Rockets’ James Harden Can’t Do the ‘Carlton Dance’

Houston Rockets star James Harden is really good at basketball, but he’s apparently not a very good dancer.

While hanging out with Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played Carlton in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, the two did the “Carlton Dance”. Unfortunately, Harden struggled trying to do the dance.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, here is the original “Carlton Dance”.

[Instagram, h/t Black Sports Online]

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Is Trevor Ariza Really the Key to Fixing Houston Rockets Defense?

The Houston Rockets‘ biggest acquisition this offseason, Trevor Ariza, has been touted as the solution to their defensive problems. How true is that supposition? Ariza is a good defender, but is he enough to vault them into the top 10?

There are reasons to think that he can be, but without resolving some other issues, there’s no assurance that he will be the solution to the Rockets’ woes. We’ll look at where he can help, where he might help and where he can’t help.  

 

How Ariza Can Help: The Power of Three

First, let’s establish that while Houston did not have a top-10 defense, it didn’t have a woefully awful one. It had a defensive rating of 106.3 last year, which was good for 13th in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.com.

When looking at the best defenses, you can see a trend: They almost all have three plus defenders and one elite defender.

There is no perfect defensive stat, but one of the better ones is “defensive real plus-minus” or DRPM. According to Steve Ilardi of ESPN.com:

Drawing on advanced statistical modeling techniques (and the analytical wizardry of RPM developer Jeremias Engelmann, formerly of the Phoenix Suns), the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player.

Last season there were 437 players who hit the NBA court. Of those, 163 played at least 30 games, averaging 25 minutes. And out of that subset, just 54 maintained a DRPM over 1.0.

That means about one in eight defenders were able to maintain those high standards. We’ll set that as a standard for a plus defender.

There were just 19 players (4.3 percent), who had a DRPM of 3.0 or higher. We’ll set that as the standard for elite.

There are just seven teams who had three plus defenders with at least one of those being elite. Here they are, along with the combined DRPM of the players who qualified, the team’s defensive rating and where that ranked in the league:

The seven teams who met that qualification were among the top nine defensive squads in the NBA. Clearly, having three plus defenders and one elite defender goes a long way toward making a team a top-five defense.

If you’re a fan of the Rockets, that should be encouraging news, as Houston already has Dwight Howard (4.91) as an elite defender and Patrick Beverley (1.29) as a plus defender. Ariza (1.04) puts the Rockets in that three-and-one category.

Three plus defenders can cover the failings of two much easier than two can help three. It’s what I call the tipping point, and it’s apparent that it does come into play.

 

How Ariza Can Help: Elite Ball-Stopper

All of that said, the man Ariza is replacing, Chandler Parsons, wasn‘t a bad defender in his own right. His DRPM was a respectable 0.59.

However, there is a larger distinction when viewing how they guard elite players.

Using the player comparisons at NBA.com/STATS, I compared what the top five small forward scorers did while Parsons and Ariza were on the court. Here they are, per 48 minutes, along with their season averages:

The chart shows that while the elite scorers tended to do better than average against Parsons, Ariza consistently held them in check. Having that first-tier stopper is a huge asset, and Ariza is clearly on a different level than Parsons when it comes to holding down the best.

 

How Ariza Might Help: Keeping James Harden Interested

A huge question mark for Ariza and the Rockets remains: Can he keep James Harden interested in playing defense?

Let’s be fair about Harden without being overly forgiving of his obvious flaws. He is responsible for carrying the team on offense, so it’s too much to demand that he carry the defense too. And, when he is paying attention, he’s a decent defender.

Having said that, when he’s not engaged, Harden is an utter liability defensively, and he’s not being asked to carry them on that end; he’s just being asked to stay focused.

His recent FIBA performance illustrates his inconsistency perfectly. He was third in the tournament in steals per game with 2.1, indicating that he sometimes does play good defense. 

Then, as Mike Prada of SBN pointed out on Twitter, there were also times when things like this happened:

There is carrying a defense and there is being completely oblivious to where your man is, with considerable room between those two extremes. For the Rockets to become an elite defense, Harden only needs to be aware, not great. 

