May 7, 2014 at 9:30 am

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

Well, that sort of sucked.

After a strong regular season — in which the Houston Rockets amassed a 54-28 record and got the 4-seed in the Western Conference despite several key contributors missing stretches throughout the year — the Rockets bowed out in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, succumbing to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2 despite holding home-court advantage in the series.  Each game was a down-to-the-wire nail-biter — Rockets GM Daryl Morey even described each game as “a coin flip” — yet Portland seemed to make just a few more key plays than Houston did throughout the series, none bigger than Damian Lillard‘s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the Rockets’ season in Game 6.

So, as we Rockets fans attempt to dry our tears and/or to get over our hangovers (both figurative and literal), it’s time to take stock of the team’s current salary cap situation and where the Rockets can go from here.
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Posted in Houston Rockets, Salary Cap Update |
May 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Rockets face critical offseason

I needed to take the weekend off before writing anything, but I think Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell summed up this series best.

“My heart is down on the floor right next to you. Please pick it up and massage it,” said Worrell to Clyde Drexler.

And that was 30 seconds before Damian Lillard hit that shot.

The final play of Game 6 was devastating, but it was a collective failure. While many have chosen to blame Chandler Parsons for not sticking with Lillard, that was only part of the problem. Initially, Kevin McHale rolled out Dwight Howard on the inbounder, placing James Harden on LaMarcus Aldridge and playing Jeremy Lin. When he realized the issues, he called a 20-second timeout to take out Lin, get Terrence Jones on the inbounder and put Dwight on Aldridge.

Howard said that all the team talked about was stopping the three, but not only did the Rockets lose Portland’s best shooter, but take a look at Jones’ defense on the inbounder. He’s doing nothing but covering the pass down low to Aldridge, where Houston’s best defensive player is locked in. The Rockets left a Grand Canyon-sized hole at the top of the key with no resistance on the pass or the shooter.

Did that look at all like a team trying to stop a three-pointer?

But while the Rockets’ inability to stay with Lillard for less than a full second will haunt them this offseason, it’s only part of the nightmare.

The fourth quarter collapse in Game 1. The absurd call against Dwight Howard in overtime of Game 1. The brain lapse in not calling timeout and then turning it over in Game 4. And now the infamous Game 6.

The Rockets honestly blew three games in this series because of the little things. Correcting any one of these simple mistakes likely puts them in the second round of the playoffs against a team (San Antonio) that they swept in the regular season, and that’s what really should stick with them.

The Rockets are top-heavy in talent, but it should be sobering to all of us that not only did the Rockets lose with home court advantage in this series, but Portland was likely the very best possible matchup out there. There are no easy outs in the West and the Rockets have not yet separated themselves, so this will be a very important offseason for this team. They can’t afford to just stay pat.

Here’s what I think you can expect.

Rockets Need Coaching Help

Dwight Howard listens to Kevin McHale

Kevin McHale was a big draw for Dwight Howard to sign with the Rockets

There’s no doubt about it, Kevin McHale looked lost at times in this series. He didn’t make series-altering adjustments until Game 3. His team seemed unprepared in big moments. Ultimately, the Rockets underachieved and fell short of expectations.

But while I thought it was premature to come out so early with a vote of confidence for McHale, there may be a method to the madness in keeping him for the final season (team option) of his contract.

Remember, Dwight Howard was specific in saying that McHale was a big draw for him to sign with Houston. He is well-liked by his players and respected by many around the league. For example, he both drafted and coached Kevin Love, someone who could be traded between now and the summer of 2015, when he’s a free agent. This next year gives McHale one more season to both lure talent and prove he is the right man for the job long-term.

But the Rockets absolutely must hire an experienced, savvy, defensive-minded assistant, preferably one with head coaching experience. McHale can still serve as figurehead and team leader, but they could use X’s and O’s help on the defensive side after losing Kelvin Sampson. This is a must this offseason.

Big Game Hunting

The Rockets will not have near-max cap room until 2015, but I can promise you that they will operate this offseason as if they have it now.

