October 8, 2014 at 10:52 am

Four Knee-Jerk Reactions From Houston’s Preseason Opener

James Harden and Chandler Parsons

The preseason is almost meaningless and it’s ridiculous to draw any real conclusions after just one worthless contest.

So hey, let’s give it a shot!

Ariza is going to fit nicely

Trevor Ariza looked very good in his first game back with the Rockets. His shot looked strong (5-7 from the field) and he didn’t force the action. We know he’s a defensive upgrade to Chandler Parsons, but if he can knock down the three-point shot at a high clip (and he hit 41% last year), he may fit just as well if not better all the way around.

People need to remember — this is not about who is the better player, which can be debated. It’s about fit and their respective roles. Ariza replaced a role player in Chandler Parsons in Houston and he will be a role player in Houston. Chandler Parsons was paid like a superstar in Dallas and will be expected to play like a superstar in Dallas.

Big difference. We’ll see how Chandler manages expectations in Dallas, but for half the price, the Rockets got a good fit for their starting lineup.

Harden is going to have a career year

It was humbling to hear James Harden admit that he loses focus at times on the defensive end. That’s very rare to see from a superstar — it’s like the Homecoming King admitting he doesn’t know what to say around girls — but I still take it with a grain of salt. After all, Harden talked about wanting to be a lockdown defender in 2013′s training camp.

But offensively? He’s going to explode this year. Harden scored 17 points in under 24 minutes and got to the line for nine free throws Tuesday night. The Rockets let go of Parsons, who took the second-most shot attempts on the squad last season at nearly 14 per game, so the team will rely more than ever on Harden to carry the load. On top of that, the experience as one of Team USA’s leaders seemed to be a very positive one for Harden.

Assuming good health, I expect Beard to be a scoring machine for the Rockets this year.

The Rockets will need power forward help

Terrence Jones had a bad game Tuesday night. No big deal. There are nights he looks like Tarzan and nights he looks like Jane.

But this is the position where the Rockets really could make a big jump with an upgrade. Kevin McHale is on record as saying this team didn’t rebound the ball very well last year (1:35 mark) and if they had rebounded better, they would have been a top 10 defense. Jones has strengths — he’s athletic, he can block shots, handle the ball and run the floor — but the Rockets don’t have enough weapons to just outscore teams every night. If he (and Donatas Motiejunas) don’t grow quickly to the point of being able to handle pick-and-roll defense, defend strong fours and rebound the basketball when Dwight Howard goes for blocks, there’s going to be change here.

David West probably wants out of Indiana, but if I’m Daryl Morey right now, I’m checking in with the Hawks twice a day on Paul Millsap.

Houston’s bench is going to need time or change

There are question marks all over the Rockets’ bench.

Motiejunas looked very good Tuesday night (team-high 18 points), but he was posting up stiff Charlie Villanueva much of the time. My two favorite players for the bench — rookies Kostas Papanikolaou and Nick Johnson — may be more seasoned and experienced in the leagues they are coming from (EuroLeague and NCAA), but it always takes time to adjust to the NBA. My money was on Troy Daniels playing a significant role this year, and that may be the case, but he didn’t see action until late in this game. It remains to be seen on Jason Terry, who is 37 years old and has not had much of an impact the last two years. The team has been happy with Ish Smith in camp, but he can not shoot. Jeff Adrien stepped up in the final minutes, but are the Rockets counting on him to play a role?

When the Rockets take Harden out of the game, who is going to score? The team is fortunate to have unloaded Jeremy Lin, who they paid a lot of money to gobble up these minutes with average play, but it will take some time for roles to be carved out here.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
September 29, 2014 at 8:55 am

Rockets will wear Chinese jersey this season, plan to unveil new alternates in 2015-16

Houston Rockets Chinese Jersey worn by Dwight Howard

The first look at the Chinese jersey, worn here by Dwight Howard, that the Houston Rockets will wear

When will the Houston Rockets change their jersey or add new ones?

That’s a question that we get asked often here, so after some digging, here’s the latest news we can pass on about what’s coming on the Rockets jersey front.

