Houston Rockets Lose 2018 Free Agent Frenzy
Houston Championship Window Lasted 15 Minutes
Houston stomped through the NBA during the regular season, winning 65 games to clinch first place throughout the playoffs and cementing themselves as one of the best regular season teams in history. James Harden finally received his rightfully deserved MVP award after being shunned over the past couple of seasons by historical individual accomplishments of Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry.
Chris Paul added another superstar for Harden. Harden and Paul worked well with coach D’Antoni, who figured out a way of getting a pair of ball-dominant superstars to share possession without censoring either star. Instead of Harden tiring down the stretch, the Rockets grew stronger, blasting to the western conference finals with relative ease.
Houston’s 2018 strategy worked well, all the way until game five of the conference finals, when a predictable problem ruined the Rockets playoffs. With the Rockets holding a 3-2 lead in the series, Chris Paul experienced another serious hamstring injury, depleting Houston of the one-two punch capable of finishing the Warriors off. Instead, Golden State won the last two games of the series, moving on to a free NBA Finals romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Rockets can’t say for sure whether their plan to defeat the Warriors would’ve worked, because circumstances removed Chris Paul from the equation just when Houston needed him most. In hindsight, the Rockets championship window was open when the Warriors faltered in game five. Most cruel, the window closed in the final minutes of the same match, when Paul could no longer play on a busted hamstring.
Rockets Flew Too Close To The Sun
After a series of genius moves by GM Daryl Morey turned the Rockets from a middling squad into one of the very best, his own success may return to haunt his franchise.
The first sign of trouble took place early in the 2018 NBA free agent period, when Trevor Ariza bolted for the Phoenix Suns – a franchise dead-last in the association, with 44 fewer wins than the Rockets. Ariza’s been a vital, under-the-radar member of many top-quality teams, including a championship with Kobe in 2009. Trevor also played with the Wizards at their peak, along with several vital seasons with the Rockets.
Another big presence for the Houston Rockets deep run in the 2018 playoffs was Luc Mbah a Moute. The Cameroonian forward has been a mercenary for a handful teams around the association, most recently with the Clippers. Despite difficulty with injury, Luc turned into an important defensive lynchpin without demanding ball attention on the offensive court, pleased to catch-and-shoot threes whenever Harden or Paul required a high-percentage outlet.
Houston’s switch-heavy strategy worked because they were able to deploy Mbah a Moute and Ariza against opposing guards and forwards without sacrificing offense at the other end. Replacing these two players will prove to be very difficult, if not impossible, before the beginning of the 2019 NBA regular season.
Houston’s Half-Measure Offseason
At the moment, James Harden and Chris Paul don’t appear to have the support cast necessary to swing with the heavyweights of the western conference. If fact, with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors appearing more dangerous than ever, the Rockets probably wouldn’t win the eastern conference either. GM Morey selected half-measures to make up for losses of players who were perfect fits within the systems.
Michael Carter-Williams signed with Houston, a tall, athletic guard who hasn’t shot well throughout his career. He’ll likely receive backup minutes from Paul, or end up slotted as a switchable perimeter defender while staying in the corner three slot on offense.
James Ennis was signed to perform a similar role as Mbah a Moute and Ariza – defend the perimeter and funnel slashers into the waiting arms of Clint Capela. Last season, Ennis was shipped around, leading to a poor .333 3P% over 72 games.
Incredibly, despite the fact that Carmelo Anthony doesn’t seem to acknowledge the passing of time, the Rockets might attempt to sign Melo to a cheap contract and plug him in as a starting forward. Anthony would do well coming off the Rockets bench, slaughtering opposing bench groups alongside Paul or Harden.
Unfortunately, all indications suggest that Anthony’s game hasn’t aged well. He’s still an elite mid-range and iso scorer, but his three-point shot remains consistent at best. Perhaps most distressing, Melo’s a giant defensive liability.
Age has become an issue with this roster, with Chris Paul entering into the 2019 campaign as a 33-year-old point guard. His 4-year, $160 million deal with the Rockets could turn into an albatross very quickly. If injury prevents Paul from teaming up with Harden on a frequent basis, Houston will have one of the worst contracts in the association on their books – a coup for the president of the NBPA.
The longer the drama between Clint Capela and the Houston Rockets lasts, the worse the result for the Rockets. ‘Melo might decide to sign with the Miami Heat instead. Capela may end up tiring of the Rockets stance, agreeing to play elsewhere after the next season or two. Worst case scenario, Clint believes that he’s so undervalued that he decides to hold out.
The Houston Rockets have been a model of organizational excellence over the past five years under Daryl Morey, who doubled down on metrics to enforce a style of play which creates as many three-pointers, dunks and free throws as possible. He’s made the very most of his opportunities, creating a monstrous team over the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately, this same philosophy might have depleted his team of the personnel needed to attempt another long post season run.
Bettors should look out for the 2018-19 Houston Rockets, who could turn into the most disappointing team in the NBA. Currently, the Rockets match the Los Angeles Lakers as the third most likely club to win the NBA finals in 2019 with odds of +750. Unless Houston finds extra talent, consider their championship moment past.
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