Houston Rockets Off-Season 2020: Building for Harden, then trading him

The Houston Rockets have been in the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons. In those seasons, the Rockets were coached by Mike D’Antoni (COY ’16-’17) and managed by Daryl Morey (EOY ’17-’18). In that span, the furthest that the Rockets had made it was the Western Conference Finals, where they have lost twice. After losing in the Western Conference semi-finals last season, the Rockets organization felt it was time for changes. Check out the full recap and update on the Rockets’ off-season and most recent trade.

Most recently, the Rockets made a beginning of the year trade to send away their long-time star James Harden, who was unhappy with the organization. In return, they received the Nets’ first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, and the Cavs’ first-round pick in 2022. They also received pick swaps with the Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027. Plus, they received Caris LeVert, in which they sent him and a 2023 second-round pick (their own) to the Pacers for Victor Oladipo. Look below to see what the organization did before this trade.

Coaching

The Rockets agreed to part ways with Mike D’Antoni this past off-season. In his four years with the Rockets, the team never had a losing record and went to the playoffs every season. D’Antoni won the NBA coach of the year award in the 2016-2017 NBA season. After D’Antoni and the Rockets parted ways, he became an assistant to the Brooklyn Nets with Steve Nash this season.

Stephen Silas: Stephen Silas was hired as the new head coach for the Houston Rockets this past off-season. Silas has been an assistant coach on seven different teams for the last 20 seasons in the NBA. He was one of the top head-coaching candidates in this past off-season and landed with the Houston Rockets. He has worked with many talented athletes, including LeBron James when he entered the NBA, and most recently with Luka Dončić on the Dallas Mavericks.

Management

Houston decided not only to part ways with their head coach but their general manager this off-season too. Daryl Morey and the Rockets parted ways after 13 seasons with Rockets. He was named the NBA executive of the year in the 2017-2018 season.

Rafael Stone: Rafael Stone has been with the Rockets organization since 2005. He was promoted to the vice president of basketball operations in 2019 and then was also hired as the general manager this season. Stone has been around the Rockets organization for a while, which led to his promotion. He most recently made the trade to acquire John Wall for Russell Westbrook as his first move as general manager, and now trading away James Harden.

Players Acquisitions

Trades

John Wall: The Rockets traded away Russell Westbrook for John Wall and a lottery-protected first-round draft pick. Wall had not played for two years leading up until this season due to injury. Before then, he was a 5x All-Star for the NBA in his prime years. Now, he is 30 years old and starting a new career in Houston. So far, he has averaged 18.6 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 45.4% from the field. If you have seen him play, you probably have seen that his quickness and explosive motor are still prominent.

Christian Wood: Christian Wood was part of a three-team sign-and-trade this off-season, in which the Rockets gave up Trevor Ariza, Isaiah Stewart, and a draft pick for him. He is one of the league’s most underrated players. Last season, he stepped up big with the Detroit Pistons averaging 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and one assist per game. He shot 56.7% from the field and just under 40% from behind the arc. Now, with the Rockets, so far he has averaged an astounding 22.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He could be in the running for the most improved player of the year award if he keeps his play consistent.

Victor Oladipo: Victor Oladipo is an excellent player that can add to the Rockets. He was acquired in the Rockets’ most recent trade for Caris LeVert and the Rockets’ second-round pick in 2023. Oladipo was once rumored to wanting to leave the Indiana Pacers, and whether or not that was true, he was granted it anyway. This season he is averaging 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. Oladipo is a solid perimeter defender too, having a career 0.5 defensive box plus/minus. He led the league in steals in the 2017-2018 season.

Free Agency

DeMarcus Cousins: DeMarcus Cousins signed a one-year $2.3 million deal with the Rockets in the off-season. For his contract value, the Rockets are getting a valuable player for their interior. DeMarcus Cousins averages a career 21.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Now, he certainly will not replicate those numbers with the Rockets (6.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game this season) but even he could play a helpful role. The big man is a serious interior defender (2.43 DBPM in the past three seasons he has played) and an okay rebounder.

Current Outlook

James Harden was unhappy with the team after a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. He stated in a post-game interview, “We’re just not good enough. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything that I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed, so, yeah” (per ESPN).

In response to this, the Houston Rockets kept Harden out of practice. Then, they later found and agreed to a mega four-team deal to send Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets received draft capital from the Nets in the next seven NBA drafts in return, along with going out on their own for Victor Oladipo in exchange for Caris LeVert.

The Rockets, after having built a team specifically for James Harden to stay, are left with a new plan. With a team of John Wall, Eric Gordon, P.J Tucker, DeMarcus Cousins, and Victor Oladipo, they will be a fringe playoff team in the Western Conference. However, they will likely rebuild this off-season with the draft capital they have. They just hired a new coach and a new general manager, so it wouldn’t be the worst idea.

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