Rockets Will Wear Chinese Jersey This Season

It is not true that the Rockets will get a brand new official alternate jersey this season, but they will unveil a new jersey just the same. The Rockets will wear a Chinese jersey this season to celebrate Lunar New Year, a source confirmed.

The team will wear the jersey for three straight home games, starting with the February 21st contest against Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors.

The jersey is sleeved with four (correction: two) Mandarin characters on the front replacing the word “Rockets”. I’m told it looks very sharp.

Rockets Getting New Alternates in 2015-16

Though the Rockets will not release a new alternate this season, the team will unveil two new alternates for 2015-16, a source confirmed to ClutchFans, and might add a third alternate jersey for the 2016-17 campaign.

Not too much is known about the jerseys, but here’s what we can tell you.

The first alternate jersey, which is finalized, will not use the throwback color scheme (yellows) and is “radically different” than the current alternates, we’re told. It will use the current Rockets scheme, but will not be a black jersey (… that we’ve been wanting now for a decade). So that leaves red and gray as your two strong possibilities, with white also possible. The jersey will be sleeved.

The second alternate jersey, which is in the concepts stage, will be a “Clutch City” jersey, a source confirmed. You will likely see the words “CLUTCH CITY” replacing “ROCKETS” on the front of the jersey, a concept similar to the Clutch City shirts the Rockets handed out to fans for Game 5 of the playoffs last season.

Colors are not finalized, but you can bet that the jersey will use the throwback colors like the current alternates.

Primary Uniforms Will Change… Slightly

There are also two small changes coming to the Rockets primary jerseys (home, road) starting next season (2015-16).

For starters, the cut of the jersey on the shoulders will be more narrow starting that year. This will be more like an older jersey cut where there is less fabric on the shoulder.

This is best illustrated by showing the previous road jersey next to the current alternate jersey, which uses the more narrow cut on the shoulder. You can see a noticeable difference.

Houston Rockets Jersey Change

Secondly, the Rockets have slightly altered the font used throughout the jersey, on the word “Rockets”, the player’s name and the numbers. I’m told you can see the change but it’s “subtle.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
September 18, 2014 at 11:58 am

Rockets honored Dwight agreement with agent in letting Parsons out of his contract

Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard

The Houston Rockets made one — and only one — mistake this offseason, and it was a big one.

There’s no shame in coming up short on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. The Rockets should be praised for consistently aiming high. I also don’t think it was an error to decline to match the almost-max offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas. He’s simply not worth that money.

Their mistake was letting Chandler out of his contract in the first place.

That’s not hindsight talking. Remember, the Rockets could have simply picked up his 2014-15 option and had him on the roster at a mere $964,750. Knowing now what the Rockets knew then — that they had a significantly different value placed on Chandler than Chandler placed on himself — combined with the team’s need to add a significant player before committing long-term to him, it becomes pretty clear that letting Parsons out of his contract a year early was not a good idea.

There were benefits to going the restricted free agency route, but they were nullified if the Rockets didn’t make big salary moves before that. While the decision at the time seemed strange, we, as fans, were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that one (or both) of these things was true: 1) The Rockets had a comfort level for adding someone of significance this offseason before re-signing Chandler, and 2) Chandler was fully on board with the plan (possibly even having a verbal agreement in place), willing to wait since the Rockets were doing him a solid by letting him out early.

Neither was true and it blew up in their face.

The problem is this — the Rockets were well aware of everything I just outlined in making their choice. They just had no choice. By letting Parsons out of his contract, the Rockets were simply honoring an agreement they made with his agent in 2013 when they signed Dwight Howard.

As I’ve been told, Howard’s agent Dan Fegan did not want Dwight in Houston, preferring instead to steer him to another team. Reportedly, that team was Dallas as the agent has a relationship and comfort level with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Dwight preferred Houston. To seal the deal for the premier free agent, Fegan provided the Rockets a list of needs/demands to bring him here and one of them was to let Chandler Parsons, who also was represented by Fegan, out of his contract this summer rather than wait until 2015.