Ariza has a championship ring. He’s a respected, veteran leader. He has the grounds to communicate with Harden on the court, keep him engaged and help him stay cognizant of his responsibilities.

That said, if Harden is apathetic, Ariza can’t help. Only Harden can make Harden want to stay engaged during the full shot clock. 

Truthfully, the Rockets are better served with Harden improving his help defense over expending his energy on the ball. His long arms would be great for closing off passing lanes, and with his strength he’s a good candidate for helping with a switch when necessary.

If he can just provide reliable help defense, he can find that middle ground between being a liability and carrying the Rockets on both ends of the court. Ariza makes that possible by being the elite wing defender teams need.

 

How Ariza Can’t Help

The Rockets lost Omer Asik. He wasn’t critical to them, but he was important. One of the best things Houston had going for it last season was it could rest Howard and lose almost nothing defensively. Asik‘s DRPM of 4.87 was nearly identical to Howard’s.

As a result, Houston gave up just the 10th-fewest points to opposing benches according to HoopsStats.com.

ESPN.com lists Donatas Motiejunas—whose DRPM was 0.53—as the new backup 5. That’s a huge drop-off. He is not on the level of Asik, and the Rockets are going to have more problems stopping opponents when they rest their starters as a result.

Ariza can’t help with with that. In fact, it’s possible the gains that come from signing him will be somewhat offset by the loss of Asik on the bench.

That disclaimer comes with a caveat, though: The loss of Asik won’t matter when the game is on the line. Having three good-to-great defenders on the court in must-stop situations is how a team can turn two or three losses into wins. Houston now has that potential. 

***

Ariza is a definite help to the Rockets’ defense, and if he can get Harden to commit to team defense, his value will be even greater.

However, the problem with the lack of bench defense is still unresolved, and without that solution the Rockets may have taken two steps forward and one step back. Still, finding a player who can help there is a much smaller dilemma than acquiring an elite wing stopper. And considering the Rockets didn’t have that far to go anyway, they should be a top-10 defense.

Ariza might not solve all the problems on defense, but he is the answer to most of them. 

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Rockets acquire Jason Terry, picks from Kings (Yahoo Sports)

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have acquired Jason Terry and draft picks from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson.

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Sponsor Ditches Rockets for Lakers Because of Jeremy Lin

While the Los Angeles Lakers are coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the team is still beyond profitable. Despite losing 55 games last season, the franchise made a whopping $100 million+ in profit.
While the team might not be much better this season, they’ll still be raking in the dough. The addition of Jeremy Lin to the team’s roster has proved to be valuable off the court already, with the Lakers signing on Taiwanese company Maxxis as a major sponsor for the upcoming season.
“We are excited to welcome Maxxis as a new marketing partner of the Los Angeles Lakers for this season,” commented Tim Harris, senior vice president of business operations and chief operating officer. “We showcase similar values, including commitment to providing high-quality products and ensuring that our products measure up to the toughest competitors in our respective industries.”
While the company had sponsored the Houston Rockets the past couple of seasons, the trade of Lin to the Lakers likely

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How James Harden Can Use FIBA World Cup to Jumpstart Season with Houston Rockets

James Harden’s Team USA experience wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Houston Rockets shooting guard was originally expected to fill the “super sixth man” role normally reserved in Olympic competition for Carmelo Anthony. 

But then some of his colleagues decided their summer didn’t need a trip to Spain. Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin said thanks but no thanks, Paul George broke his leg and Kevin Durant backed out in the eleventh hour. All these things are “bad” for Team USA, but great for Harden.

He’s spent the tournament as a lead ball-handler and primary scoring option instead of a break-in-case-of-emergency alternative off the bench. How can his expanded role in international competition jumpstart Harden’s 2014-15 season? And how will the Rockets be affected?

 

Offense

There’s something different about playing on a team surrounded by the country’s very best players. Instead of waving off Francisco Garcia or Jeremy Lin, Harden is directing traffic for the likes of Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving. It’s more stimulating. More powerful.

