Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Summer Fixes For The Houston Rockets

After a lengthy and historic first round, the Houston Rockets were eliminated by the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard knocked down a poorly defended last-second 3-point attempt that propelled Portland into the second round, ironically in the same flamboyant fashion that energized Houston after signing their most-prized off-season acquisition Dwight Howard. They’ll search for renewed optimism starting this summer.

The Rockets are now faced with another hungry and unsatisfied offseason; surprisingly they’ll enter it once again with head coach Kevin McHale, as he’s been retained by the Rockets for another year. Being handed their second first-round exit in just two seasons is the opposite of what general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander had in mind.  With less cap room, sub-par draft picks and a bit of wiggle room in the trade market, the Rockets brass will have to be creative to improve this summer. Some things they’ll need to change, and others to be either fine tune or left unmolested.

Certain teams reach a point where they start to teeter off that contention edge, ready to fall in and become a serious contender; the Rockets are one of those teams. They’re continuing to build, and although Morey’s flair for front office dramatics may get the best of him after such a devastating loss, the Rockets best bet is to remain calm. At first glimpse into a long summer for Houston, here are a few factors to consider for overall improvement:

Keep Dwight Howard playing at an optimum

Pretty obvious you’d think. Dwight Howard played some of the best basketball we’ve seen from him in the last three seasons. Granted, back surgery slowed him down a bit in his unfavorable stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was a reliable force down low for the Rockets all year. Howard averaged 18.2 points and 12 rebounds on the season and in 39 minutes of first-round action beefed up his numbers to 26 (points) and 14 (rebounds). McHale received the most productivity out of Howard since his 2010-11 season in Orlando. He saved McHale from intense coaching criticism in the playoffs as the Rockets game plan was dump the ball into Howard every possession, although he’s not the most effective back-to-the-basket player. Fortunately for most of the series versus the Blazers, that strategy worked. The Rockets need to turn Howard’s playoffs stats into his regular season averages next season. He’s possibly the league’s biggest underachiever, and next year Howard must settle in to his role as the dominant big man on this squad, playing like he’s fixated on Larry O’Brien Trophy hoisting and nothing else.

Jeremy Lin is a good player – in the second unit.

Jeremy Lin is an expendable player with a big name in this league, but average skill. The upside for Houston is he’s good trade bait. There’s nothing Jeremy Lin does great, and he’s made a name for himself by doing most things well; however, nothing short of exceptional talent and effort wins championships. Lin gives great effort while on the floor for the Rockets, but he’s not the championship caliber point guard they’re looking for, nor the defender they need. On a team where there’s no clear floor general, the Rockets need a point guard who will step in and lead this team. “Serviceable” is a great word to use for Lin, who averaged 12 points and four assists in round one, but has never shot better than 22 percent from deep in his postseason career. The Rockets need to surround James Harden and Dwight Howard with players capable of hitting the open shot consistently. If he’s not traded in the offseason, Lin should be downgraded to a reserve role, becoming the leader of a great second unit.

Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard must set a tone for this team defensively.

Two players that committed to the defensive end this year for the Rockets were Patrick Beverley and Howard. Their first-round loss was the result of lacking a team identity, therefore having no integrity to protect. Beverley and Howard must take ownership of the defensive end of the floor. With Beverley at the helm as a starter in place of Lin, the Rockets forced two more turnovers per game and held opponents to a lower shooting percentage in increased minutes. Beverley is a thorn in the sides of other point guards in the league (like Russell Westbrook). It’s time for that rose to bloom.

More Love and Less Melo

Daryl Morey has pulled off a blockbuster acquisition once in each of the last two seasons. Undoubtedly he’s searching for his next big move, and at the moment he’s looking in the wrong direction. There have been whispers of the intention to go after a third superstar such as Rajon Rondo; however, with Harden on the floor, adding a ball-dominant point guard would diminish his effectiveness. They’ll pick up some better defensive tendencies, but the dip in scoring production will make them less effective in the long-run.

Another player mentioned frequently in the quest to add a third superstar to the fold is Carmelo Anthony. The Rockets need to steer clear of Melo. They’re already dealing with one star player who flat-out refuses to play defense. Adding Carmelo would surely sink their 23rd defensive efficiency rating from this past season deeper into the toilet next year.

Instead the Rockets should seek a stretch-4 that can put up great shots, perform in a pick and roll situation with Harden, while being paired down low with a center that’s capable of producing double figures in boards every night. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is the answer. A straight swap of Omer Asik and Lin would satisfy CBA provisions and could provide a huge lift for Houston. Adding Love would stretch the floor for the Rockets in a way that none of their current players can, and in a way they need horribly. Against the Trail Blazers their floor spacing was extremely poor due to defenders being able to give Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lin extra room. Love will keep the defense honest, and would add to a young nucleus capable of winning it all.