(It should be noted that though I have no idea what other items would be on that list, there were two “interesting” things that happened around that time — the Rockets hired Howard’s former trainer with the Orlando Magic and they later added Dwight’s brother to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, though it was largely believed that he wasn’t a good enough prospect to make that jump. See JR Smith-Chris Smith for how nepotism package deals can work.)

Parsons has since publicly denied that the decision by the Rockets had anything to do with Howard, but I’ve been told by multiple sources that it’s true.

All kinds of smoke

Let’s put the “sources” aside for a minute and just look at the circumstantial evidence.

  • It was well-known that the Rockets had a heavy interest in Dwight Howard and would be pursuing him as a free agent in the summer of 2013. The team tried to trade for him on multiple occasions over the previous 18 months. Just weeks before Howard became a free agent, Parsons fired his agent Mark Bartelstein to align himself with Fegan. That’s a pretty big coincidence. It’s a very good bet (if not outright safe to say) that Fegan leveraged that unique situation to land Parsons as a client, knowing he was likely the only agent in a position to get the Rockets to give up Chandler’s bargain option and get him a big haul one year earlier.

  • By not picking up the team option on Chandler, the Rockets lost about $2 million in cap room in a summer in which pursuing max free agents was their highest priority. Teams routinely unload valuable first round picks for less cap room than that, yet the Rockets willingly sacrificed a valuable chunk to make Chandler a restricted free agent. The Rockets had to be working with Chandler and/or supremely confident in their chances to land a top free agent to do that, or… something else. Looking back, this was extremely illogical.

  • In the summer of 2013, Chandler Parsons suddenly became the greatest star free agent recruiter of all-time. According to Forbes magazine citing a source, Chandler was “relentless” in pursuing Dwight as he “called and texted [Dwight] every day” despite barely knowing him at the beginning of the pursuit. Does it make more sense that Chandler was doing this for the team, city and championship pursuit or because his own big payday was on the line? When you consider that Chandler knew that an $8-$15 million bonus and increased long-term security sooner hung in the balance on whether Dwight said yes to Houston, the Herculean effort may not have been quite as altruistic as we all thought.

  • News that the Rockets would decline the team option and make Chandler a restricted free agent leaked nearly a month before the deadline the Rockets had to make that decision. This may not seem excessive, but when you consider that the NBA Draft — the hotbed time of player movement throughout the league — was still to occur and could impact the decision, it seemed silly that the front office would be able to say it with certainty at that point. I’ve since talked to people who were told by Chandler himself during the 2013-14 season that the plan was to make him a restricted free agent. No mention of why, but he apparently knew even then that the team option was not going to be picked up.

  • In an interview with local sports radio 610am after deciding not to match Parsons’ offer sheet with the Mavericks, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was asked if he had to do it all over again if he would let Chandler out of his deal. He closed his answer with something fairly cryptic, saying, “A lot goes into those decisions, way more than people might realize.”

  • Just plain common sense. If the Rockets and Parsons weren’t aligned on a figure and the team didn’t view him as the third-best player on a championship team, it made no sense to sign him long-term until they had the core of their team set. Many say, “But it almost worked and they nearly had both Bosh and Parsons!” But play it all the way out. Had the Rockets not done this and signed Bosh with cap room, they’d still have Bosh and Parsons. Houston would have had their superstar trio and Parsons, as an unrestricted free agent in 2015, would have had to make a tough choice to walk away from that championship core. But more importantly, the Rockets could have traded him. Both the situations with Kevin Love (a lame duck contract that still fetched a big haul on the trade market) and Klay Thompson (young player who could have reeled in Love in return) are strong indicators that the 25-year old small forward’s trade value, on a one-year, $1 million deal, would have been good.

    Having said all this, no party involved thought Chandler was going to be leaving Houston. The Rockets wanted him back. Chandler wanted to be here and the Rockets consistently told him they would match any offer. That might explain some of why he was “offended” after the process. He expected to remain in Houston.

    Will the Rockets be better off?

