Rockets

Rocky Rockets Offseason to Spill Over Into Regular Season?

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Numerous moves have occurred in Houston over recent weeks.

It started with the departures of Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni, who were since replaced by Rafael Stone and Stephen Silas as the new general manager and head coach, respectively. Since then, Russell Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards. James Harden has questioned the direction of the franchise and is reportedly seeking a change of scenery. To many, this reads R-E-B-U-I-L-D, but the Rockets have obtained key acquisitions to retool instead. Let’s diagnose the situation with background information on new staff.

Rafael Stone

Meet Rafael Stone, the Rockets’ new GM. Originally, he signed with the Rockets as general counsel in 2005, while assisting with the basketball operations staff. He was then promoted to Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2019. Stone has a great reputation around the league as a brilliant business/basketball mind to run an organization and establish a great staff and roster. Now at the helm, he has gotten down to business and made changes; the first being the signing of a new head coach: Stephen Silas.

Coaching Staff

Stephen Silas & Co.

Silas started out as a scout for the Charlotte Hornets with his father, Paul Silas, who was an assistant coach. His coaching debut began in 2000 as an assistant to his father, who was now the head coach of the Hornets. His journey to obtaining a head-coaching position undoubtedly required much patience, as he was an assistant coach for the past 20 seasons.

Last season, he was a part of the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant helping structure an offense that bolstered the most efficient offense in NBA history at 115.8 points per 100 possessions. That eclipsed the 2018-2019 Golden State Warriors that have reached the finals in the past 4-of-6 seasons. Silas has a brilliant mind that will create better and more efficient offensive possessions for Houston.

This would take the burden off Harden’s shoulders of having isolation almost every possession. Silas is dealing with a similar player in Harden, as he most recently dealt with Luka Doncic. They are both ball-dominant guards that are the engine of their respective teams’ offenses.

The Rockets were able to keep John Lucas on staff as an assistant while adding Jeff Hornacek, Will Weaver, Rick Higgins and DeSagana Diop. All of these assistants have great experience from either playing and/or coaching. Creating this improved personnel within the organization is important and will make Silas’ transition easier.

Roster Changes

Stone’s first roster move was trading Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers for Trevor Ariza and two draft picks (one being Isaiah Stewart, the No. 16 overall pick in 2020 draft). This saved Houston $12.8 million to use in a trade exception.

The Rockets were then able to send Ariza, Stewart and another pick to acquire Christian Wood and two more picks from the Detroit Pistons via a sign-and-trade worth $41 million for three years. Stone then went ahead and traded a disgruntled Russell Westbrook for John Wall.

How do these moves impact the Rockets?

Christian Wood

Wood can score, rebound and defend. He has a 6’10” frame and a 7’3″ wingspan. He came into the league undrafted out of UNLV mostly as an athletic, long player. After stops with 76ers, Hornets, Bucks, Pelicans and G-League assignments, he established himself with the Pistons last season, especially after they dealt Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers.

In his final 13 games, post-Drummond, he posted 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds (3.2offensive) and 1.0 blocks on 56.2% shooting from the field and 40% from three. If he played more games, the 3.2 offensive rebounds qualifies him in the top-seven offensive rebounders in the game. He would be ahead of the likes of Joel Embiid (10th), Anthony Davis (16th), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (19th). Wood is going to be a great pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partner being a multifaceted scorer. He showed this in his lone preseason appearance.

He’s even being praised with comparisons to some elite big men in the league:

C-Wood fits in perfectly with his offensive and defensive versatility. They’ve obtained a big man that can run the floor, score, rebound and protect the rim.

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins is a special player that presents a low-risk, high-reward signing for the veteran minimum. He has been ailing with injuries over the past three seasons. He tore his Achilles and ACL in 2018 and 2019, respectively. During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, he played a combined 78 games and missed all of the 2019-2020 season after being waived by the Lakers to make room for Markieff Morris. We all know Cousins can score in a multitude of ways, rebound, defend and take charges.

He reminded everyone what he can do this preseason.

Let’s not forget, he averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks on 47% shooting overall and 35.4% from beyond the arc three seasons ago. He’s as dominant as they come when healthy.

With having more than a full season to recover and prepare, Boogie should have a great impact coming into next season.

Russell Westbrook-for-John Wall Trade

Welcome to H-Town John Wall!

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, there were several factors that came into play.

Although Westbrook and Harden are childhood friends, it’s reported that Harden preferred Wall over Westbrook. Russ also preferred to reunite with his old coach, Scott Brooks, from his Thunder days. Wall also preferred to play with Harden, which works out by having leverage with Boogie and their relationship.