Instead of standing in the corner as a spot-up option, Harden is carving opponents up in transition, running unstoppable pick-and-rolls with Anthony Davis and dictating the game’s flow with unfettered confidence. 

Through eight games, Team USA’s captain is averaging 13.1 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting. His 38 free-throw attempts also lead the team. Not that he has anything to prove on offense at this point, but Harden is further establishing himself as one of the four or five best scorers in the world. It’s in two other areas where he needs to get better.

 

Defense

Harden has 19 steals in FIBA competition, which leads Team USA. Steals are miles from the be-all and end-all statistic able to grade how any player is doing on defense, but in this case it deserves some mentioning.

Harden’s sometimes porous defense is still what most people think of whenever his name is uttered. Compared to his last season with the Rockets, it’s been up-and-down on Team USA, with most of his mistakes coming away from the balllosing his man on a baseline cut or failing to see a back screen before it catches him like a fishnet.

But much like it’s been in the NBA, Harden’s effort is mostly there whenever his man has the ball. He has quick hands, is one of the strongest shooting guards in the league and makes the ball-handler work for progress. In this tournament, Harden is consistently closing out on shooters, too. 

Due to a lowered level of competition, it’s difficult to watch the members of Team USA and say for sure whether any individual improvements will translate back to the NBA. But what we’ve seen from Harden is at the very least promising. 

 

Leadership

Leadership is an intangible attribute needed from any superstar, and heading into the World Cup, Harden was still searching for some of it.

For all the amazing and impressive things Harden did last year, it wasn’t enough. Houston was still upset up in five games by the Portland Trail Blazers partly because its best scorer couldn’t score. 

Normally one of the league’s sharpest spears, Harden made just 34.7 percent of his shots from the floor through that series’ first five games. The points were there, including a 37-point explosion in Game 3, but it took 35 field-goal attempts to get there. That’s not good. 

But the more important issue here was how Harden responded on a game-to-game basis. Having a bad night or even a bad series isn’t the worst thing in the world. But amid his struggles on the basketball court, Harden’s public response was far from sophisticated. 

As reported by The Oregonian’s Mike Tokito:

When a reporter from a national organization asked him about his struggles, he got short. ‘It’s basketball – making shots,’ Harden said before moving onto the next question.

But when his media session in the Rockets’ opulent locker room ended, Harden went back at the reporter, asking if he had ever seen a player not play well before. The reporter answered that the struggle seemed unusual for Harden and was coming on a major stage, the playoffs.

The two went back and forth for a while, with Harden asking the reporter if he’d ever seen a basketball game before, then demanding to know whom the reporter was. The exchange got testy enough that team officials stepped in to usher Harden out.

As he left the room, Harden called the reporter ‘weirdo.’

Who knows how Harden acted around his teammates or in the locker room? And passing judgment on someone’s character or mindset based on one isolated incident doesn’t do much good. But still, lashing out at a reporter and showing public frustration after just two playoff games isn’t how a wise, experienced star is expected to act. 

Playing on Team USA, being among the best of the best in another country on a daily basis and facing a different type of pressure, Harden is reportedly taking steps in the right direction. 

Harden told reporters that he understands his situation:

This is a different platform. A platform that I haven’t really been on before, but I think most of us haven’t been on it, either. I think we’re all kind of figuring it out together. That’s what’s going to be so special about this team. We figure it out together and we come out with a gold medal, it makes it that much more special.

Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo agreed that Harden is ready to become more of a leader: “Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”

The Rockets pay Harden his max contract to provide 25 points on a nightly basis. They pay him to live at the free-throw line, run top-notch pick-and-rolls and take big shots in big games. 

But they also need him to become a competent defender. They also need him to rise off the court in times of hardship and struggle. He’s only 25 years old, but as the Rockets’ best player he still needs to lead. 

Playing on Team USA won’t make Harden a better three-point shooter or decision-maker on the fast break, but it just may give him the experience necessary to elevate himself in other ways that matter.