    Overall, the Rockets lost a valuable trade asset at a minimum, but they could be better off with Trevor Ariza. As much as I liked Parsons, he was playing a position where you would traditionally like to have a good (if not lockdown) defender. That becomes even more of a need for this team given how the other position where you would generally see a wing stopper (shooting guard) is a major defensive concern for the Rockets. I think this will depend on who the Rockets are able to eventually acquire as their “third” guy. As a #3, I’d give the edge to Parsons. As a #4, I prefer Ariza.

    While time will tell if they are better off on the court, the reasoning behind the offseason’s biggest “blunder” is at least now explained. The Rockets weren’t a team that made a late decision to take an ill-advised and costly risk. They were a team desperate to contend and land the big fish a year ago, and they did what it took to make that happen — even if they knew they might have to fall on their sword a year later.

  • Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged , , |
    September 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    TMZ doesn’t get a critical fact straight on Dwight Howard story

    Dwight Howard Houston Rockets

    TMZ reported on Tuesday that Dwight Howard’s driver’s license has been suspended after he was caught running a red light for the 10th time in the last two and a half years and didn’t resolve it.

    Dwight Howard might be color blind — ’cause officials in Florida say he ran 10 RED LIGHTS in 2-and-a-half years — and now his license has been suspended … TMZ Sports has learned.

    According to official records, the NBA superstar was captured by those red light cameras in Orange County, FL over and over again … starting in 2012, when he was busted 9 times in 10 months.

    Then, after a year-and-a-half without a violation, Howard struck again in 2014 — blowing through another red light on July 1st … his 10th overall infraction.

    There’s only one problem — Dwight Howard wasn’t driving the car.

    TMZ said the 10th infraction, which went unresolved and caused his license to be suspended, occurred on July 1st, but they read the court record incorrectly. The infraction was filed on July 1st but actually happened on April 14th at 9:17pm via red light camera in Winter Park, Florida.

    I’m pretty sure Dwight has an airtight alibi on this one. The superstar center was oh, about 1000 miles away at the Toyota Center at the time, scoring 20 points on 9-11 shooting and grabbing 17 rebounds in helping the Rockets finish off a regular season sweep of the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.

    So how did this happen? According to a source, the vehicle is registered to Howard but was given to his brother to drive. The other nine tickets from the past (all of which were resolved previously) were also the same kind of ticket (caught by a red light camera).

    It looks like the big guy may need to get some affairs in order, but it doesn’t look like Dwight himself was the reckless driver.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    September 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Get Ready: Rockets Media Day set for September 29th

    Houston Rockets Media Day

    The Houston Rockets have a lot to prove this season and it all begins in just over two weeks.

    The Rockets will hold Media Day on Monday, September 29th at the Toyota Center to kick off the 2014-15 season.

    The team will open Training Camp the next day here in Houston. We originally reported the Rockets would hold camp in the Valley this year, later confirmed by a Vipers press release, but they will only hold camp practices from October 16-19 in Edinburg in advance of their preseason game with the Golden State Warriors there on the 19th.

    We’ll be getting back into the swing of things with a series of articles next week discussing the offseason, but there will be plenty of storylines this year as the Rockets lost Chandler Parsons and dealt away backups Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin while bringing in new starting small forward Trevor Ariza as well as a handful of players they hope can play roles off the bench.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    September 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Will Carroll Q&A: Beverley’s knee remains a “fairly major concern” for Rockets

    Patrick Beverley

    Patrick Beverley may not be out of the woods yet when it comes to his troublesome right knee. After tearing the meniscus in late March and briefly reaggravating it in Game 1 of the playoffs vs. Portland, it remains a concern for both he and the Rockets as they map out his usage for the 2014-15 season.

    With training camp approaching, the Rockets and Beverley are working together on a plan to manage and stabilize the knee and particularly the muscles surrounding it. Beverley, of course, opted against having any surgical procedure to correct the injury, instead returning to the court after just two weeks and playing an integral role in the team’s playoff run.

    Beverley’s ability to avoid surgery was in contrast to many other high-profile athletes with meniscus tears, including Houston Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who underwent surgery just this week and is expected to be out at least 4-to-6 weeks.

