and he lived up to that name. He was the energizer for Houston on defense and helped the Rockets lock up many wins in the playoffs with his clutch rebounding. Extending Tucker’s contract should be one of the top priorities for Houston as he has already voiced that he wants to retire a Rocket, and play for them in the long run.
Gordon was also a huge x-factor for Houston last season. Whenever Gordon got hot, the Rockets looked like they were unstoppable. He lifted the Rockets offense when James Harden was off and will be needed more if Paul does end up getting traded. Gordon has also said that he would love to continue to play as a Rocket, and would like a contract extension. He provides the Rockets with great minutes and allows D’Antoni’s system to thrive in Houston.
Key Free Agents the Houston Rockets Should Target
The Rockets’ biggest weakness last season was not having a great wing player that can shoot the three and play exceptional defense on the other end. Jimmy Butler would fill that void for the Rockets. He can help increase their chances of winning it all in a big way. Adding an all-star talent like Jimmy Butler could just be what they need the most to get over the hump. In their years with D’Antoni, the Rockets have never had an above average wing who is able to create his own shot and play great defense. Though it may take a lot of moving around with the roster, taking a chance on Butler could get the Rockets over the hump.
The Rockets are limited in the free agents they could get because of the amount of cap space they have. Going after a veteran guard who could play great defense would be a perfect fit for Houston. Danny Green is not the star the Rockets are looking for, but he can provide Houston with great minutes. His qualities allow him to ease himself into the Rockets system. His consistent three-point shooting and a great presence on defense give the Rockets more flexibility as they look to improve in any way possible.
The Rockets need to find ways to improve the roster. One way would be to add on to the great number of role players they have. Al-Farouq Aminu would be a perfect player to add on to the roster. The Rockets need to improve on defense, and adding Aminu would help build to that goal. They had a below average defense in the regular season last year. A player like Aminu can really help change that. Aminu’s defense in the playoffs last season was absolutely remarkable.
The future for the Rockets is very uncertain at the moment. The complete restructuring of the coaching staff has kept many people confused. To add on to that confusion, the struggles between D’Antoni and the front office have carried that uncertainty. Next season will be D’Antoni’s last year on his contract, so it is now or never for Houston. The expectation is that if the Rockets don’t improve, then D’Antoni won’t be coming back. This added pressure on D’Antoni has also caused Daryl Morey to make drastic changes. He has openly said that nobody is off the table for trade. This offseason will determine whether this is the end of the Rockets run, or if the window is still open. The future is very uncertain for Houston, but there is still optimism that they can get over the hump.
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