Finding players to compliment Harden and Howard is a moot effort if neither player crowns himself as “the man” unquestionably. Houston’s primary problem is they haven’t fully committed to either Harden or Howard on the floor. It has to be someone’s team, and if neither want to take full accountability, in the interim the Rockets will have to make a few moves to bring in someone who will. Here’s to hoping a third addition in Houston will bring the type of success that the organization and its fans want.

Tags: Houston Rockets

  • Todd DelGiudice

    Pat Beverly is the GOAT! (rolls eyes)

    • Marcus Bass

      Point taken, but he’s a defensive upgrade over Lin, and is a steal next season salary-wise. Leaves the Rockets open for that third superstar.

      • ClydeTheGlyde

        How is he an upgrade? You are buying into the myth. Look at the stats. I know where it is but I won’t tell you. As a writer, you MUST present facts and not just throw out statements with no basis or supporting figures. Everybody can make a statement without any basis but as a writer you must present facts. Unless of course, you are one of those crappy writers. Probably you are. Talking about salary, who gave Lin his salary? who set the price? It was the rockets. How about you talk about the other players who have higher salary than Lin but are no-shows for their teams. Google it, you will find the link.

      • westseadoc

        Yes, Beverly is a “better” value dollar/cap wise. Jeremy, however, probably generates more than enough extra revenue to help close that dollar gap but he does hurt the cap. That being said, this is a business and it is better to overpay a little to get more of what you want or need that to pay less to get less. I think the Rockets, almost have the personnel to win but they really need a bench that can produce meaningful minutes, points and stops while the first team is resting and planning. McHale needs to develop his bench and as far as contracts, Morey was the one throwing money at him to sign.

  • Intrep1d

    It doesn’t matter what roster changes the Rockets make. As long as McHale is their coach, they’re not going deep into the postseason. I also think you’re giving Beverley too much credit. He couldn’t guard Lillard at all.

    • Marcus Bass

      You won’t see Beverly in the all-star game anytime soon, and you won’t hear him make any all NBA team, however he’s a better defender than Lin and that’s really all the Rockets need. Plus they’ve got to play better “team defense”. Easy to say he got killed by Lillard when there’s no help D available.

      • ClydeTheGlyde

        So now you are blaming help D. You only need help D if the point guard dribble by you and attacks the basket. If you are an elite defender, you can stay with your man and knows the proper distance between you and the opposing player so he won’t blow past by you. you need to know when to tap and not just collide with your body and commit a senseless foul like what Bev has done so many times including the 3 point play that cost the Rockets the game. Stop making excuses for your Bev and start watching basketball with no filter. You are not presenting facts in your piece. You are presenting opinions. Unfortunately, your opinions are crap because you really do not know anything about basketball. Read basketball movement and fundamentals so you will understand how the game is really played and then write something factual about the game.

      • westseadoc

        I think that’s relatively fair but the point is that Beverly, hailed as a “Bringer of D” isn’t that much better than Lin whereas Lin is considerably better on offense (given he corrects his inconsistency) and Beverly is no match for the top PGs (almost no single guard is) and requires good team / help Defense. The same can be said for Jeremy and Jeremy might wear his man down a bit more on Offense that would Beverly (of course, B can improve in the offseason, too … they both know what they have to do to be valuable.

  • mma_ko

    So if exceptional talent and effort wins .. then you need to get rid of harden … no effort on defense. BTW, Lin has already been exiled to the 2nd unit since the start of the season … but doesn’t get to run the second unit b/c Mchale always puts Harden or Bev in with him and have them handle the rock? Have you not watched any games or do some research before writing this garbage?

    • Marcus Bass

      So you’re willing to give up the league’s best scorer at the SG position because your COACH can’t motivate him to play D? Defense wasn’t a problem for him in OKC, he actually defended Kobe well.

      • ClydeTheGlyde

        Really?!!? Marcus Bass!!! That was one quarter of one game in Feb 2011. That’s your argument that defense was no problem in OKC. Puhhlleasse!!! this just shows you do not know your basketball and you call yourself a writer. Harden knows he needs to play D because he will be sat down, it is on national tv, and he is gearing up for a contract negotiation the following year. If he can bring that intensity to the rockets every game then I will believe you he has no problem in D. Again watch your basketball and really watch it. do not just claim to watch it because you have no idea what you are talking about. you are lost.

    • Marcus Bass

      Patrick Beverly certainly started, however roles are defined by minutes. Beverly averaged 31 minutes and Lin 28. That’s sharing the point guard responsibility. In a traditional starter/reserve role that’s not typical. In fact the team that beat the Houston Rockets in the first round gave 36 minutes to Damian Lillard and 25 to Mo Williams in the regular season. So while I DO watch the Rockets, DO YOU watch basketball?