    Will Carroll, lead writer of sports medicine at Bleacher Report and a long-established expert in the field of sports injuries, spoke to us and also joined the Red & Orange Report podcast to discuss how the Rockets may manage Beverley going forward. A transcript of our conversations is below:

    Q: Ultimately, Pat ended up not choosing to go through with a surgical procedure. How much of a concern is this for Pat Beverley going forward?

    A: It’s a fairly major concern. I know Daryl Morey and the staff there have calculated the odds, and they’ve gone with a very aggressive rehab protocol. They think they can stabilize that knee otherwise.

    In pulling part of the meniscus or even in a repair, it’s not going to be exactly as it was. It’s going to change the internal structure of the knee. So what you have to do, if you can’t stabilize that portion, if you’re not putting it back as close to 100% as you can, you have to stabilize around it. In any sort of situation with that, that’s where you want to focus.

    In early rehab, you want to work on those secondary stabilizers. If the muscles surrounding the knee are not only intact but strong, they can get that sense of where things are in space and when things are getting too taxed. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you felt it. You couldn’t do much. Athletes tend to have a much better proprioceptive and spatial sense about them. It’s part of their gift. So Beverley’s going to have to work really hard, and I’m sure he has, all the way up to and through training camp to get those stabilizers. He’s also going to have to not overtax himself to where his muscles are tired and cease to be the strong stabilizers that he’s going to need to protect that knee.

    So the medical staff is going to have to work with the analytics staff, which is going to have to work with their sport science staff, to put everything together. This is going to be an amazing puzzle of human performance to keep him as healthy as they possibly can.

    If you think about it, he’s going to have to do all the things he has to do athletically and within a team context on top of try to manage his own fatigue and manage his recovery and continue to do a rehab/prehab protocol throughout the entire season. In other words, Patrick Beverley’s going to be spending a whole lot of time with the medical staff. We don’t see that outside. That’s one of those things. It’s that invisible game of sports medicine and sports science and human performance that some people are putting hours and hours of their lives into. We don’t reward them. Most people don’t know who the athletic trainers and physical therapists are that get these athletes back on the field, but they’re an incredibly important part of any team.

    Q: In general, what is the risk profile of someone with an untreated meniscus tear? Without accounting for the specifics of a team or player’s rehab plans, what are the general future problems that an NBA player playing with this injury might have?

    A: It’s certainly risky, but the doctors feel it’s manageable, so I have to go with that. Mostly you see arthritis. It can get more serious where there’s grinding and has to be cleaned out or even microfracture. Down the line, knee replacement is possible, but that’s in the general population.

    Q: Are the Rockets, as an organization, prepared for this?

    A: I think where the Rockets might have an advantage is that they are a very data-driven team. They’ve been using the Skyview cameras, they’ve been using a lot of analytics, things like the Catapult system which tracks the players and their statistics such as heart rate and respiration, and I think with all that data, that’s going to give them an advantage in figuring out what Beverley can and cannot do and how to manage that properly.

    Q: I know both the team and Pat himself are going to be on top of this. One of our good sources at ClutchFans said earlier this summer that Pat was contemplating going to Germany and trying some of those treatments. I don’t know that he actually did it — if he did, we never heard about it — but I know that he and the team are looking at contingencies. Would a minutes restriction help? If you play him 30-to-32 minutes per night instead of 38 minutes, is that something that may help him last longer?

    A: Yeah, but that’s oversimplifying it a little bit. I don’t think that you’re wrong. If this were two years ago, my answer would’ve been ‘Yes, absolutely’. But again, with the amount of data that we have, the new data from the cameras, the sensors and the performance data we can get, things are changing. If you run him on an AlterG treadmill, which is one of those anti-gravity, air-pressure treadmills — I know Houston is one of the teams that has one — you’re going to be able to figure out what he can do. What kind of sprints can he run? Because basketball isn’t like running a 5K. You can go through a lot of information and work on a lot of things, and you can have him on court in practices and scrimmages and then figure this out.

    So it would be simplistic, but not incorrect, to say that a minutes restriction could do that. But I think it’s going to be more than a minutes restriction. How is he going to be out there? Is it better for him to be out there for 4 minutes and then a rest, or is it better for 10 minutes and then come back? How does his knee react to that?

