A common mentality in sports is to stick with what works while improving on the few weaknesses. The Houston Rockets, however, have proven that they are too unorthodox to think like everyone else.
The team last year rebounded from a rather poor outing in 2016, finishing with a 55-27 record, good for third in the West. Their season ended when they were eliminated in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs in six games. The main reasons for the disappointing ending were the overuse of James Harden and a lackluster defense. So most teams would just add a couple of defensive specialists and maybe a three-point shooter to alleviate the load on Harden.
Instead, general manager Daryl Morey decided to ship basically half the team for future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. Pretty unconventional move for an arguably top five team. Will it work out though? Let's look closer into what the Rockets did and how it help/hurt them.
Not much happened for the Rockets in the draft. They traded their first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lou Williams and their second-round pick to the New York Knicks back in 2015 for Pablo Prigioni. On the other hand, they got the 43rd pick from the Denver Nuggets because of the Ty Lawson trade in 2015 and the 45th pick from Portland Trail Blazers as part of the Thomas Robinson trade all the way back in 2013.
So what did the Rockets do with their two picks? At 43, they went with Isaiah Hartenstein (watch a scouting video below) while picking Oregon's Dillon Brooks at 45. The latter was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for a future second-round pick, a bummer since Brooks could've been promising in the Rockets' high octane offense.
Hartenstein follows the recent of big men that have both inside and outside game. He's also only 19 and thus has potential. He won't impact the team next year, however, as he is sticking with the Žalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania for now.
Overall, this year's draft didn't bring any new faces that will play this coming season. They focused on the future, as they added a second round pick and a young player who might pan out to be a decent inside-out big man.
Free Agency Signings/Trade Additions
Now, this is where the Rockets went berserk. They first traded Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Williams, and Montrezl Harrell for Paul. After losing all that depth, they got it back by adding P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Tarik Black, Zhou Qi, and Troy Williams and Isaiah Taylor from the G-League. Most also expected Carmelo Anthony to be traded to the Rockets before he eventually got sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So what do all of these changes mean for the team? CP3 was added in an effort to bring a second star to work alongside Harden. Many were scared that now that the Beard is basically playing point, he would clash with Paul. However, this is beneficial for both players.
The Rockets envision having at least one of the two on the court at all times. This vastly improves an already capable bench led by sixth man of the year Eric Gordon. Gordon can focus on scoring while either Harden or Paul will distribute and control the ball. This also alleviates the pressure and fatigue on both stars, allowing them to focus more on defense. All that needs to happen is that they hit it off, which seems to be the case as they have posted several pictures of them hanging together.
However, don't let the addition of Paul overshadow the rest. Tucker and Mbah a Moute were both signed to improve the subpar defense. They are both three and D type players that can flourish in Houston's system. Both Harden and Paul can find them open deep, and they can help slow down opposing stars.
Adding Black was smart in that they can now use Nene on a more situational basis. Nene got hurt late last year and is getting old; having Black means more rest for a super efficient player.
The last three additions may not impact the team much. Qi is a promising big man that is similar to Hartenstein, just lankier and with more of an outside game. Troy Williams is a gifted scorer. Taylor may become a solid point in the future.
Overall, the new look is an improvement on last year's already great team.
Free Agency Departures
The only departures were the four players in the Paul trade. There was fear that Nene would leave too, but that issue was resolved quickly.
Many were sad to see Beverley leave, but the team is still getting a possibly better defender in return. Lou Williams was super salty about leaving (can't blame him though, it's kind of awkward when you leave after only three months). Dekker and Harrell were promising but not good enough to forego a trade for Paul.
Basically, all the departures were good role players but have been replaced with new additions.
PG: Chris Paul/Bobby Brown
SG: James Harden/Eric Gordon/Troy Williams
SF: Trevor Ariza/P.J. Tucker/Luc Mbah a Moute
PF: Ryan Anderson/Tarik Black/Cameron Oliver
C: Clint Capela/Nene/Chinanu Onuaku/Zhou Qi
Notes: Mbah a Moute is technically a small forward but will probably play some at power forward alongside Tucker to earn more minutes. Also, this may seem like a lot of players; it is. Some of these players will be cut and/or demoted to the G-League before the year starts. My prediction is that Onuaku, Qi, and Taylor will be demoted.
2018 NBA Draft Status
Ugh, the Rockets 2018 Draft is confusing, but here we go.
In the trade for Paul, the Rockets gave up a top-three protected first round pick from 2018-23, after which it will be unprotected in 2024. This means that the Clippers can choose when to get that pick; they can any year from 2018-24. If they pick in the 2018-23 range, then it cannot be a top three pick; the Rockets will receive the pick if it is. Since it is highly unlikely that the Rockets get a top three pick every season until 2023, the Clippers are going to get the pick one of these years.
THAT IS until they traded that pick, Jamal Crawford, and Diamond Stone to the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team trade in order to get Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets. So now, the Hawks own the pick that I explained previously. Also, just in case you didn't know, the Hawks bought out Crawford's contract and he's with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Now for the second round. They've already traded their own second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for Shawn Long, who will now be playing in China. Instead, they will receive the least favorable of three options.
The first is the second-rounder that they got from the Grizzlies in the Brooks' trade. The second is an unprotected pick from the Miami Heat that the Grizzlies received in a three-team trade involving Courtney Lee. The final option is a Charlotte Hornets pick also acquired in the aforementioned trade. Whichever one of these three picks is lowest, the Rockets will receive.
But honestly, it's the Rockets. So their draft status is probably going to change a lot over the course of the season.
2017-18 Season Prediction
The Rockets came into the offseason looking to make moves that will propel them to the top. Adding both CP3 and Melo would've done that, but they were only able to get one of the two. Sadly, the latter went to the Thunder, making it harder for the Rockets to get the second spot. With a fully healthy Paul though, Houston still will; it all comes down to Paul's health.
Sadly, he is too injury prone for that to happen. That's why the Rockets will finish third in the West, behind the Golden State Warriors and the Thunder. If Paul is healthy during the Playoffs, the Rockets will reach the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors.
Make sure to go check out the other season previews!