Which Offseason Acquisitions Put Houston Atop the West?


After being one game away from the 2018 NBA Finals, the Houston Rockets suffered a 4-2 series loss to the Golden State Warriors in last year’s playoffs. The Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder with hopes that they would fare better minus Chris Paul.

Yet again, the Rockets suffered a five-game, second-round exit to the Los Angeles Lakers in this year’s playoffs. Many people have questioned the fit of Westbrook alongside James Harden all season, but they played well together this season overall.

Westbrook’s Inconsistencies

After Russell Westbrook struggled early in the season, the Rockets realized they needed to open up the floor. They partook in a four-team trade with the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Hawks that landed them Robert Covington in exchange for Clint Capela. Capela was often clogging the paint on Westbrook’s drives, while Covington spaces the floor with shooting.

Welcome to the small-ball era. This led Westbrook to having one of his most efficient seasons of his career. He brought a different dynamic to the team than Chris Paul and it was very apparent after the trade.

You can see here how Houston was able to spread the floor and Westbrook was able to take advantage of open driving lanes and mismatches. We weren’t able to see this dynamic Westbrook in the playoffs though, as he strained his quadriceps during the seeding games. He appeared in only four of those eight games and missed the first four games of the first round. We can speculate he was rushed back after the Thunder tied the series at 2-2 from 2-0. This didn’t bode well for Russ or the Rockets.

He averaged career-lows in points (17.9) and assists (4.6) during the playoffs. Returning too early from injury often makes a player cautious, and he didn’t look the same. This issue was just one of many, though.

House’s Poor Decision

Outside of the stars, role players possess a significant role to a team’s success. On a team with limited bench production, there’s no room for mishaps.

And then this happened.

This type of behavior is unacceptable. Danuel House is a critical piece of Houston’s rotation and was forced to miss Games 3-5 against the Lakers simply due to a poor decision. He was averaging 11.4 points (36% 3PT) and 5.8 rebounds. His absence was extremely glaring in Houston’s demise. He may have burned bridges with the organization and could be possibly packaged for a trade.

With a new head coach remaining TBD, adjustments to the roster should be made to fix some of Houston’s deficiencies.

Rebounding/Floor Spacing/Rim Protection

The Rockets were out-rebounded by the Lakers 227-163 across the entire series. Countless times, the Rockets allowed the bigger guys to gain an advantage in rebounding positioning– allowing for second-chance opportunities. Small-ball can work, but having the most appropriate personnel can compensate for the lack of size. There is a big option Houston can seek to establish a more potent crew.

Myles Turner

Myles Turner is a home-state kid– he attended the University of Texas at Austin for one year before entering the 2015 NBA Draft. He has three years remaining on his contract ($52,500,000) and is still young at 23 years old. He averaged 2.1 blocks per game this season but also led the league with 2.7/game during the 2018-19 season.

Turner is a career 35.7% three-point shooter, which is good enough to keep the defense honest. His skillset and presence would do wonders for Houston, defensively and offensively. He plays hard and is a very long and athletic big man with excellent footwork. He can still fit into the Rockets’ three-point shooting offense and assist PJ Tucker with paint protection while sliding Robert Covington to his natural position: small forward.

In order to make this trade work, Eric Gordon would need to be included. He is about to start his four-year, $75,574,356 contract extension. Gordon to Indiana would be a change of scenery back to his home state. Houston could consider partaking in a three-team trade that would send Gordon to the Celtics, Gordon Hayward to his home-state Pacers, and Turner to the Rockets. Gordon could provide bench depth for the Celtics, which is a necessity heading into next season.

Eric Gordon is a great player, but injuries have derailed him most of his career, and that ultimately disrupted continuity and chemistry within the team.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love is a primary target that would fit in perfectly with this group. He’s not the best defender, but his scoring and rebounding prowess should have Houston drooling at the mouth. During the 2019-2020 season, he averaged 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds on 45/37/85 shooting splits. Love is elite offensively, providing another lethal option that would force shot-blocking centers to stay out of the paint defensively.

