February 17, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Trade Deadline won’t be able to fix all of Rockets’ problems

Dwight Howard James Harden

To say this has been a disappointing season for the Houston Rockets would be an understatement.

All-Star break is over and the games are about to pick back up, but not before the NBA trade deadline comes and goes on the 18th. As we are about 24 hours from the deadline, I want to talk a little bit, editorial-style, about what I see from this team and what general manager Daryl Morey has on his plate.

  • The #Pursuit is over. The Rockets have spent 50-60 games desperately trying to get back to the level they were at last season, and that wasn’t really close to good enough to beating last year’s Warriors, much less this year’s version. They may get their act together, make the playoffs and maybe even surprise somebody, but a championship? No. In my opinion, all trades considered should place a heavy emphasis on 2016-17.

  • If the Rockets are a “broken” team, as J.B. Bickerstaff puts it, then the repair is needed on the defensive end, which is supposed to be Bickerstaff’s specialty. Houston’s offensive rating is the exact same as it was last season — 104.2 points per 100 possessions. Defensively, they have fallen completely apart. The Rockets’ defensive rating last season was 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, good enough for 6th best in the league. This year that rating has plummeted to 106.4, dropping them to bottom 5 with the likes of the Lakers and Suns. So the multi-million dollar question is: How does a team starting Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley fall that far defensively?

  • Harden came into training camp out of shape — no one disputes that at this point. But while the Rockets have had plenty of issues this season, all the major problems, directly or indirectly, can be traced back to this start. The Rockets are 10 games behind their pace last season, Kevin McHale was fired 11 games in, Dwight Howard is on the trading block… I don’t know if some or all of those things are true right now if Harden is ready to go out of the gate this season. He is both the problem and the solution. He’s a top-5 offensive talent and a bottom-5 defensive effort guy. He’s the face of the franchise, yet no one in the organization is able to hold him to a standard. Despite all this, this is the team’s only untouchable. Unless the Rockets find a coach that has more power and pull than Harden and demands his respect (and outside of Pop and Phil Jackson, does such a coach even exist?), they run the risk of future problems based on effort.

  • As for Howard being shopped, I admit I was surprised by that. Not because it doesn’t make sense — if Howard’s agent made it clear he wants the max and the Rockets aren’t willing to go there, they should absolutely gauge the market. I was more caught off guard because Rockets owner Les Alexander is such a star-seeker that I didn’t think he would even consider unloading the one guy who said “yes” to all those free agent pitches over the years. I’m still not convinced it will happen for sure. The two teams that make the most sense to me are Boston and Atlanta. The Celtics would seem to want to take a leap forward now and have the rebuilding assets (picks) and a large expiring contract in David Lee. Atlanta is Dwight’s hometown and the Hawks have been considering a shakeup. But I agree the market won’t be big for what could amount to a 30-game rental… I don’t know if either team would part with what Morey would want. I would do cartwheels to be able to get the Brooklyn Nets’ first round pick that Boston holds, but they’re not going to part with that. Morey needs to find at least two very interested parties if he’s going to do well in any trade.

  • I like Dwight Howard and will be a fan of his even after he’s wearing a different uniform, but there is an argument to be made that the Rockets might be able to build a better team without him. Maybe. Certainly, when your defensive rating is this poor, it’s going to be hard to see the upside of Howard, who is supposed to be one of the best defensive anchors in the game, but the Rockets have won their last six games this season without Dwight. Last season, they were 27-14 without him. If the Rockets do move Dwight, they may just embrace the poor defense and go all-in on offense.

  • I don’t understand how Ty Lawson is this bad. I really don’t. Most of us recognized, even before acquiring him, that he wasn’t the ideal fit next to Harden, but he has been a complete zero for this team, even off the bench. If you look at his efficiency, per-36, advanced numbers, it’s like his career fell off a cliff. I just don’t get it. And remember — he represented the big improvement the Rockets made this summer, the one that was supposed to launch them into real title contention. There were a handful of analysts who picked the Rockets to win it all because of this addition. Earlier this season, I felt the Rockets should hold on to Lawson because the potential upside of him “getting it” was much, much higher than the scraps you’d probably get in return. Now I’m not so sure.

