The NBA journey has come to an end. The playoffs are over, and the Golden State Warriors are the team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams joined the other fourteen non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We continue with the fourteenth team eliminated from the postseason, the Houston Rockets.
Record: 65-27, 1st Seed, Western Conference
Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Playoff Result: Lost Conference Finals, 4-3, to the Golden State Warriors. (Long-range missiles continuously off target.)
For the first time since the 2014-15 season, the Golden State Warriors were not the top seed in the Western Conference. Yes, they were the favorites, but the Houston Rockets captured that title this year. For those of us who were skeptical whether coach Mike D’Antoni had finally gone too far with basketball experimentation and wouldn’t be able to have Chris Paul and James Harden coexist with one basketball, they were the most potent duo this season. Adding Paul allowed the Rockets to have someone on the floor at all times who could create shots for others. D’Antoni did his best to make sure at least one of either Harden or Paul were in the game, save for games with large second-half score differences. It worked. Sixty-five wins later, the Rockets had home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals with two chances to win and play for a championship.
But Paul hurt his hamstring and was unavailable for Games 6 and 7 against the Warriors. And despite Houston having big first half leads in both games, Paul’s absence was felt when Golden State would have those surges. Every team in basketball makes a run, but the Warriors have been able to make those runs feel apocalyptic. Houston was thrown into a frenzy and though their offense was predicated on taking a lot of threes, the shot selection for those threes worsened, and Golden State closed the gap and eventually won the series.
The Rockets were one win from playing for a championship for the first time in 25 years, but it didn’t happen. So how do they fix it?
The Safe Fix
The Make-up Song: The Beatles – “Something In The Way She Moves” (The Beatles created this record, but I prefer the Musiq Soulchild version.)
One year is usually too soon to determine if a team philosophy or construct has reached its highest peak or lowest valley. In one season, the Rockets went from playoff team to serious threat to the Warriors’ championship run. D’Antoni found a way to make Paul and Harden coexist well, and the players bought into a style of play that looks unorganized but actually carries the fundamental basics of team offense.
In basketball, the team on offense tries to get as many shots it wants as possible. Where teams get bogged down is when the defense forces shots that aren’t a part of the offense. This usually means long jump shots and contested threes. The Rockets wanted to shoot as many threes as possible, and built their offense around Harden and Paul creating those opportunities. And to keep the defense honest, center Clint Capela was available for cuts to the basket.
But even that philosophy has holes in it, and those holes kept the Rockets from a championship. So to tweak, maybe either have better shooters, or adjust the roster to have more players capable of two-point baskets. The three-point shot can keep teams in games, but it can cost teams games when too heavily relied upon. As much as some don’t like the way Harden seeks contact when attacking the basket, those type of plays can help settle a team down when shots aren’t falling from long distance.
The Extreme Fix
The Breakup Song: Stevie Wonder – “Rocket Love”
The Rockets were a half a mile from Heaven, then their collective shooting touch brought them back down to this cold, cold world. This season could remind them that the goal is to play for a championship, and this current philosophy will never amount to Houston having that opportunity. Maybe the team should let Chris Paul walk in free agency and try another means of building the team. Perhaps add an offensive minded forward to play between Harden and Capela.
Then, there is D’Antoni himself, who has been ridiculed for his outlandish strategies and assumed care for only the offensive side of basketball. Is it time to move on from him? Is he the problem? Sure, players operate better in certain systems, and both Harden and Paul advanced further in the playoffs than they had since they became All-Star players. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ideologies out there that can further optimize the team. Toronto abruptly fired Duane Casey, but I understand it if the goal is to win a championship. Sometimes, hard choices must be made.
I don’t have the perfect formula to propel the Rockets to the championship next year. I know something must change. Happy NBA, folks
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.