In order to make this trade work, the Rockets would have to relieve some salary cap space to afford Love’s contract (3 years, $91,459,342 remaining). Locked On Rockets’ Jackson Gatlin details a potential trade proposal:

“So the Rockets receive Kevin Love. It’s a three-team trade proposal. Rockets receive Kevin Love. The Timberwolves receive Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr. and the Cavaliers receive James Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick from the Timberwolves, a 2020 second-round pick from the Timberwolves, and then Austin Rivers on a sign-and-trade deal.” — Gatlin

That’s several key role players, but could definitely be worth the move to provide more elite play alongside Harden and Westbrook. Let’s also not forget he was a teammate and close friend of Russ from their UCLA days.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He fits the bill of the modern-day center– great size, length and athleticism to defend the rim and rebound. Ibaka can score in a multitude of ways, especially spreading the floor with his shooting ability. He would be a great fit as a two-way player for the Rockets. Here it was on display this past season for Toronto.

Let’s not forget that Ibaka was a part of Oklahoma City’s 2012 NBA Finals appearance alongside Brodie and The Beard. He has familiarity with those two players and will now have a much more experienced and seasoned Harden. Houston may have to compose a similar trade like that of the Kevin Love situation, but with the team signing and trading for Ibaka. The Rockets have to find a team able to relieve the contracts of Eric Gordon (four years, $75,574,366) and Danuel House (two years, $7,611,000), depending on how much Ibaka would demand.

Bench Depth

Another Achilles heel for the Rockets has been bench production. During the regular season, they ranked 28th at just 28.7 points per game. In the playoffs, they ranked 13th (of 16 teams) with only 24.4 points per game. House and Jeff Green were the best overall reserves Houston had, and re-signing Green is a must. Especially if House and Gordon were to be traded, the Rockets should look to the free agent market for help.

D.J. Augustin

D.J. Augustin has some familiarity with Texas and the Rockets. He finished his senior year of high school at Hightower, which held its graduation ceremony at the Toyota Center. He was a teammate of Kevin Durant during the 2006-07 NCAA season at the University of Texas-Austin, and played alongside Westbrook in 2015-16. He’s a career 37.9% and 39% shooter from deep in the regular season and the playoffs, respectively. This past postseason he also averaged six assists as a reserve in 25.6 minutes per game, which is pretty impressive.

Augustin is a savvy veteran point guard that has a great shooting and playmaking abilities. He has experience and would fit in well with the Rockets’ system.

Maurice Harkless

Maurice Harkless, too, is a free agent this offseason. He’s a great defender and uses his 6’7” frame and length to be disruptive on that end of the floor. Before being dealt to the Knicks at the deadline, he was shooting 37% from three with the Clippers.

With the way the Houston spreads the floor, he would have many open shots and could be put at the four/five spot at times running the small-ball offense. This gives the Rockets another option to obtain more production off the bench, especially if House were to be sent packing.

Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose only has one year left on his contract ($7,682,927). He’s not a great three-point shooter (career 30.4%), but did just shoot a career-high 37% during the 2018-2019 season. His biggest attributes are his explosiveness, speed and ability to finish around the rim. Last season, he shot a career-high 53.5% inside the arc as this was a compilation of layups, floaters and midrange jumpers. He was in the running for sixth man of the year after averages of 18.1 points and 5.6 assists in only 26 minutes per game.

I have a proposal for a way to obtain him via trade. This would be a three-team trade sending Danuel House to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jake Layman to the Pistons and Derrick Rose to the Rockets. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s contract would be necessary for the deal to work, but he’d already be a free agent anyway. Let’s not forget his familiarity with Eric Gordon, as they were AAU teammates for Mean Streets Express in high school.

A Quick Re-tooling

The Houston Rockets shouldn’t give up on the duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook just yet. We can’t forget the 2010-11 Miami Heat team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh lost in the Finals to Dirk Nowitzki and co. That was the “Big 3’s” first season together. More recently, the heavily favorited LA Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the second round.

Russell didn’t appear completely healthy and Danuel House violated the NBA’s health and safety protocol in the bubble. Whether Houston is able to get one of the aforementioned options or not, a full offseason and health should be beneficial heading into the 2020-2021 season.

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About Corey Randall

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