    There are so many factors that just a few years ago, we wouldn’t have had access to. And now, because we have this emerging data, we’re going to have a better sense for it. You’re not wrong about a minutes restriction, but I think they’re going to be able to come up with an exceptionally-individualized program that’s going to make it better for him. Sensors and sensor data is one of the most exciting parts of sport science right now. And I think it’s absolutely amazing how fast it’s moving.

    Q: Beverley is a free agent in July 2015. With the medical knowledge that teams have today, is there a chance that this lingering issue could impact his market value going forward?

    A: Absolutely, but it should be a known quantity by then. It depends on where he goes. Some teams are better at managing things like this, and Houston’s one of them.

    Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged |
    August 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Rockets acquire Jason Terry from Kings

    Jason Terry

    The Rockets have acquired a longtime nemesis.

    Jason Terry is your newest Houston Rocket after Daryl Morey and company struck a deal with the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets will send non-guaranteed contracts, including Alonzo Gee, to Sacramento in the deal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

    The Rockets also net two second round picks in the deal for taking on Terry’s contract ($5.8 million salary), which will expire in 2015. They will receive Sacramento’s 2015 second round pick and the New York Knicks’ 2016 second round pick. The Rockets now own/owned New York’s 2014 (Nick Johnson), 2015 and 2016 second round picks.

    The Rockets needed some scoring, specifically long-range shooting, and they may get that here in Terry, a career 38% three-point shooter. The knock here is that Terry will be 37 years old when the season starts. After he was traded to Sacramento at last year’s deadline, he sat out the remainder of the season to rehab his left knee. It’s not clear if he has little in the tank or just didn’t want to play for the Kings, but the Rockets are willing to find out.

    So now the Rockets add a second point guard to their history with the nickname “The Jet”, though I certainly don’t recall anyone calling Kenny Smith that during his playing days. Terry also has a long history of being a Rocket killer. Interestingly, I spoke to him about this a couple of years ago.

    However, after a disappointing offseason, acquiring a significant player via trade still remains Houston’s primary goal. In this move, regardless of how Terry impacts (or doesn’t impact) the team’s play this season, the Rockets improved their trade position moving forward by adding two additional picks and an expiring contract that can be combined with other contracts 60 days after this deal is done.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    August 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Rockets finalize deal to bring Kostas Papanikolaou to Houston

    Kostas Papanikolaou Houston Rockets

    Kostas Papanikolaou is headed to Houston.

    Nearly a month after a round of intense negotiations seemed to fall apart, forward Kostas Papanikolaou will indeed become a member of the Houston Rockets for the 2014-15 season.

    Papanikolaou, whose rights were acquired in the 2013 trade of Thomas Robinson to Portland, heads to Houston on a two-year contract that guarantees him $4.8 million for next season. It was first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

    The second year ($4.6 million) is a team option, which allows the Rockets to maintain the salary cap flexibility they have touted as paramount since allowing Chandler Parsons to head to Dallas.

    Papanikolaou is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound, left-handed forward with the versatility to play small forward behind Trevor Ariza and power forward behind Terrence Jones. Scouting reports compliment his defense, energy, spot-up shooting and fundamentals. It was previously said Papanikolaou needed assurances of a spot in Houston’s rotation in order to leave Spanish League club FC Barcelona.

    Papanikolaou is actually the second member of FC Barcelona to commit to Houston this offseason, joining fellow big man Joey Dorsey. Papanikolaou also has history with Houston’s starting point guard Pat Beverley, whom he played with in 2012 at Olmypiacos in his native Greece.

    With Papanikolaou in the fold, the Rockets have now used their full mid-level exception (MLE) this offseason, splitting it between Papanikolaou and second-round rookie guard Nick Johnson.

    The team retains its bi-annual exception (BAE), worth about $2.1 million per year. They could use that this offseason for further depth (Houston has been linked to PG Ramon Sessions) or hold onto it for potential use during the regular season on veterans who are bought out by losing clubs.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |