Rockets Optimistic About Chances In ‘Wide Open’ League

Brandon Scott
September 27, 2019 - 5:42 pm

HOUSTON (SPORTSRADIO 610) -- You should see the smile on Gerald Green's face.

Of all the changes around the NBA this offseason, the Rockets return the most proven group in the league. 

That would be the Golden State Warriors if they hadn’t lost Kevin Durant to free agency, traded Andre Iguodola, or weren’t missing Klay Thompson to injury.

Instead, it’s the Rockets, who have grown accustomed to being upended by the Warriors after a great season. 

The league is wide open, certainly more than it’s been since James Harden, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Clint Capela have played together.

The Rockets add former MVP Russell Westbrook to the mix in a year where for the first time we’ll see Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play for the Clippers, Anthony Davis pairs with LeBron James on the Lakers and Utah creeps into the contender discussion by adding Mike Conley. 

“We’ve played well, but we ran into the same problem each year with the Warriors,” Gordon told reporters Friday. “But now they’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. So as they say, it’s wide open for this year.”

James Harden excited about the opportunity to compete

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Westbrook: ‘I’m not going to change who I am’

In their first media availability of the season, Rockets management and players were asked about how they will fit Westbrook into the fold. 

Westbrook and Harden are both ball-dominate guards, two of the highest usage rate players in the game. They’re also longtime personal friends and have played together before, albeit under different pretenses. 

Basketball players tend to “figure it out” and adjust game-to-game, Harden said. He seemed open to the idea of some nights Westbrook going off, or Gordon putting up 30 or 40 in a game. 

Westbrook said he knows there will be games when he and his teammates are upset, but the established relationship they have will play a huge part in how they navigate those moments. 

“They don’t want me to change who I am,” Westbrook said. “That’s the reason they brought me here and I’m not going to change who I am. I feel like my mindset is what got me to this point. But there’s ways to be able to adjust your mindset when you get to a new team, adjust to different players. And I’m able to do that and sacrifice certain things.”

Need for speed

Last season, the Oklahoma Thunder won three out of four games games against Houston and Tilman Fertitta, who bought the Rockets two years ago, remembers seeing Westbrook blow by his players in the open court. 

That’s the kind of speed the Rockets felt like they needed to be able to change the pace and tempo in which they play. 

While the Thunder were sixth in the league in pace, the Rockets were the fourth slowest. 

“I watched Oklahoma kick our butts twice last year and there was this guy that would get a rebound and have it dunked on the other side when our guys started to run down the court,” Fertitta said. “I thought what would it be like to have this guy on our team.”

The Rockets wanted to get faster and rebound better. 

Adding veteran center Tyson Chandler should help them do the latter. Having forward Danuel House for the entire season should them do the former.

Westbrook will help them do both.

Ups and downs expected

They don’t expect all of this to come together overnight. But the Rockets are banking on Mike D’Antoni’s reputation adding value to guard play.

Steve Nash won a pair of MVP awards in his system. James Harden played point guard in his first year with D’Antoni, and would have won MVP had it not been for Westbrook.

Even Jeremy Lin was able to become a star in D’Antoni’s system.

It’s a good problem to have, trying to figure out how to manage a pair of MVPs and the experienced veterans around them.

When asked if there was more pressure on the Rockets to win a championship, given how they've fallen short in the past, Gordon said not as long as they play the right way.

“Definitely we’re going to have ups and downs throughout the year,” Gordon said. “But I think at the end of the day, we have enough talent to win.”

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