They would get past the slump, they said. They will get back along, they said. J.B. Bickerstaff would actually learn how to coach, they said. Dwight Howard will care about the team he's on more than his next one, they said. Everything that "they" said about the Houston Rockets turned out to be plain wrong. No improvement over the course of the year. No fixing the chemistry issues that plagued them throughout. The 2015-2016 Rockets sadly stayed the 2015-2016 Rockets.
But now that this season is finally over, fans can look to the future. Why not be excited? The talent on the roster is far better than the 41-41 record suggested. Cut a few bad apples and let the rest of the tree thrive right?
Wrong. Yes, the Rockets did have a great season in 2014 and the team has remained mostly intact since. But remember that one group you had to do a project with back in high school that was just awful? Everybody set aside their differences at the beginning for the greater good, but it was only a matter of time before they were at each other's throats, unable to take the madness. The Rockets' situation currently is similar.
There is no doubt that James Harden is the best player on the team. Most of the time, he is the only offensive output in a team that boasts being "efficient" on that end. But with this talent comes a bad attitude and an obsession with boosting his stats. He doesn't care for the team, as evidenced by his lackadaisical defense. And because of this, the supporting cast don't respect him, the main reason for the locker room problems this past season. If the Rockets want to win a championship, it won't be with Harden as their leader; they will need somebody else.
But that is for another day. Before they set their eyes on a ring, they need to first ensure they won't be complete disappointments. Here are a few things they must do in the offseason in order to stop that from happening again.
Bye bye Dwight Howard
Howard's performance in Game 5 of the first round was far from expected. Well, backtrack a little. The five personal fouls, 3-13 shooting, and eight points weren't. But what was surprising were the 21 rebounds, 11 being on the offensive end. He looked like he actually cared for once, giving 100% effort on the glass.
Despite yesterday's game, Howard must not stay on the team. Early reports suggest that he doens't want to remain either and that he is looking at the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks as potential destinations. Former Rocket Chandler Parsons is recruiting him to join the Dallas Mavericks.
Howard is definitely not a bad player. He can still defend the paint and rebound better than most centers in the league. But the team needs to try fixing their issues in the locker room, and letting go of Howard would go a long way. The Rockets had high aspirations when they signed him, believing they had another pair like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but after a season it is obvious that they were wrong.
Run away from the Durant while they can
With Howard's departure almost imminent, it must be extremely enticing to sign a second star to take his spot. One of the biggest names this free agency is Kevin Durant and the Rockets have a rather high chance of signing him. Harden will lead the effort to recruit Durant to the team since they were former teammates and remain close. But there is an even better recruiter that the Rockets can send: nobody.
This isn't some random Odyssey reference to make this author seem more intellectual. To most, he probably seems like a total idiot right now. However, the team must stay away from Durant. They got lucky that Carmelo Anthony opted to stay with the New York Knicks, but sadly once again the Rockets are going for the bait, ignoring the trap that is two ball hogs on the same team.
Howard complained often about not having enough touches. Imagine how often Durant would require the ball. And even if the team can figure it out much like the way the Oklahoma City Thunder have with Durant and Russell Westbrook, they will have no money to address the other concerns on the team.
Some may argue that Durant is the leader that the Rockets need, pushing Harden down to the second option. However, Durant can hardly be considered a leader. In fact, the Thunder are arguably Westbrook's team now. He took over the reins after Durant got injured during most of the 2014-2015 and hasn't let go since, while Durant has gladly relented control. Much like Harden, Durant isn't the leading type, but for different reasons.
Instead of spending all of their money on one player, the Rockets need to instead focus on their identity. If General Manager Daryl Morey does stay with the team, he needs to actually find players that fit his philosophy, whether it be a big man with solid post game, playmaking point guards, three point specialists, or cutters. Otherwise, he will be shown the way out by the end of next year.
Bickerstaff? No, new staff
The only person who needs to leave quicker than Howard is Bickerstaff. Firing Kevin McHale was a mistake in and of itself, but promoting Bickerstaff was a sin. He seemed lost all year, never taking control of the team. He whined to the media instead of taking matters into his own hands. Basically any Houston Rockets article wrriten by yours truly includes a section dedicated to ranting about the coach.
So who should they hire to take his place? Early candidates Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau, taken by the Washington Wizards, and the Minnesota Timberwolves respectively, are off of the table. That leaves the likes of Jeff Van Gundy and Lionel Hollins, two traditional coaches that will bring discipline to the team. They could also go with Jeff Hornacek, who coaches a style of play similar to what the Rockets like to run.
The greatest potential, however, lies in the assisstants that they can hire; not all of them are like Bickerstaff. Luke Walton would be a great choice since the Golden State Warriors are the team that the Rockets wish they could be. He does lack experience, but he can attract players as well as tweak the gameplan. Another potential great candidate is Ettore Messina, Greg Popovich's right hand man with the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have arguably the best ball movement in the league, something that the Rockets definitely need to improve on. Some will make the David Blatt comparison. However, Messina does have experience in the NBA, which Blatt did not.
While these would be good starting points for the Rockets, there is a lot more that they have to do to overcome this season. Whether it be players they should target in free agency, players they should re-sign or let go, the list goes on and on. However, the team must begin somewhere.