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4 Players Who Houston Rockets Need to Step Up Next Season

The Houston Rockets were disappointed with another first-round exit this past season, and after an unlucky offseason some guys will have to step it up in 2014-15.

Not only did the Portland Trail Blazers punch out Houston, but the following summer the Rockets struck out in free agency and lost a bunch of talent. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh weren’t interested, and Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik all packed their bags and headed elsewhere.

Now, the Rockets are left with a shattered roster that was dubiously put back together. There will be plenty of young guys filling in those voids who will have to take on much bigger roles. Others underperformed last year and will have to kick things up a notch for the Rockets to succeed this upcoming season.

Let’s take a look at some Rockets who will be asked to rise to the occasion in 2014-15.

 

Isaiah Canaan

After trading Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets will look to Isaiah Canaan to become the new backup point guard. Patrick Beverley will continue to start and play solid defense, but Canaan will be expected to come in and provide an offensive spark.

Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in just under 29 minutes per game last year with Houston. He was an above-average facilitator and helped force the tempo in the second unit. Canaan is also a speedy, score-first guard who can attack the basket. He is a better outside shooter as well (36.9 percent in the D-League last season compared to Lin’s 35.8 percent).

Canaan had an impressive summer league in Las Vegas a couple months ago. He averaged 17.0 points and 3.3 assists per game, and he had some big plays down the stretch during the Rockets’ run to the championship game.

He may have screwed up at times, but Lin’s overall production during the regular season was significant, and Canaan will have to fill his shoes in a big way this year.

 

Donatas Motiejunas

Like Canaan, Donatas Motiejunas also impressed in Vegas this summer. His 16.8 points and 8.1 boards per game earned him first-team All-NBA Summer League. Even better, D-Mo shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range as well.

With those kind of numbers, the Rockets will be ecstatic with Motiejunas this season. It’s only a small sample size and against weaker talent, but his performance this summer has us wondering whether he’s finally tapped into his potential since coming from overseas.

D-Mo averaged just 5.5 points and 3.6 boards in 15.4 minutes a night last year. However, his minutes picked up quite a bit after the All-Star break as his role increased with the team. Unfortunately, come playoff time, those minutes vanished, and he didn’t play a single minute versus the Blazers.

This season, however, with Asik gone, Motiejunas is the main backup center behind Dwight Howard. He will be sharing some of those minutes with Joey Dorsey, but he also may get some playing time at power forward in an attempt to stretch the floor.

Wherever he’s playing, he will have to bring his A-game all season to replace Asik and give the Rockets quality minutes off the bench, including in the playoffs.

 

Francisco Garcia

After providing a huge lift for the Rockets two seasons ago in the playoffs, Garcia took a major step back this past season.

After shooting 38.6 percent from deep in his first season with the Rockets, he followed it up with a disappointing 35.8 percent this past year. His production was by far the worst of his long career, and he eventually fell out of the rotation.

There were a few flashes of the old Garcia in 2013-14, but his overall performance was subpar. The Rockets decided to bring him back this summer very late in free agency after some solid games with the Dominican Republic in anticipation of the FIBA World Cup. In Spain, Garcia averaged 17.6 points per contest and shot 64.3 percent from deep.

Those stats are what the Rockets are looking for out of Garcia. His best quality is his three-point shot, and he’s got to shoot it at a high rate to get back in Houston’s rotation and become a significant contributor once again.

 

James Harden

It’s not common to expect a player to step it up after making the first-team All-NBA, but we all know Harden has a ton of room for improvement.

Despite his spectacular performance last season with the Rockets, Harden’s defense remains a glaring hole to his game. He has become the butt of several jokes due to his bad defense, but that could all change this year.

After getting bounced by Portland in the postseason, Harden made it clear to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that his offseason goal would be to improve defensively.

And as Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops notes, throughout his time with Team USA, his defensive skills have impressed the coaching staff and others. It’s fairly evident that this defense problem is a lack of will more than it is a lack of talent, which is easier to fix.

