Summer 2012- April 2014:
Three summers ago, the Houston Rockets were lost. Finishing around .500, but not making the playoffs, again, was not acceptable for general manager Daryl Morey. He knew he had to make a splash. He made the team stronger, with the additions of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but the team still lacked a true scorer. On the eve of the NBA season, Morey got his wish, trading Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, two first round picks, and a second round pick to Oklahoma City for James Harden.
Morey made the Rockets a playoff team that year. They took the reigning Western conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to 6 games in the first round of the playoffs, but came up short. The team could feel the momentum, and so could Morey, so he went out and got a second superstar, Dwight Howard. However, the team lost in the first round of the playoffs again, this time to Portland in 6 games. The loss was devastating and the summer only appeared to be worse for the Rockets.
The following year, the Rockets knew they had to make improvements in order to finally get out of the first round of the playoffs. They freed up cap space by ridding themselves of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and it appeared that Houston was prepared to give Chandler Parsons a big contract.
Also with LeBron leaving Miami, Bosh had made a verbal commitment to Houston. Then everything went wrong. Bosh decided to stay in Miami, leaving the Rockets with a huge decision – Sign Parsons to a big deal and give up on hopes of acquiring Bosh, or wait it out and see if they can sign both Bosh and Parsons to team friendly, smaller deals. But with Bosh choosing to stay in Miami, the Rockets had to decide if Parsons was worth the massive money being demanded. The Rockets decided to not match Dallas’s 3 year $46 million offer to Parsons. Instead they took that money and signed Trevor Ariza (who is an upgrade) for a 4 year, $32 million contract – a move that has worked out so far.
The Rockets also bolstered their bench by adding Jason Terry in a trade with the Kings. The season started, and the Rockets were optimistic, despite their poor bench mob. But that was all about to change.
The Rockets have struggled with injuries all year -Dwight Howard has missed over 30 games and is still not back yet and Terrence Jones has missed 3 months. They are making sure both are healthy for the playoff run.
But somehow the Rockets are sitting at 44-22 and in 3rd place in the daunting Western Conference. Yes, James Harden deserves a lot of credit, but so does Morey. Morey went out early in the season and traded for Corey Brewer of the Timberwolves, a great scorer and defender to play off of the bench, not to mention a former NBA champion. Morey worked his magic, giving up nearly nothing for the veteran.
Then he went out and signed the disgruntled and recently waived Josh Smith, a close friend of Dwight Howard. Coach Kevin McHale somehow got him to play great basketball off of the bench, something he has never done before.
Then on the day of the NBA trade deadline, Morey made the decision to keep the core players together, such as Patrick Beverley and Dontaous Motiejunas, and made just one small move. He got Pablo Prigioni from the Knicks, a veteran backup who can shoot from downtown. Now, even I laughed at this deal at first. But in the games since the deadline, Prigioni has played well off of the bench, giving the Rockets a true backup point guard. Now the Rockets have four bench players that would potentially start on playoff caliber teams.
Daryl Morey could have thrown in the towel after he missed out on Chris Bosh. He could have accepted the fact that the Rockets would be knocked out in the first round again. He could have spent too much time licking his wounds from what looked like a terrible offseason. Instead, he chose not to feel bad for himself. He found a way to make the team even better than it would have been with Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons, and he is reaping the benefits right now.
Morey got his superstar in James Harden and lost in the first round. Then Morey got a second superstar in Dwight Howard. and again the Rockets lost in the first round. Then Morey finally got what he needed – a supporting cast. Harden and Howard have a great supporting cast that can pick up the slack if Harden has an off night, or Dwight is injured, or the two both are being swarmed by defense.
For example, Corey Brewer has put the team completely on his back when nobody else could score. He has won games for the team when Harden couldn’t. Josh Smith and Jason Terry also provide great sparks off the bench and energize the second team.
This team is poised for a playoff run. Getting knocked out in the first round is not acceptable for a team with this much talent. If the Rockets don’t make it to at least the conference finals, change may be on the horizon. A team of this caliber and talent cannot let its window waste away.