They will pursue Carmelo Anthony. They will watch to see if Chris Bosh opts out. Dirk Nowitzki will be a free agent, though it’s incredibly unlikely he would leave Dallas (much less for a rival city like Houston). They will pursue a trade for Kevin Love. Paul Millsap provides the best of both worlds — an upgrade at the power forward position and a player that expires in 2015.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is on record as saying the Rockets lack a third-best player on a championship team. Until he acquires that player, the Rockets can not sign any role players to long-term deals beyond the league minimum salary because it will hurt their flexibility to acquire that key piece by 2015.

With his hands tied under those restrictions, take a look at the team’s transactions this season: Omri Casspi, Francisco Garcia, Ronnie Brewer and Jordan Hamilton were all out of the rotation by the end of the season. They weren’t able to move Greg Smith for anything. It wasn’t until very late in the year that they were able to find a rotation player with a league minimum deal (Troy Daniels).

They need to finalize their core so they can go over the cap and into luxury tax (if they so choose) to get the right pieces. Hands down, getting their third-best player is the top priority this offseason.

Trading Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik

Jeremy Lin in the Portland series

Jeremy Lin’s contract makes it more likely that he gets traded this offseason

Omer Asik didn’t speak to the media on Monday (par for the course), though I did see him exit the building. Lin said it’s “part of the business.”

“I’m human. I definitely wonder about it,” said Lin of the thought that he will be traded this summer. “Next year will be my fifth season. My first year and a half, I dealt with my name being surrounded with getting cut. And from then on, my name being surrounded with trades. I’d rather take the second than the first.”

Here’s why I think we’ve seen Lin and Asik’s final games with the Rockets.

  • The Rockets will be paying a hair under $30 million to a pair of backup players. I repeat — thirty mill. Backups. Even at a cap hit of $17 million, it’s a terrible allocation of cap space and funds.
  • Asik is a luxury the Rockets can’t afford. Lin is a less-than-ideal fit on a team that would place more of a premium on sure-handedness, three-point shooting and defense at the position. He could do a lot more on a team with lower expectations that gave him carte blanche to operate and develop — much like the Rockets expected to be when they signed him.
  • As mentioned before, Morey can’t sign anyone of significance until their foundation is set. Are they really going to use up another year of Dwight’s prime before making the move for the third guy? Getting a third guy means dealing Asik and/or Lin.
  • It would have been irresponsible to trade Lin and Asik for nothing at this past February trade deadline given that they were in the middle of an important season. The Rockets were shopping those players looking for a big name star (unlikely) or for players that could help them this season without hurting their flexibility beyond 2015 (difficult). That concern does not exist this summer. They simply need to unload them off the books, knowing that the cap room itself is now a significant asset to work with.
  • The Rockets will try to prepare several trade options they can turn to when the need for cap room arises. The Rockets can likely move Asik given that he is a rare commodity, but Lin for “nothing” (pure cap room) will cost the Rockets additional assets and will be harder to execute.

I would be shocked if either player is still with the team by training camp in September.

WANTED: Three-and-D

The three-point game is critical to the Rockets. They led the league in attempts per game (26.6), but were only mediocre in efficiency (35.8%, #16 in the league). In the playoffs, the Rockets shot 31.8% from three. Take out Troy Daniels? 29.5%.

That’s an absurdly low rate given how much they depend on the three. Players who stretch the floor and can knock down a three-pointer when defenses double Dwight or collapse on Harden drives are essential.

Defensive players, especially on the perimeter, are another must. The Rockets have one top defensive player (Patrick Beverley) that isn’t a center. Corey Brewer (COREY BREWER!) popped off for 51 on this team. They need a player or two with some length, athleticism and a defensive motor.

So when it comes to role players, three-point shooting and defensive specialists should be high priorities this offseason.

What we saw from James Harden

Last but not least, I want to talk about James Harden.

The Rockets’ star guard was brilliant in Game 6, but it was five games too late in this series. The defense played by Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum played a role in slowing Harden, but there are far better defenders in the West, and that wasn’t the whole story. There were times he looked completely out of it and was unable or unwilling to attack the basket. His inability to stay focused on the defensive end has been a major problem since he’s been here. The team needs to get him some help, yes, but as the best player on the team, the Rockets will only go as far as Harden will lead them.