  • Before there was talk about a core change (moving Dwight), the biggest need in my opinion was a power forward upgrade. The Rockets can throw a lot of bodies at the spot, but they don’t have the right fit, which is one reason they’ve been going small with a lineup of Ariza and Corey Brewer at the three-four. Donatas Motiejunas had back surgery over 10 months ago and he’s still not right, having played in only 14 games this season. Clint Capela is lost out there at times and has struggled with stamina, rebounding and even dunking lately. I know he’s young and raw and has the length you want out of a big, but if his value is that of a blue-chip prospect, I’d consider selling high. Terrence Jones hasn’t made sufficient strides in the four years he’s been here and doesn’t excel at any one facet that the Rockets need out of the position. He’s also dealt with some bizarre injuries over the last year — a “DNP – Abducted by Aliens” box line wouldn’t surprise me at this point. A restricted free agent this summer, Jones needs a new home. It’s just time.

  • I was pretty sure K.J. McDaniels was going to get traded before the wheels came off on this team. Now, it’s pretty clear that all options are being considered. It also sure would be nice to get a look at Sam Dekker at some point. Granted, that will be in Rio Grande Valley once he’s fully cleared after his back surgery, but I want to see what he’s got.

  • The Rockets owe their first round pick to Denver courtesy of the Lawson trade, something the Nuggets are no doubt loving right now given Houston’s struggles. But while Morey has taken criticism this year, you have to credit him for adding two protections into this trade, both of which didn’t seem critical or necessary at the time but now appear to be extremely important. One, they got Lawson to agree to convert the second year remaining on his deal into a team option, which is unheard of. Two, the first round pick is lottery-protected, and if the Rockets miss the playoffs this year, the first round pick does not carry over. Rather, the debt becomes a 2017 second round pick (via Portland). Needless to say, Denver is rooting for Houston to be the 8th seed.

  • If I’m the Rockets, I would continue to place a premium on shooting. I don’t think there are any perfect trade targets (unless we’re talking about Al Horford), but some that make some sense to me are Ryan Anderson, Markieff Morris, Kevin Martin, Marvin Williams and even Pau Gasol.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
February 9, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Former coach Kevin McHale discusses his firing from the Rockets

McHale CroppedAs a guest analyst on TNT’s Inside the NBA studio show before Tuesday night’s Rockets/Warriors game, former head coach Kevin McHale spoke publicly about his firing from the Rockets for one of the first times since his November dismissal.

“I kind of wish I was sitting in Oracle (Arena) getting ready to play Golden State … I think,” McHale said jokingly after being introduced by the studio crew.

When asked if he was surprised by Houston’s decision to fire him after a 4-7 start, McHale said:

“Yes. I went in and had said we had a rough camp. A lot of guys were injured. Dwight [Howard] couldn’t do back-to-back practices and was not going to be able to do back-to-back games until December. James [Harden] had sprained his ankle over the summer and came in overweight.

“We weren’t playing very well. I had told our guys at the end of training camp… that we were a month to six weeks away from having our team gelling and playing well. So we got off to a tough start.”

On the actual November 18 firing:

“I came in and sat down. They said, ‘You’re fired.’

“I was like, wow. It really, really surprised me. I did not think that was the case. I never had a team that I have not been able to get motivated and get going. We weren’t playing well. I’ll be the first to admit that. But it was so short. Eleven games.

“I thought maybe the [Western Conference Finals berth] would have bought me more time. I guess not. We won 56 games the year before and got to the Western Conference Finals with that same exact team, for the most part.”

McHale’s full comments can be viewed below. He filled in for Kenny Smith as part of TNT’s studio team, joining host Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.

McHale was later asked about the recent wave of coach firings, including Brooklyn’s Lionel Hollins, Cleveland’s David Blatt, Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek and New York’s Derek Fisher.

“If your name isn’t Gregg Popovich — rent, don’t buy,” McHale said. “There are so many players with so much pull inside the league. It’s just rough right now in the coaching profession.”

UPDATE: After the Rockets-Warriors game, McHale said he wishes he was still coaching in Houston.

Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged , , , |
January 22, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Josh Smith ecstatic to be back in Houston with the Rockets

Josh Smith back with Houston Rockets

About two hours before the Rockets were to take on the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night, Josh Smith, wheeling his luggage and accompanied by Houston general manager Daryl Morey, came strolling down the hall and entered the locker room.

From there, it was one big lovefest. His old/new teammates are thrilled he’s back.

“They’re happy but I don’t think they’re as happy as I am,” said Smith, beaming a wide smile.

Smith said he doesn’t regret anything, that it was a business decision to leave, but added that “people make mistakes.”

