The Houston Rockets want to win an NBA championship, but the direction they’re taking, giving James Harden complete control of the offense and the team while relegating Jeremy Lin back to the bench in a reduced sixth man role isn’t going to get them anywhere anytime soon.
Forrest Walker wrote a great post about the state of the Rockets’ assets with the trade deadline getting nearer. James Harden and Dwight Howard are obviously untouchables; franchise players you don’t move. And Lin? The Rockets have a player who is a solid starting point guard in him and also someone who won’t rock the boat for being moved to the bench. He’s a team player, and would be a great trade asset to them if his contract wasn’t “bad” in the eyes of most teams interested.
But the Rockets are looking at this the wrong way. Yes, this team needs to be improved in order to compete with the Thunder, Spurs and maybe Blazers of the world, but aside from the Thunder, the Rockets have looked very good against San Antonio and Portland at least once this season, and with a full roster have a squad that should be able to contend a bit more seriously for the top spot in the West.
So what’s wrong? The direction, the coaching, and the overall decision making when it comes to the personnel that actually leads this team forward. Kevin McHale might be a basketball genius, but it doesn’t show on the court; not on offense and not on defense. He hasn’t been able to install the right mentality in his perimeter players to make penetration and getting to Dwight Howard a bit more difficult to do than it has been this season. The Rockets are in the middle of the pack when it comes to defensive efficiency (allowing 102.3 points per 100 possessions), but it should be better with an all-defensive great like Howard defending the basket.
The offense should be better as well. The Rockets are 7th in the NBA with 107.1 points per 100 possessions, but a closer look at their assist-per-field goal ratio (54%, 26th in the NBA) and their assist per turnover ratio (1.26, tied for worst in the league) shows us that there are problems where this should be doing swimmingly. A team that moves the ball well shoots better than 34.4% from beyond the arc, but not the Rockets.
James Harden is the star of this team, forced or not. The Rockets traded for him and got someone they felt they can build the franchise around. Harden, hungry to prove he’s an Alpha type of player after years of being the third-string in Oklahoma City, embraced the role. Maybe too much. It’s hard to say if he has any backroom influence in the decision making, but sometimes it sure seems like it. This is a superstar league, but to an extent. If every player is punished for playing badly and sometimes doing against what’s best for the team, shouldn’t Harden’s selfish streaks, which are portrayed in too long possessions that end with bad shots or with him putting a teammate in a bad, last second on the time clock kind of situation, be punished too?
It’s hard to say what Lin has done wrong in all of this. Sure, he hasn’t been the most consistent of players, especially when it comes to his outside shooting and limiting his turnovers, but being misused often since joining the team has something to do with it. The Rockets don’t have to build around him, but the offense looks better when Lin handles the ball and makes most of the decisions, even if Morey’s analytics are telling him something different. Sticking by the numbers is fine, but only if it doesn’t make you blind to what’s actually happening on the court sometimes.
There’s no evil or good in this story – just a team trying to win, but going the wrong way about it. Jeremy Lin being a meaningful part of the process and the offense is essential with the current group of players the Rockets have in order for them to do better than they’ve been doing so far. Maybe Morey wants to trade him and can’t; maybe personally for Lin a trade to somewhere that will allow him more freedom and a bigger role is the right course. However, right now, he’s on the team, and a trade isn’t happening. If the Rockets want to be more than a first-round exit kind of team, someone needs to wake up and make the right change.