It’s no secret that Harden is immature, as evidenced by his dustup with a reporter after Game 2. It’s a byproduct of being that young and that talented. If anything good comes from this series, let it be that James Harden learns and grows from it, that he takes it personally and becomes a better professional next season.

Les Alexander can’t buy this change. Daryl Morey can’t acquire it. Kevin McHale can’t coach it. It’s up to James.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Houston Rockets 2013-14 Exit Interviews

James Harden and Dwight Howard

The Rockets met the media on Monday after their final team meetings for the 2013-14 season, and the theme of the day seemed to be that everybody needs to get on the “same page.”

Dwight Howard said the team needs to have one goal and be “like a band of brothers.”

“If you’re not about winning the championship, then you shouldn’t be here,” said Howard. “My only goal is to win. If you’re not about winning, then we’re not on the same page.”

Dwight Howard

James Harden

Chandler Parsons

Patrick Beverley

Jeremy Lin

Donatas Motiejunas

Isaiah Canaan

Troy Daniels

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Jeremy Lin fans race to defend Jeremy Lin from Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin at the podium

“Why do you hate Jeremy Lin so much?”

If you’ve ever suggested the Rockets point guard should come off the bench, or disagreed that he’s the next Steve Nash, you’ve likely been asked this question.

Jeremy Lin’s fans are a rabid bunch, large in quantity and not very accepting of criticism of their player. What you say, what you don’t say — they try to extract meaning out of all it. Tweet that Lin turned it over and they’ll ask why you didn’t mention James Harden’s turnover last week.

So with rhetoric ramped up at a high level after Jeremy’s huge swing from Game 4 low to Game 5 high, we decided enough was enough. It was time for a little social experiment.

Yesterday evening, I posted a simple thread in our Rockets forum with nothing but these words: Before Game 5, Jeremy Lin hadn’t done a great job of being an offensive spark this series. It included a poll question asking if this was a true or false statement.

There was just one catch that I didn’t include.

The summary wasn’t mine. It was Jeremy Lin’s.

“I felt like I needed to be more of a spark tonight,” said Lin after scoring 21 points on 9-15 shooting in Game 5. “I haven’t done a great job of that this series.”

Unaware of the source of the comment, Jeremy Lin fans responded immediately to defend Jeremy Lin from Jeremy Lin, even going so far as to claim the statement proved that Jeremy Lin was biased against Jeremy Lin.

your statement just shows your bias
So, you and lot of your texas rednecks don`t like Lin? Fine, what can one do about that. He will have to go to one of the bigger cities, multicultural ones, like nyc, boston, la or similar
All I can say is that Clutch is a (Lin hater)
I’ve seen Clutch post on here about how he’s not biased… that notion is pretty laughable at this point.
What’s up with Clutch trollin/going at Lin so often?
I guess there wasn’t enough F**k Lin threads
No wonder there is so much hate on the board when the site moderator trolls the most controversial issue in (the Rockets forum).
This post shows clearly Clutch is a biased person.
I do think Clutch is quite biased…
I’m a bit surprised that Clutch would do this (actually, not really)
I think at this point ‘the numbers are clear’ Clutch doesn’t care for Lin.
To say Clutch is not biased is definitely ignorant…
I think this situation is akin to someone running a political forum that was a strong democrat, who acted neutral then every once in awhile would post some passive agressive pro democrat agenda on the front page.
Now everybody on the net is going to use this thread as an example to why ClutchFans is cancerous… I think Clutch emotionally made a mistake by making this poll.
expect better from a moderator, boy was i wrong.
What puzzled me even more is why an Internet-based forum with tens of thousands of members from dozens of countries can’t or won’t stay neutral for every one.
Clutch IS biased… (He) may spend a LOT of time watching basketball, but does he commit anywhere near the amount of time necessary to break down the play of ANY player on the Rockets? Let alone the Bulk of the players on the team?
Now I understand why this board has so much hate on Lin. Very biased and unprofessional indeed.
Even if its borderline racist, pure hate and unreasonable judgement Clutch and the mods will keep it.
Clutch is simply adding to the decline of this board

Others found a deeper meaning in the statement, believing it meant that Jeremy Lin was blaming Jeremy Lin for the Rockets being down 3-2 in the series. Unable to believe that Jeremy Lin had the nerve to even talk about Jeremy Lin, they wondered — why wasn’t Jeremy Lin focusing on James Harden’s failings?

