Everything should be on the table for the Houston Rockets. Even the future of James Harden.


The result of the Wrecking Ball did not take long for the Houston Rockets to swing into the living room. Less than 24 hours after the club’s season-end loss to the Lakers on Sunday, coach Mike D’Antoni announced he would not return next season.

The move was widely expected, given the tone and tenor of the report, dating back to last year, but it may be more notable than a general resignation. The 2017 coach year was probably more associated with his team’s playing style than any other coach in the league.

All of which raises two major questions in Houston: What comes next for the Rockets? And is it worth considering staying away from superstar James Harden?

The club has already made some major changes to the previous year’s works to make it more challenging to rebuild a torn or re-flew, otherwise. Houston may have acquired Clint Capella and Stud Wing Robert Covington in the first round of 2020 to advance all of their chips, which allowed the Rockets to completely terrorize the small ball lineup, including indelible There was blitchability and perimeter shooting.

But there is one more important element that makes it harder to reset the bus hit on everything: the person who can’t shoot from more or less the distance the Rockets went all over last summer.

Yes, we are talking about MVP Russell Westbrook, for which the Rockets rejuvenated two first-round picks, a pair of pick swaps, and obviously Chris Paul. Houston also has a chance to take over the next three years of the soon-to-be 32-year-old deal, which pays $ 41 million, $ 44 million and $ 47 million. (Also troublesome, albeit on a smaller scale: swingman Eric Gordon, who is 31 years old and coming from an injury-free season, over the next four years for $ 17 million, $ 18 million, $ 20 million and $ 21 million Ready to make.)

Westbrook tested positive for COVID-19 just before the NBA restart Injured his quad And missed the first part of his club’s first-round series. So yes, there were circumstances that were hindering his ability for this position. But let’s not pretend that there isn’t a much bigger, more relatable trend at play here.

Westbrook’s playoff numbers have been troubling for some time – we wrote about him last year as well. Lacking a reliable jumper beyond midrange allows the defense to get away from him while daring to shoot him. For one in three sub-30 percent shooters, they have also often taken bait. The guard’s playoff win-share production rate per 48 minutes was cut in half over three years and is now underwater: from .208 in 2016, to .103 in 2017, to .052 in 2018, to .026 in 2019 – now 0.04.

Westbrook had flashing moments during the regular season just before the epidemic. For nearly two months, a few weeks before the team dealt with Capella in just a few weeks, as she leaned completely into that short-ball style, Westbrook was brilliant. He averaged around 33 points per game on 53 percent shooting, with which he had to work. During that stretch, there was an unmistakable decrease in the number of 3-point tries in his shot diet. When he takes too much, he kills everyone at his own game.

In truth, this outcome was mostly anticipated with Westbrook, or just the team in general. Just before the season, we wrote about what kind of a club it once or never felt, among other things, apart from Westbrook. Last fall, it appeared that now might be the time if Westbrook could raise the team’s ceiling more than Paul. But if it ran spectacularly because of Russell, the time might never come. And it feels very much like we know the answer after year one.

The pain of the trade for Westbrook is clear: it made the Rockets’ ability to piece together the draft-pick assets necessary to get another star with Hardenet. But the objective was understandable: General Manager Daryl More was trying to avoid getting trapped. It can feel like a strange term to describe a perennial 50-game winner – one that has been so good, and so close – with a generational scoring talent. But with no meaningful hardware or real room for upward mobility, this characterization seems accurate, especially now, with Westbrook failing to move the needle.

You can reasonably argue that the time has come to discuss Hardik. Like Westbrook, Harden is also 31 years old, although his game depends very little on his athleticism. He has led the NBA in three straight years, while averaging nearly 34 points a night over that period and has been remarkably durable in his eight years as the No. 1 option. (Even his defense, which was constantly criticized, has improved significantly. He leads the league in steals this year and has been one of the best guards to defend the post.)

The impressive season of Oklahoma City after dealing with Westbrook can be seen as a blueprint for Harden of the Rockets. Its value will likely never exceed what it is now. He will certainly yield to the burden of a boat of talent and to replenish the wardrobe with first-round elections, while resetting the deck during a time in which Los Angeles clubs are likely to be held for at least the next few seasons. West will be favored. And given the precarious nature of the Tilman Fertita epidemic, the owner of the highly leveraged team may want to keep at least long-term money on the books.

Flipside, of course, is James Harden – the type of offensive talent that any coach would have the opportunity to build a system around if given the chance. When D’Antoni was found, he made Hardik his primary bowler to oppose him playing with the ball. Hardik immediately went on to lead the NBA, while he scored as efficiently as before.

Any coach can come in and offer to set up an offense that is more inventive and cuts the number of picks and rolls and isolations. But what will be worth watching is how much of the buy-to-let with Hardik, who had personal success with the genre, has repeatedly fallen short of coming to the playoffs (especially towards the end, when he has some Appears to exhaust).

And while the team’s defense has usually been overlooked because of Rocket’s rare offensive style, whichever coach will next lead a group that is capable of being elite at that end.

Like the last time this club deserved a title in 2018, this defense is enough to switch its function to guard the ball screen. Although Houston finished as an above-average unit on the D, the Rockets became far more aggressive and more aggressive after trading for short. According to data from Second Spectrum, from the trade deadline to the end of the regular season, they finished 10th (before number 15) and fifth (from 18th) after finishing a switch.

This poor second-round performance against the Lakers answered many questions for Morey. Does he need to invest in at least one defunct traditional big matchup that puts too much stress on someone like PJ Tucker? In the same vein, what, if anything, can the executive do to reduce the depth of the club so as not to die in the water if Danuel House gets in trouble, or Covington takes a blow to the head? For most teams, facing this type of loss is a typical part of the season.

Rockets are not specific, though. Over the years, his front office has been headed by a different type of executive. The team is led by one of the most unusual stars, in an offense that produces the most unusual shot chart. Soon, a new coach will step into the position with which to try to win.

But a coaching change cannot do this alone. And this is a disheartening reality for the Rockets right now: even when they set out to make an important move, they still feel stuck.

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