Harden gets a lot of negative media attention for his defensive woes. His lackadaisical mishaps on that end of the floor are keeping him from cracking the truly elite in the NBA, and it’s why many people don’t think the Rockets have what it takes to make a run at a championship.

The Beard needs to step it up big time on defense not just for himself, but for the good of the team. If he can shift his focus to the defensive side, the Rockets along with Beverley, Howard and Trevor Ariza can become a top-10 defensive team. With an offense already that lethal, this defensive boost could make Houston a formidable contender out West, and it all depends on Harden.

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Predicting Houston Rockets’ Biggest Surprises and Breakout Players in 2014-15

The Houston Rockets are looking to turn it around in 2014-15. After a disappointing end to last year followed by an even more disappointing outlook for this year, the Rockets could surprise some people this season.

It’s true—Houston’s roster has downgraded quite a bit since Damian Lillard sent the team packing. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik were traded away, and Chandler Parsons signed an unmatchable contract with the rival Dallas Mavericks in free agency.

But it’s not all bad news for the Rockets.

General manager Daryl Morey pieced together an intriguing roster of young yet unproven talent. He also brought in veteran Trevor Ariza to take the place of Parsons in the starting lineup. With the duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard handling the reins, this squad still has plenty of upside for the upcoming season.

From young guns to seasoned vets, quite a few surprises are waiting for Rockets fans this year. Here are five predictions of surprises and breakout players for the Houston Rockets.

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Why Houston Rockets Need Dwight Howard to Embrace the Pick-and-Roll Game

The Houston Rockets were an offensive juggernaut last season.

Scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions last season, the Rockets held the fourth-best mark in the league. They ranked third in effective field-goal percentage, first in free-throw rate and seventh in offensive rebound percentage.

Other than a high turnover rate, it was difficult to find fault with anything they did on offense—yet somehow they left us wanting more.

The culprit for this disconnect between terrific performance and frustrating dissatisfaction clearly revolves around the synergyor lack thereofbetween James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Both are phenomenal offensive players, each with well-defined strengths and weaknesses. Although their games grew more intertwined through the season, it still felt like they were often stepping on each other’s feet or dramatically clearing out of the other’s way.

The most obvious disconnect involves Howard’s post-up game.

According to mySynergySports (subscription required), Howard scored just 0.77 points per possession on post-ups last year, good for 128th in the league.

However, the Rockets offense accommodated 785 possessions finished by Howard in the post during the regular season and playoffs, or just over 10 per game. That worked to about about 8.1 percent of their total offensive possessions.

Remember that we’re just talking about possessions where Howard either attempted a shot, turned the ball over or was fouled while posting up. Other good things often happened when Howard posted up, such as manipulating the defense to create openings for other players.

Still, using 8.1 percent of your total offensive possessions on an approach with such a low level of efficiency seems counterproductive.

That impression becomes even stronger when you consider Howard’s prowess in the pick-and-roll. When he finished as the screener in the pick-and-roll, Howard scored an average of 1.31 points per possession. That was the third-best mark in the league last season.

Put that together with Harden’s elite abilities with the ball in his hands, and the recipe for turbo-charging this offense seems to clearly be more Harden-Howard pick-and-rolls.

When they are working in the pick-and-roll together, both players are at their best—both are in motion. Howard isn’t clogging up driving lanes for Harden, and Harden isn’t standing on the perimeter with his hands on his shorts, waiting for the ball to come back out to the perimeter.

If you need an example of just how devastating this combination can be, check out the video below:

Harden’s ability to penetrate demands aggressive pursuit by his defender and a significant hedge by Howard’s.

Once Howard catches the ball, his strength and agility are far too much for the back line of the defense. If the Miami Heat play Harden any less aggressively, he’s charging into the teeth of the defense and getting to the basket or drawing a foul.

Simply put, the Howard-Harden pick-and-roll makes the best use of both players’ offensive abilities.

Position shooters like Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza around the one-two punch, and these pick-and-rolls become even more deadly.

Unfortunately, just saying the Rockets should run more Howard-Harden pick-and-rolls isn’t as simple as it sounds. Howard’s preference for being stationed in the post is well-known.

He has often restated this preference as way to help get his teams back on track, which he did to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle in the middle of their playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers last season:

We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys. I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.

We have to go right back at him. You have to make him play defense and make him use his energy on defense. Make him have to run around and guard.

His teammates seemed to be on the same page as well. Chandler Parsons echoed roughly the same sentiments to Feigen.

“We have to dump the ball down for him. He has to make plays. He’s had a lot of success against (Robin) Lopez. We have to keep feeding him the ball. That doesn’t mean we have to slow down. We want to get out in transition and run,” he said.

The idea that Howard, his teammates and, at some level, the coaching staff seem to be exploring is the way Howard’s post-ups can distort the defense. The Rockets certainly got better at this throughout the season, finding new and different ways to build motion around him. 

Drew Garrison of SBNation broke down some of this improvement in early March:

Howard pulls defenders in like a tractor beam. Harden and Parsons have space to operate and turned heads to zip by. Parsons has been the greatest beneficiary, slicing through defenses and getting to the rim throughout the season. Houston’s philosophy is simple: points in the paint, open threes and free-throws 

The offense has been altered to give him [Howard] his low-post touches, but isn’t dependent on him sinking a high percentage of his attempts. The threat of his post scoring is enough.

The last sentence of that quote is key. It is the threat of his post scoring that bends the defense.

Take the Howard post-up below, for example. You can see how the offensive motion stops as soon as Howard catches the ball. Harden’s man, Dwyane Wade, is cheating in for a soft double on Howard.

But by the time Harden really gets open, Howard has already spun baseline, beginning his move:

The thing is, the way the offense becomes static really limits the options here. There may be the possibility for a cut on the weak side, but essentially this offensive possession is winnowed down to Howard and Harden.

There is a moment when a kick-out from Howard leads to Harden with the ball in his hands and plenty of space to attack. That sort of scenario is generally much likelier to lead to a positive outcome than Howard spinning baseline for a jump hook.

As Garrison noted, the opening for Harden created by the soft double-team only occurs because the Heat know Howard is active and likely to shoot when he catches the ball on the block.

If Howard stops attempting so many shots in the low post, opponents stop doubling and the hyper-efficient shots for teammates that come off of those possessions evaporate.

Although it isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as the simple difference between Howard’s 0.77 points per possession on post-ups and 1.31 points per possession as the screener in the pick-and-roll, the Rockets offense seems to get better outcomes when Howard is in motion at the offensive end.

The Rockets are one of the most statistically savvy teams in the NBA and are almost certainly aware of this. 

However, they need to live with a certain amount of Howard post-upsboth to keep him happy and keep the defense working honestly against all of the different offensive scenarios the Rockets throw at them.

Ultimately, the Rockets need both pieces of their offense—the post-ups and the pick-and-rolls. The key is the balance. As you can see from the graph below, that’s where the Rockets can make some improvements in their offensive efficiency:

The graph shows the ratio of post-up possessions to pick-and-roll screener possessions for Howard across the last five seasons.

Last year with the Rockets, Howard finished 7.5 post-up possessions for every possession he finished as the screener in the pick-and-roll. Although that was lower than his peak in Orlando, it was significantly higher than his two previous seasons—his last with the Magic and his one season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

If the Houston Rockets want to push the boundaries of their offensive efficiency even further, the task is not enormous.

They don’t have to redesign everything or try and talk Howard into abandoning his interior possessions. Houston just needs to work on subtly shifting the balance. It may seem like a scary proposition, especially considering how frustrated Howard was with his role in Los Angeles, but the coaching staff wouldn’t be asking him to do something he hasn’t done before.

The Rockets are a process-oriented organization with the patience and foresight to see how small changes at the margins can have a big impact when stretched across an entire season.

If anyone can gently nudge Dwight Howard towards a more advantageous offensive distribution while still maintaing the integrity of the system and his commitment to its principles, it’s Houston.

 

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats.

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Dallas Mavericks: Rivalry With Houston Rockets Just Got Even Better

First Dwight Howard, then Chandler Parsons. Now Jason Terry? This Dallas Mavericks-Houston Rockets rivalry has now become bigger and breathtakingly awesome. The Rockets made a trade over the weekend, acquiring the former Sixth Man of the Year who won a championship with Dallas in 2011, from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Alonzo Gee and […]
Dallas Mavericks: Rivalry With Houston Rockets Just Got Even Better – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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Houston Rockets’ PR Problems Won’t Overshadow Basketball Promise

It’s been a rough summer for the Houston Rockets

After whiffing in their pursuit of Chris Bosh, losing Chandler Parsons to the rival Dallas Mavericks and shipping off key rotation players Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for no immediate return, the team’s image has taken a sizable hit.

General manager Daryl Morey was wildly successful over the past two offseasons, snatching up James Harden and Dwight Howard when few people thought either would leave their teams. Morey assembled a contender in what seemed like a snap of the fingers. But his coup was actually the result of years spent dedicated to firm, wise market principles.

Those principles are as intact as ever today. Though the Rockets lost more star power than they gained in recent months, Morey’s also maintained the shrewd financial flexibility that made his previous splashes possible.

By passing on Parsons’ exorbitant three-year, $46 million offer from Mark Cuban and the Mavs and not overcommitting to lesser options, the Rockets remain in the mix for coveted players down the line. From Yahoo! Sports’ Kelly Dwyer:

This is, as NBA fans know, Rocket general manager Daryl Morey’s style. He routinely spins forward assets in the hopes of pouncing on any available big fish, knowing that this is always a star-driven league. Once the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady pairing finally wore down in 2009, Morey has constantly been reshuffling his team in the hopes that future carrots would lead to eventual chomps. The next trade deadline. The next draft. The next summer. Just before training camp. You just wait.

The recent reports of Rajon Rondo’s eagerness to leave the Boston Celtics are as a good a reminder of this as anything. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan stated a strong belief that the prolific point is looking to get out. “It will happen because he’s told them he wants out, and no one believes me but that’s the truth,” MacMullan said

The Rockets are on a short list of teams that would be a good fit for Rondo. Trying to make the money work between Houston and Boston would be very difficult, especially given that Rondo has only one year left on his current deal. But if the Rockets had held onto Parsons, swapping for Rondo would’ve been all but unimaginable. 

And while the team will be hurt in the short term by losing the contributions of Lin and Asik, they’ve also dodged the bullet of basketball purgatory. If they’d retained both and made Parsons their top priority, the Rockets would’ve essentially committed to their current core as their definitive championship-seeking squad.

The notion that Houston—as constructed in 2013-14—is a true title contender is at best dubious. The historically tough nature of today’s Western Conference means the Rockets probably need major help before they can make it to the NBA Finals. Given the Mavericks’ offer, Parsons could only have remained put if he was paid like a third star—but Morey knew he wasn’t.

New Rockets wingman Trevor Ariza is an equivalent or arguably slightly worse player. Ariza is only behind Parsons in the categories of youth and shot creation—he’s demonstrably better as a defender and three-point shooter. But because Ariza wasn’t an unrestricted free agent like Parsons was, Morey was able to pay him market value. In other words, roughly half of what Dallas gave Parsons. Ariza’s making $32 million over four years on his new deal.

Ariza isn’t the popular, celebrated entity Parsons was. Just like newly important reserves Isaiah Canaan and Donatas Motiejunas (the likely heirs to Lin and Asik’s roles, respectively) aren’t getting any Rockets fans overwhelmingly excited. But everyone who’s not a superstar is a role player in Morey’s pocketbook—his actions say so, anyway—and all who aren’t world class are replaceable.

Therein lies the catch to modern Houston fandom. Loving players becomes difficult when all men are exchangable pieces in a championship-bound puzzle. No matter the impact of any Rocket, they’re all replaceable so long as the team’s bottom line leads then anywhere short of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

For Rockets fans hoping for gold, this is good news, regardless of the present picture. Because with Morey, the larger perspective is smartly bent toward the very best.

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