How about a new poll: “James Harden has been crap all 5 games”? Hilarious how much scrutiny a backup PG off the bench is getting.
What’s the point to single out Lin? … I honestly don’t get why any genuine Rockets fan would throw the kid under the bus like this.
If you seriously think lin has this much an impact on our series and fail to see who is truly underperforming at a historic level…then it’s very sad to see people being so ignorant.
It’s not classy to single out our BACKUP POINT GUARD to be the scapegoat especially after the great Game 5 victory.
Why single out a role player for not “providing a spark” when our star is shooting 35 percent?
The bigger question for me is, ‘Why single out a single player?’ Why not apply this to all the players? … Clutch did this for a player possibly #7 in the pecking order.
Why don’t you man up and tell to Lin and Harden to their face that they have not done good job being an offense catalyst?

Even more interesting? The results of the poll, with over 1500 members voting, showed that nearly three-quarters felt that Jeremy Lin’s own summation of his play was wrong. “Absolutely and Empirically false,” said one member of the board.

But it was just getting good. Conspiracy theories began to sprout from the benign statement.

Small theory, but could this be like (the Rockets) are using Lin as a scapegoat and blaming him for games 1-4? And saying this was a fluke game for Lin? Could Les/Morey make a push to have Clutch, and other Media write negative things about Lin, so that Lin decides to buyout with the Rockets, so the Rockets can achieve a Max player next season?
This thread shows Clutch’s desperation to use as many of Lin’s threads to make as much money as he can from advertising in anticipation of Lin’s possible departure from Houston next season.

Others felt the way it was phrased made it biased. Another wondered how I, as media, must behave around Jeremy, with another suggesting my behavior would be “like Donald Sterling”, the racist owner of the Clippers.

All this because of Jeremy Lin’s own summation of his play.

And that, my friends, is why an honest Rockets discussion is hard to find. If Jeremy Lin is playing very well, then Rockets fans and Lin fans are in sync, but if he struggles, and he has often, then Lin fans and Rockets fans are oil and water. When Jeremy Lin finds consistency or another team, normalcy will be restored, but until then, we’re just left with one question.

Why do Jeremy Lin fans hate Jeremy Lin so much?

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 1, 2014 at 5:09 am

Podcast: Rockets take Game 5, but Harden still in a deep funk

James Harden

Backs to the wall, the Rockets finally won a home game in this series, taking Game 5 over the Blazers 108-98 Wednesday night to cut Portland’s lead to 3-2 in the series.

MoiseKapenda Bower and I talk some Rockets at the Toyota Center after Game 5: How the Twin Towers combo of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik guarded LaMarcus Aldridge (8 points on 3-12 shooting), the team defense in the fourth quarter, the transition from Game 4 goat to Game 5 hero for Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley’s “flu game” and the strangely continuing struggles of James Harden.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts | Tagged , , |
April 26, 2014 at 10:42 am

No hesitation: In one play, Daniels answers the call and Lin finds redemption

In one dramatic play Friday night, a rookie found a home and a struggling guard found some redemption.

Troy Daniels saw his first playing time of the series, and on the big stage in hostile territory at the biggest moment, he knocked down the game-winner as the Rockets beat the Blazers 121-116, cutting Portland’s lead in the series to 2-1.

Daniels, who came into the postseason having played just 76 minutes in his NBA career, showed no fear whatsoever, even calling for the ball to take that shot.

“No hesitation,” said Daniels. “When you’re a shooter, you can’t hesitate. If I would have hesitated, we would have probably lost the game.”

If you’ve been listening to our podcasts, you know we love Troy Daniels. He is exactly the kind of role player (much like Patrick Beverley) that the Rockets should be stockpiling and playing because he brings an elite skill (three-point shooting) that fills a pressing need. As far as 30 feet out, you must keep a defender near Daniels because he can smoke you from that deep. We’ve been wondering when Kevin McHale would finally turn to him. The Rockets came into Game 3 shooting just 21.6% from long range — and it wasn’t like they were playing top notch defense.

But it wasn’t only Daniels that was heroic on that play. We have to set the stage to fully understand how poetic it was that Jeremy Lin made a key, game-winning play.

With 54 seconds left in regulation and the Rockets up three, Wesley Matthews missed a three that would have tied the game. Dwight Howard got the board and handed it to Jeremy Lin. With the clock now their best ally, Lin instead saw a seam and an opportunity to be aggressive, opting to try to get past four Blazers.

And he did, getting just a half step ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. But Lin, going about 120mph, was a little too hard on the layup attempt. Nic Batum then got the board, ran it the other way and nailed a triple to even the game at 110. And just like that, the clock defriended the Rockets.

Yes, Lin could have made that shot, but this is like faking a punt while holding a lead late in the game on a 4th-and-5 play deep in your own territory, then trying to justify it by saying a guy was wide open. He made his decision from 75 feet away with several Blazers between him and the basket, and that’s the questionable part. Lin could have stood inside the half court line, completely dribbling out the shot clock, and the Rockets would have been better off, leaving 32 seconds on the game clock for the Blazers, needing a three to tie, to go up against Houston’s set defense.

So when the Rockets went to overtime, fairly or unfairly, there was pressure on Lin.

That’s what makes the final seconds of overtime so sweet. While Daniels gets (and deserves) a ton of credit for knocking down the shot, it was Lin that saved the team’s bacon.

With 18 seconds left in overtime and the game even at 116, Harden lost the ball. You could see a back-breaking turnover unfold in slow-motion, but Lin suddenly hit fast forward. In a play you would think would come from Beverley, Lin didn’t hesitate in the slightest. With lightning quickness, he pounced on the ball, trucking Mo Williams in the process (made even sweeter given some of the intentionally hard fouls that Williams was giving Dwight earlier in the game).

Lin not only got the ball, he was aware of the shot clock, which had just five seconds left by the time he got it. Lin bounced up immediately, cut into the lane at the free throw line and found Daniels for the game-winner.

While many are praising the pass, it was the ball save and recovery that were simply brilliant. The Rockets either go to double overtime or lose this game if Lin doesn’t make this play, and like Daniels’ quick trigger, Lin’s timely play is summed up in two words: No hesitation.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 24, 2014 at 6:12 am

Game 2 Podcast: Are you only the legend or are you the truth?

James Harden and LaMarcus Aldridge

After Houston’s 112-105 home loss to the Blazers Wednesday night, the words contained in the Houston Rockets’ powerful 2014 playoffs introduction video seem more appropriate than ever:

    We believe in you.
    We have faith in you.
    Are you only the legend or are you the truth?
    Tell me… who are you?

This is no doubt being asked about James Harden and the Rockets right now after back-to-back duds from Houston’s superstar guard (a combined 14-47 from the field) were a major contributing factor to the consecutive home losses to the Blazers, leaving Houston fans to question their faith.

Furthermore, Harden didn’t quite take responsibility for his poor play in a post-game media session, opting instead to point a finger at team defense, and even got into an argument with a reporter who asked about his shooting struggles.

If you were shocked after Game 1, you should be angry after Game 2. Winning the series is not impossible, but it’s a daunting task that lays before them. How the Rockets respond from this adversity will tell us a lot about them.

MoiseKapenda Bower (“MK”) of CultureMap Houston joins me again at the Toyota Center to try to make sense of Houston’s early playoff debacle and the massive 0-2 hole they find themselves in heading to Portland.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
April 21, 2014 at 5:03 am

Podcast: Game 1 loss a wake-up call or death knell for Rockets?

James Harden in Game 1 vs. Portland

Fourth quarter collapses, defensive issues, officiating controversies, shooting woes, a critical injury and overtime.

Rockets-Blazers Game 1 had all that, but the story that dominated was how Portland’s stars completely outshined Houston’s in the series opener, wiping out their home court advantage.

MoiseKapenda Bower (“MK”) of CultureMap Houston joins me out on the Toyota Center floor to discuss what we saw in the Houston Rockets’ shocking Game 1 loss.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |