What’s next for the Houston Rockets?

After a deflating loss to the Warriors, the Rockets are back to square 1. You can not deter Daryl Morey, there were detractors and for the most part, and he proved them wrong. In a league full of three-point shooting maestros, the Rockets stand as the exemplary model. You have to give the Rockets credit, no team has taken this Warriors this far in the conference finals. How can they improve their current roster? Will they improve their roster at all?

Common sense says that a team that just took game the best team ever to game 7, needs just one more vital piece to get over the hump. Not so fast, this Warriors team played their worst series yet. Kevin Durant looked disengaged, Steph Curry was injured, Andre Iguodala was out, and Draymond Green couldn’t hit from outside 10 feet. Even the Warriors at their lowest vastly outplayed the Rockets in every aspect.

What’s next for the Houston Rockets?

First Option: Stay Put

James Harden and Clint Capela go together like peanut butter and jelly. Harden acted as the pick and roll ball handler for 10.2 possessions a game, while Capela acted as the pick and roll man 3.9 possessions per game, good for 7th in the league.

Daryl Morey established that he would match any and all offers for the restricted Capela. Tanking teams that need rim protection could throw gigantic deals at Capela. The Suns are set to offer Capela the max and the last time the Mavericks had a rim protector like him in Tyson Chandler, they won the championship in 6 games. He could be worth 5 years $100 million.

Chris Paul is basically a lock to return to the Rockets this season pending his decision. Daryl Morey confirmed that he wanted to retain Paul for the long haul. “Obviously, when we get someone as great as Chris Paul,” Morey asserted, “the plan is to keep him here. He’ll have a choice when the season ends. We feel like we set things up well. It should be an easy choice for him.”

Bringing both these players back will put Houston into the luxury tax. Nonetheless, at mid-season Morey said his ultimate goal as GM of the Houston Rockets was to knock off the Warriors and win an NBA title. Bringing both these players back will at least solidify their rank as the number 2 team in the West and a chance to knock off their arch nemesis, the Warriors, with a healthy Chris Paul.

Shooters shoot.

Second Option: Trade for Kawhi

Kawhi and Harden would be probably would be the ideal pairing, as Kawhi doesn’t command the ball. In 2016-17, He dribbled the ball 0 times about 33% of the time and shot 51.3% from the field when he did.

In 2016-17, Leonard was a racehorse on both ends, running the 13th most miles in the NBA with 2.46 a game. Houston, on the other hand, ran the fewest miles of any team. D’antoni chooses to keep his players stationary so they’re ready for a Harden or Paul kick out off an isolation or pick and roll. This is a distinct tactic, as most coaches like Ty Lue or Kerr will have their 3-point specialists running off a myriad of hard screens. The shatter in the armor to the Rockets occurred with stagnant off-ball movement when Houston shot 7-44 on three-point shots in game 7. The misses often came off of one pass, Kawhi’s experience in the Spurs offense could be beneficial to a one-dimensional offensive attack employed by the Rockets.

Despite coming into the NBA as a 4, Kawhi would fit smoothly into Houston’s three-point barrage offense. The past three full seasons he has upped his three-point ante from 67, 129, to 147 last season. His ability to stretch the floor coincides with Houston’s unique offense.

He would also another necessary realm of mid-range shooting to Magnolia City. Teams have figured to smother their three-point shooters, running them off the line incessantly. It’s not like that tremendously hinders Houston’s 3-point attempts, having taken 53% of their shots behind the line, firing 2.5 more threes per game than the next team.

Kawhi can stop on a dime and pull up from anywhere. Kawhi pulled up for a 34.9% frequency on 2-point shots and shot a sound 47%. From 15-19 feet, he made 50% attempting the 9th most mid-range shots in the NBA. The Rockets adversely shied away from mid-range jumpers, attempting a league-low of 3.6 shots within 15-19 feet and making the second least.

At the same time, Kawhi’s mid-range could be detrimental to Houston’s three-point empire. There’s a chance they could hamper his all-around game and limit him to a Trevor Ariza-type role. Of course, Kawhi Leonard has proven to be a world-class small forward.

Trevor Ariza attempted the third most attempts, firing 9.7 times with Harden and Paul attempting 20.1 and 13.8 times, respectively. The Rockets shot 79.6 shots per game last season. Factoring in Kawhi Leonard’s 2016-17 17.7 shot attempts, the Harden-Paul-Leonard trio would account for nearly 65% of total shot attempts for Houston. In addition, key role players; Ariza, Eric Gordon, and Capela, would possibly be included in the trade or shipped off elsewhere to gain cap space. Talk about a front-heavy team.

RealGM reported that the Rockets are continuing in pursuit of Kawhi. “I have already talked to several NBA general managers,” said Brian Windhorst on Outside the Lines on Monday. “At the end of this season, teams will call the Spurs and inquire about the availability of Kawhi Leonard.”

Alas, the Spurs don’t seem interested in trading Leonard to a division rival, according to Metro USA. Kawhi could be the final piece to a championship puzzle for a team that needs one more all-star to compete with Golden State. Which makes him dangerous to trade for San Antonio, but indefinitely enticing to Houston.

Third Option: Sign Melo

Does Melo really fit with two other ball-stoppers in Harden and Paul? Role players like Tucker and Ariza control the ball at a far lesser rate. Tucker and Ariza combined for 0.2 possessions a game in isolation.

Melo ranked 13th in isolation plays, despite only playing a career-low 32.1 minutes per game. Harden ranked 1st in isolation plays by a landslide, with an inconceivable 10 possessions of hero-ball. Paul ranked 4th in isolation plays with 5.0, surging mightily from a 3.0 a year prior with the Clippers. The entirety of Houston’s offense is ultimately predicated on a system of isolation play.

Then again, Melo has a $27 million contract he could opt in to. It might just take a trade to get Melo. Paying part of Ryan Anderson’s contract and then shipping him to OKC along with a second rounder could do the trick.

Fourth Option: Sign Lebron

Lebron could decide that playing with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and J.R. Smith for another year is unappealing and take his talents to an actually talented team.

Lebron James could potentially be the third piece for a disruptive trio. Imagine Lebron and Harden on the wing and CP3 as the ball handler.

This team could potentially be more talented than the original Heatles squad. Harden is 28 to Wade’s 29, Capela is 24 to Bosh’s 26 and Mario Chalmers is not even half the player Chris Paul is.

The trio each ranked top-7 in assists this past season. They would potentially develop an array of highlights of spectacular passes. In theory, they would have fans oohing and aahing, but there’s one major problem with these once-in-a-lifetime passers.

The three players have glue stuck to their hands, unable to move the ball around. D’antoni favors hero-ball, but this might be a little too much. In the total seconds per possession, James Harden is second while Lebron and Chris Paul rank eighth and ninth, respectively. I refer to this as the Rondo dilemma. While the players make highlight-worthy passes, they hold on to the ball for as long as they could to do so.

I more thoroughly detailed Lebron’s options this Summer here. Entailing, the other potential Lebron destinations; The Sixers, Lakers, and Cavs, all have more salary cap flexibility to sign Lebron.

Most likely Chris Paul and Lebron would be forced to split $47 million to sign with Houston. You can’t count out Daryl Morey’s free agency wizardry, which he executed in signing Chris Paul last Summer.

It’s going to be tough for the Rockets to make any moves with the contracts they have locked up. They might have to make changes with the Warriors looming large as an NBA superpower.

Houston, we have a problem.

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