      • Yascar

        The real point guard of the Rockets is Harden, neither Beverley or Lin. And yes, I do watch basketball and the Rockets.

      • Jeremiah

        Do you know the difference between compliment and complement? Did you know that the mpg differential between Bev and Lin was reduced because Bev broke his hand, his nose, his knee, etc.

  • Jah

    How does acquiring Love help us?? We never had problems rebounding in the Playoffs. It’s defense; making stops and neutralize opponent’s Star players.

    Case in point, Aldridge. So, you mean to tell me a 6″9 Love can put the clamps on Aldridge?? Don’t be silly, and this suggestion to trade for Love over Melo is just silly.

    Even Jones’ defense is better than Love. The last thing we need is another inferior White-boy believing he got the skills to compete at a Championship level with superior Black players.

    • westseadoc

      Love will stretch the floor and allow for more driving lanes .. and wow! That type of analysis is right up there with Don Sterling!

  • a z

    “There’s nothing that Jeremy Lin goes great”? Lin was ranked top 5 penetrating guards statically.

  • ClydeTheGlyde

    This is another crap piece from a crappy writer who believes in the myth of Patrick Beverley as an elite defender. If the coach cannot go past the first round with a team of Howard and Harden then there is something wrong. Harden can score but he makes the other players stand and watch. He is lazy on D and calls out his team mates to play better D and describe his play as OK. It is not ok. That is why he is in the second unit of OKC and Sam Presti did not give him his starter money and opted to trade him because Presti knows his shortcomings. Lin, on the other hand, makes people better (see Tyson Chandler, Novak and the other NY Knicks of 2012) and more involve in the offense. As an opposing coach, it is easy to draw up a defensive play against an ISO Harden and a post up Dwight. You should really start watching basketball in a more scientific way instead of just counting scores. I played competitive ball from middle school through college and I can tell you for a fact that there is something wrong with the coaching and player roles and rotations in this Rockets team.

  • Houstonrocketfan

    Jeremy Lin needs to improve his 3-point shootings.

  • westseadoc

    I think you are close with respect to your analysis of what Jeremy Lin’s weak spots were this past year. However, I believe you are underestimating him greatly. Admittedly, he did not “step up” as much as would one DESTINED for greatness but he has yet to be given true enough free rein as well as extended unencumbered playing minutes at playing PG. I agree that he has made some egregious mistakes but if you were to evaluate Tony Parker, at the same point in his career, JLin would compare very favorably. It is also true, that the NBA is a rough business, and JLin would not be the first player with a much higher upside than credited but never had the true chance to prove it. He may never overcome his tendency to be inconsistent, but watching flashes of true high level play over the past few years, his upside has not been reached. I think the Rockets will live to regret trading Jeremy Lin. His 3 started the year well, then tailed off badly. If he wasn’t injured, then it is a mental thing and he needs to learn how to perform to your potential at all times. Linsanity was brief by career standards but the level of play was unusually high for a long enough period to show that that talent is “in there,” and it will have to be “there” almost when called upon for him to remain relevant; he’s only 24 now but he won’t be a young gun for very long and there’s always a faster draw out there somewhere.

  • westseadoc

    It is interesting that, before I even saw your picture, I suspected you were black. I don’t think at all that you are racist but that you have an inherent bias that looks for specific things that you like but underweight other attributes insomuch as your comparisons of Lin, Beverly, and Harden. You gave both JH and PB pretty much of a pass despite their signifcant shortcomings. Everyone raves about the prolific scoring of Harden but many of his points came at the expense of ball movement, in that he iso-d then drove and drew fouls during the season but no so much in the playoffs, when the refs let them play more. His actual shooting % during the season was pretty poor, also. I agree that Lin has to improve his 3 but he shot over 50% DURING THE PLAYOFFS from mid-range. He will have to shoot long range more to draw defensive attention. Rondo, on the other hand, hailed as a potential savior shot 30+% from the floor and 60+% from the Free Throw Line. Jeremy’s problem is he is constantly being judged by that brief time of LInsanity when he outperformed every NBA rookie from the 1970s forward. Then he played with more confidence and more swagger and that was borne out of being given the reins of the offense without fear of instantaneous removal for a solitary error, esp if performed out being aggressive, something the Rox could use in spades.

  • westseadoc

    I also do agree that, for the Rockets, Lin off the bench and Beverly starting is not a bad option. Beverly can wear down their main playmaker or scorer, while Jeremy watches and assesses the opponent on that night. I think the Rox, however, will do much better when someone other than Harden is the primary ball handler, at least in initiating the offense. Harden makes the ball sticky and championships are not often won with one man teams. I think someday Lin will head up the right team and will do an elite status type of job but will take the right team and he hasn’t earned enough “street cred” to warrant signage based on his inconsistency. He showed growth and promise in the last 1/4 of the season; if that growth rate continues, then he might have the right to demand that the ball go to him.