The Houston Rockets traded for Chris Paul almost 2 years ago to the day and have had two very successful seasons, only to be beaten by one of the greatest teams of all times: The Golden State Warriors.
They Rockets have clearly found something that works, and instead of a dramatic overhaul, there are a couple of tweaks that the Rockets need to make to finally make it to the NBA Finals again.
With the Warriors beaten down and going into the 2019-20 season without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, this just might be the Year of the Beard.
The draft come and went for Houston, with no picks in either round for the first time “in forever” according to GM Daryl Morey.
Therefore, Houston must turn their heads towards free agency. Going in, they are already over the salary cap and are around $6 Million under the Luxury Tax Threshold. With no ability to add players with cap space, the Rockets must get creative if they are to challenge for the title again next season. Here is a simple three step guide about how the Rockets could make a championship run.
Step 1: Trade for Jimmy Butler
It’s no secret that the Rockets would love to add Butler to their squad, but they will have to do a bit of work to make it happen.
Firstly, they must convince Butler to come to Houston, which with a core of Harden and Paul, and a chance to compete for a championship, shouldn’t be the most difficult task. Butler wants to win and he’s from Houston, making it the prime destination for his services.
For Houston, adding Bulter gives them another player who is reliable down the stretch of close games. He is one of the best finishers, as he seen in his time with Philadelphia.
Jimmy needs to then opt-in to his player option with the Sixers worth $19,800,000 (which is also much less than what he would make if he signed with a team in free agency). With an extension after opting-in however, he would earn more than the contract he could sign in free agency.
The Rockets then need to sign-and-trade Iman Shumpert to $12,000,000 in order to make the salaries work. The trade would look like this
Rockets Get: Jimmy Bulter (1 yr, $19,800,000)
76ers Get: Nene (1 yr, $3,825,060), 2022 HOU First Round Pick
Team w/ Cap Space: Iman Shumpert ($12,000,000), 2020 HOU First Round Pick
With this trade, Houston keeps both Eric Gordon and Clint Capela while adding Bulter, automatically making them the favourite in 2019-20.
Step 2: Re-Sign Austin Rivers
When Rivers joined the team mid-year, most Rockets fans were unsure of what to think. Do we hate him for his time at the Clippers? Is he the new Beverley for the squad? Whatever questions were asked after the trade, were answered with his play at the end of the year and in the playoffs. In the postseason, Rivers shot 45.7% from 3 and was often there to pick up the scoring when the team started slowly.
Rivers was tremendous, becoming the backup PG that Morey has spent years looking for. Morey is not going to let him just walk in free agency. Part of the Mid-level exemption can be put towards Rivers, who could be signed for around 2 years, $10,000,000. Without Rivers, Houston will be again in search for the PG to back up the aging Chris Paul.
Throughout the season, Rivers went on the record multiple times, saying that he’s the happiest he’s been in his career in an interview with The Undefeated. He knows his role and loves playing it. River resigning would be a great win for Houston.
Step 3: Hire Tom Thibodeau
Soon after being knocked out by the Warriors, the Rockets made several moves in firing their lead assistant and defensive coordinator, Jeff Bzdelik, and assistant coach Roy Rogers. This leaves a gaping hole in their coaching staff.
Houston is now missing a defensive mastermind to coach that side of the gamel in 2019-20. Funnily enough, their happens to be one of these types of coaches on the market.
AP Photo/Jim Mone
Tom Thibodeau didn’t have success working with the Timberwolves, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have plenty to teach as an assistant. With Thibodeau as head coach, the Bulls ranked 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, and 11th in points allowed per possession in his five seasons. There is enough history as a defensive mastermind to warrant the Rockets rolling the dice and bringing him on as an assistant.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Rockets have bought in a coach coming off a bad stint or two but with previous success. When D’Antoni was hired, he had previously coached the Knicks and the Lakers, with both stints being classed as terribly unsuccessful. When he joined the Rockets, he went on to win Coach of the Year.
Whilst Thibodeau can’t with Assistant Coach of the Year, he can be extremely influential in bringing the Rockets defense back to top-5 as it was in 2017-18.
These three steps should help the Rockets to finally get back to where they belong: The NBA Finals!