Where do the Rockets go from here?
It’s been a popular refrain all season long that the Houston Rockets were built to take down the Golden State Warriors’ autocratic rule in the Western Conference. Through six and a half games of the recently-concluded West Finals, it looked like the Rockets were actually going to do it.
When the Rockets took a 3-2 series lead, the Rockets were on the cusp of completing a revolution, ready to unseat Golden State as the West’s best team. That was until Chris Paul’s hamstring decided it needed to refresh CP3’s Rotoworld update, and before the Rockets banged away 27 missed 3-pointers in a row in Game 7.
That was the closest the Rockers came to fulfilling the wish of almost all non-Warriors fans, who just wanted to see a break in the monotonous narrative of the NBA Finals over the past few years. It’s Golden facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the championship round. Again. Meanwhile, The Rockets are back to the drawing board. Again.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Rockets general manager Daryl Morey will make future decisions based on how his team performed in 2017-18. The Rockets finished with the best record in the league thanks to their shameless dependency on three-pointers, enhanced defense, and the addition of another superstar in Chris Paul.
Having failed in their mission to win it all, the Rockets now face an intriguing offseason filled with issues they have to address.
Had Paul’s hamstring held up for the rest of the series, the Rockets probably would have finished off the Warriors either in Game 6 or Game 7. Right when Paul clutched his hamstring near the end of Game 5, it seemed clear that the basketball gods had once again decided to mess with the Point God’s career.
Still, the Rockets have a good reason to bring Paul back, as he showed he could seamlessly coexist alongside James Harden without ever having any issues about sharing the limelight. The two got along just fine, resulting in the Rockets going 65-17 in the regular season – the best record in franchise history.
In one season in Rockets threads, Paul was able to put up 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from distance. His 60.4 true shooting percentage this season is second-best in his career.
A couple of big factors for the Rockets in deciding whether to re-sign Paul is how long and how much are they going to give the point guard. Paul has yet to arrive at a point in his career where he’s a mere one-year vet guy like a Vince Carter or a Manu Ginobili, so he’ll definitely ask for a deal that would run for at least around three or four years and cost Houston top dollar.
At the end of the day, showing Paul the money is the right thing for the Rockets to do, considering the success they have had in just a season with CP3.
Clint Capela is about to become a restricted free agent in the summer. He’s easily going to be among the hottest attractions in the market, meaning there will be no shortage of suitors lining up outside the athletic 6-foot-10 center’s doorstep, all ready to cut him the check.
The Rockets have the prerogative to keep him — granted that they are willing to match any offer Capela would get from other big man-needy teams. They should exercise that privilege and keep Capela, as he’s been a valuable presence in the paint on both offense and defense. He’s become the perfect receiver of Harden’s lob passes and his smart rolls to the rim helped opened up space for the Rockets’ bevy of outside snipers.
In 74 games in the 2017-18 campaign, the 24-year-old Capela averaged 13.9 points on 65.2 percent shooting from the field. Defensively, he’s the heart and soul of Houston, often found in the middle swatting away opponents’ attempts at the rim or forcing them to alter their shots with his 7’5” wingspan. He finished the regular season as the team’s leader in rebounds (10.8), blocks (1.9), and defensive win shares (4.1).
The Other Guys
The other guys we’re talking about here are really just the pair of Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza. These couple of swingmen proved valuable for the Rockets because of their ability to play excellent perimeter defense and shoot well from deep. Three-and-D guys in other words.
Their versatility on defense was seen as a major key for the team in taking down the Warriors in the playoffs. Moreover, while Houston failed to unseat Golden State in the West, no other team was able to push the Dubs to the edge just like what the Rockets did, partly because not many clubs enjoy the luxury of having long, quick-on-their-feet, and capable shooting veterans in the form of Mbah a Moute and Ariza.
Both players, however, are approaching their mid-30s, so it’s going to be a little bit tricky for the Rockets in terms of planning what packages the team could offer the two.
If we replayed the entire 2017-18 season and parachuted LeBron James down the Sacramento Kings’ roster before the campaign, that team would likely have made it to the playoffs. A Kings team with a LeBron James is basically what the Cavaliers are right now, so imagine the four-time MVP playing alongside Chris Paul and James Harden.
Making that come true is just not as easy as it sounds.
James is not only looking to win a title, he’s also to earn while his basketball powers are not yet slipping off of him. For the Rockets to get James, they first need to carve out a gaping hole in their salary cap. That would probably mean letting Ariza and Mbah a Moute leave via free agency and trading away the likes of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and P.J. Tucker.
The Rockets also need to ink Paul to a new contract because he’s buddy with James. Paul has even started to lure James to H-Town, per Marc Stein of The New York Times.
Rest assured that the Rockets’ understandably devastated Chris Paul — who made a fast exit from Toyota Center late Monday night after being forced to watch the biggest game of his life from the bench because of his hamstring injury — has already begun his recruitment of James to Houston.
After playing all of 82 regular season games in Cleveland, leading the NBA in minutes played at age 33, and in his 15th season in the league, LeBron could use a “breather” season, which he could find in Houston. A place where he won’t have to metaphorically carry a boulder uphill while getting chased by a bear just like in Cleveland.
The Rockets should get the banana boat ready and fetch LeBron from The Land.