“I’m excited,” said Smith. “I’m excited just be able to get back out on the floor and contribute and play for some guys that were new-found brothers to me last year and just to be able to play with that happiness and excitement that is needed in order to be successful in this business.”

See the full interview here:

Posted in Houston Rockets |
January 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

Josh Smith traded back to Houston

Josh Smith Rockets Clippers

Josh Smith is coming back to Houston.

The Rockets have acquired Smith in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, reports Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Rockets are sending the draft rights to Maarty Leunen to the Clippers, who are sending cash back to Houston to cover Smith’s salary, according to Woj.

The move is not surprising on Houston’s end — I was stunned Smith wasn’t brought back in the first place — but it is a shock that the Clippers would trade Smith back to the team that used Smith effectively last season, to the point of knocking the Clippers out of the playoffs.

As for Smith, it was ultimately his decision to leave the Rockets. He passed on a $2.5 million offer with Houston to take a little over one million with the Clippers, ultimately saying the reason was that the Rockets couldn’t promise him a role. He fell completely out of the rotation in Los Angeles.

What’s not to like? Hands down, the place where the Rockets need the most help is at power forward. Yes, they can go throw a ton of bodies at the position, but Clint Capela is looking lost again, Terrence Jones just doesn’t work (and needs to be traded), Donatas Motiejunas is back on the injury shelf and rookie Montrezl Harrell doesn’t appear to have the trust of the coaching staff just yet. Smith can help here and may even go right into the starting lineup.

Interestingly, Smith, a guy who has a reputation of dividing teams, is set up to help unite one in Houston.

The Rockets are a .500 team that was expecting to contend. This trade cost them nothing outside of a luxury tax hit. They sorely need help at the position. Big thumbs up to this trade.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 26, 2015 at 10:05 pm

J.B. Bickerstaff calls out Rockets players for misplaced priorities

After Houston’s best win of the year, an 88-84 home win against the previously 25-5 San Antonio Spurs, the Rockets went to New Orleans Saturday night and reminded us why they’re a .500 team this year.

Inconsistent defense, a late offensive collapse and some poor clock management did the Rockets in, dropping them back to an even 16-16 mark.

Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff has had about enough, and he was visibly upset after the 110-108 loss to the Pelicans, calling the team out.

“Our issue is doing things right because it’s the right thing to do,” said Bickerstaff. “Not because it’s going to get me a bucket, not because it’s going to get me a shot, not because I get the glory. That’s not what this is about. And that’s what our problem is right now.”

Houston’s interim head coach, who is essentially up for review as well, said the Rockets have consistently “disrespected the game.”

“We played San Antonio last night (and) played a wonderful game, a beautiful game on both sides of the ball,” said Bickerstaff. “We come out here tonight, things aren’t easy, things don’t go our way and we turn into the ugly Rockets again. It’s frustrating for me, it’s frustrating for all of us I’m sure, but it’s not treating the game the right way. Over and over again we’ve disrespected the game.”

Bickerstaff said it’s on him to start sitting those who aren’t focused on team success.

“Our priorities need to be clear and I need to do a better job of playing the people whose priorities are clear,” said Bickerstaff. “Winning is the only priority. If they’re not playing with that priority in mind, then they’re doing other things. Winning is the only priority that matters. That’s the message that should be loud and clear. We haven’t played to that level enough this year.”

jb-bickerstaff-houston-rockets

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 17, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Houston shouldn’t turn its back on Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard Houston Rockets Unhappy?

I’ve covered the Rockets the entire time Dwight Howard has been here and one thing I can say for sure is that this guy is genuine. What you see on camera? That’s real. That’s Dwight Howard all the time — it’s not an act.

He has always expressed a love for the city of Houston and has been proud to represent it. I’ve never seen Dwight skip out on the media after a loss. I’ve never seen him stray from a tough question. He stays until every question is answered (extremely rare for a superstar). He always praises his teammates and relishes in their individual success. Throughout this brutal start, he has preached about unity, sticking together and not pointing fingers — and he has lived by that.

I’m not sure when kindness, laughter and character became weaknesses, but in the past 48 hours, an extremely speculative (borderline fantasy) report came out claiming that Dwight was “extremely unhappy” in Houston. That has opened the floodgates to the media attacking the straw man Dwight they built up over the past four to five years.