There’s a resemblance here in playing style. Wall and Westbrook both have similar contracts — $44.2M and $44.3M on average, respectively — each with three years remaining. At this point, it’s worth the gamble. Both players have exceptional speed, explosiveness, athleticism, playmaking and ability to finish at the rim.

Like Westbrook, Wall has struggled in his career from beyond the arc at 30.5% and 32.4%, respectively. Just in the 2017-18 season, Wall shot 37.1% from three, which is very crucial in today’s game. Point guards that can shoot keeps the defense honest especially with his innate ability to get to the room and flourish in pick-and-roll opportunities.

After playing in only 73 games over the last three seasons, he should be well rested though, perfecting that outside shot for this coming season. In the preseason, he still possessed that elite speed and athleticism we’re used to witnessing.

The nine-year NBA veteran possesses elite playmaking abilities, a multitude of ways to score, and defense that could wreak havoc for opposing guards. He’s crafty and doesn’t occupy many possessions firing shots (15.9 attempts per game for career) knowing his biggest attribute is seeking the best opportunities for his teammates.

He reads the defense well and over the course of his career has understood controlling the tempo of the game with his tremendous change of pace and direction to create for himself and others. Pick-and-rolls with Wood and Cousins will be a sight to see.

Wall’s Relationship with Boogie

One of the biggest advantages in sports is relationships amongst players. Wall and Boogie have a friendship that extends from before they were teammates in their lone seasons with the University of Kentucky (2009-2010). They have remained close friends and man, Cousins is excited.

Role Players

As of now, the Rockets have been able to keep Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore and PJ Tucker. They also inked former Milwaukee Buck Sterling Brown this offseason. Sterling, the younger brother of Shannon Brown, is a capable shooter, shooting 34.5% from three throughout his young three-year career. His biggest attribute is his perimeter defense. He uses his 6’5” frame, 232-pound frame and general athleticism to cause disruption amongst opposing wings.

James Harden

As Houston stated earlier in the offseason, they’re willing to get “uncomfortable”. James Harden is adamant on a divorce from the Rockets. It didn’t start off right with him showing up late to practice and missing the first two preseason games. The acquisitions and moves made by Houston haven’t seemed to move him in any way of remaining a Rocket. He has shown interest in moving on to a contender like the Nets, 76ers and Heat, but Houston has been exploring all options to obtain the best assets for its future. This comes from multiple anonymous teams from both conferences.

Of course, Houston would love to get a deal done before the commencement of the regular season. The Rockets have seen others teams trade their stars and obtain a plethora of assets like the Pelicans did for Jrue Holiday and the Thunder obtaining draft picks and more for Paul George.

James Harden to the Heat/Nets

It seemed as if traction had ramped up for Harden’s services in recent days.

Houston will definitely look to acquire Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and probably Jarrett Allen from the Nets. They would obtain a young core with solid guards in LeVert and Dinwiddie and a legitimate center in Allen. LeVert showcased his talents with the absence of key players in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Raptors.

Shortly thereafter, however, ESPN reported that the Heat “ended their pursuit” of Harden, signaling a move may not be as imminent as otherwise perceived.

Harden to the Raptors/Celtics

Two other Eastern Conference organizations have emerged as the front runners now for his services.

Sending Harden to the six will send Drake into a frenzy, but having a young front-court of Pascal Siakam (26) and Christian Wood (25) in Houston would be extremely potent. Both of them have great offensive and defensive instincts to compliment each other and Wall. On the other hand, Jaylen Brown (24) is a rising young star and it’s only a matter of time until he at least becomes an all-star.

He hasn’t even entered his prime yet. This would give Wall a new backcourt mate that has the skillset to alleviate pressure off him defensively and offensively against opposing guards. Both of these guys create a whole-nother level of athleticism with their explosiveness.

Conclusion

Rafael Stone has made several key changes already before the start of this season. He’s established a great coaching staff and made power moves with acquisitions Christian Wood, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall while retaining significant role players. James Harden should be willing to give this change a chance, as Stone is working hard to make improvements and he definitely isn’t done. You would think Harden would enter the season optimistic about the new roster and coaching staff, but that remains to be seen.

As a first-time general manager, Stone has done a tremendous job thus far. Stephen Silas will establish a more fluid offense as well. Let’s not forget, Wall and Cousins are both still 30, and Wood is only 25. Houston should feel confident in a bright future moving forward and although this doesn’t seem to be enough for Harden to remain a Rocket, hopefully Stone can obtain plenty of assets and acquire another star to keep the franchise in contention for a championship.

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About Corey Randall

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