So let’s just go through a few points there:

Is Dwight Howard unhappy? Of course! Every Rocket player is unhappy, as they should be. This is not a team that came into the year hoping to make the playoffs. Their bar is set at championship contention and they’re far below that standard. However, there is a huge difference between being unhappy about losing and being unhappy and wanting to leave.

Is Dwight Howard likely to opt out of his contract this summer? Of course! Whether the Rockets are 26-0 or 0-26, it would be less than wise for Dwight, barring significant injury, to not lean that way. He’s 30 years old and the salary cap is about to spike to unheard of levels, with just about every team having massive cap room. This may be his last best chance to get a new long-term deal. Dwight hasn’t said he will opt out, repeatedly saying when asked that he’s not focusing on that, but if he does, there are financial reasons for it. It doesn’t mean he wants to leave Houston — he may very well opt out to re-sign here.

So it’s a big stretch to take pre-existing conditions (unhappiness and the likelihood of opting out), read this report and say this is evidence that Dwight wants out of Houston.

Dwight himself has blasted the article, calling it “lies and rumors”, and some are quick to point out that Dwight said the same when sources reported he tried to get Stan Van Gundy fired.

But let’s be clear — sources haven’t always told the truth about Dwight either.

Think about it — media and fans have criticized this guy for being too happy. Now they’re apparently criticizing him for being too unhappy.

Maybe I just remember all too well how difficult it was for the Rockets to land a star without tanking. In 2013, we needed Dwight to choose Houston and he left a glamour market to come here for a shot at a title. He knew James Harden was here and that Harden was a volume scorer — this remained the case and you haven’t heard a word about it the past two seasons when the Rockets were having success. His goal and focus has always been to win and while the effort of some Rockets has been in question, that’s never been an on-court issue with Dwight.

All Dwight has done is what’s been asked of him. He’s dealt with injuries the past two seasons and still elevated his game in the playoffs, averaging 26.0 points on 54.7% FG, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the 2013-14 postseason and 16.4 points on 57.7% FG, 14.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals in last year’s extended playoff campaign. He’s seen a significant decline in usage this season and has not complained about it, repeatedly saying he will do whatever it takes to win.

The Rockets clearly have problems right now, and that’s fair game. There’s a lot to criticize. But Houston shouldn’t turn its back on the one guy who has had theirs because of some online gossip. He deserves a lot more than that.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 16, 2015 at 1:37 am

Dwight Howard blasts report he’s unhappy in Houston, calls it “lies and rumors”

Dwight Howard blasts report he's unhappy in Houston

A report by SheridanHoops on Tuesday created a lot of buzz claiming that Dwight Howard was “extremely unhappy in Houston playing second fiddle to alpha dog James Harden,” citing multiple sources, and predicted that the Rockets would trade him before the year was out.

While the report was questionable to begin with, Howard spoke after the Rockets’ 107-97 loss in Sacramento on Tuesday night and shot down the report (See: video on Rockets.com)

“I haven’t said nothing to nobody about anything,” said the Rockets center. “People always going to make up lies and rumors. That’s never been my focus. I’m trying to get these guys to play better and get myself to play better so why would I say that to anybody? People are going to say what they got to say to get a story out.”

Admittedly, Howard didn’t look all that happy in the interview. After all, the Rockets gave yet another disappointing performance and Howard scored just four points on 2-7 shooting.

“People are always going to come up with some kind of rumor and lies,” added Howard. “That’s what it is, you know what I’m saying? I can’t focus on that and I don’t want my teammates to focus on that. I want us to win. We had two upsetting losses. We’re all frustrated because we know we can play better. I haven’t said nothing to anybody — to any reporter or anybody — about being unhappy. That’s all noise.”

Howard said his focus is on “turning this thing around any way possible.”

“The only noise I want to hear is us winning and getting back to playing better basketball,” said Howard. “All the other stuff is lies and noise to me. People can save it.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 1, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Donatas Motiejunas cleared to return to Rockets practice

Donatas Motiejunas return Rockets practice

Now for some very good news for a team sorely in need of it.

Donatas Motiejunas met with the surgeon on Tuesday and passed the exam, getting clearance to return to practice with the Rockets this week.

Motiejunas suffered a herniated disk late last season and underwent lumbar microdiscectomy surgery in April.

The Rockets desperately need Motiejunas, who was a key player for them last season when they lost Dwight Howard for 41 games. The Rockets have bigger problems than just one missing guy, but given Houston’s troubles this season inside at both the four and five (when Dwight is out), D-Mo could be a very key addition.

Posted in Houston Rockets |