While the Houston Rockets season came to a crashing end before a sold out Toyota Center crowd on Friday night it was not at all an unsuccessful year. Certainly some teams, like the Miami Heat and probably the Spurs and Thunder won’t consider the season a success without an NBA title, but the Rockets goals were lower. They achieved them.
The Rockets made the playoffs. They certainly did not have a perfect season. They had stops and starts, played without their head coach for a length of time after his daughter’s death and didn’t even have the same roster or makeup all year long.
For the latter reasons it is not hard to think the team’s coaching staff over-achieved. Oh give GM Dale Morey some credit. He made pre-season moves to acquire Jeremy Lin, Omar Asik and most importantly James Harden. Those three added players made the Rockets a playoff calibre team. He also made a number of in-season moves that did not hurt the team, but made the coaching staff’s job harder. Kevin McHale and his staff worked through having to teach so many new players what the club wanted to do on the fly. There is little practice time once the grueling season begins. Sometimes that lack of cohesiveness showed and cost victory. It was most apparent on defense which in the NBA requires a great team concept. It showed on offense as well but was often hidden by Harden’s ability to go one on one and get points.
There is real reason for optimism for the Rockets next season. However, GM Morey may have to be less fantasy leaguer and more NBA GM. There can not be as many in season moves. McHale and his coaches need to have their team prior to training camp and keep the bulk of it all year. Basketball is a team game in every sense of the definition. The winning clubs generally do have star players, but also play well within guidelines set by the coaching staff on both ends of the floor. Only repetition and complete familiarity with ones teammates allow that to occur at the highest level of proficiency.
The Rockets appear to have a nucleus of players who can come together and improve without too many changes. If those changes are to occur it is up to Morey to make them before camp opens in the fall. Let McHale and his staff have their team.
PORTER A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Meanwhile things are a bit different with the Astros due to the nature of the game of baseball and the state the franchise is currently in. Baseball is far less a team game than basketball. It is more of a one on one game within a team framework. It is still essentially the hitter versus the pitcher and vice versa with specialty plays (hitting cut off men, turning double plays, throwing out base-runners, hit and run plays, backing up plays, defensive positioning, etc) that involve more than just the hitter and pitcher.
Consequently when Porter (or opposing players or managers) credit the Astros for “playing hard” that still mostly refers to each individual player doing what he is supposed to do. Every player on every team is supposed to play hard. If they do the better teams will still win most of the time.
Porter does not manage one of the better teams. No one really knows when he will–if ever. But there is hope that with enough young talent being signed and developed enough of them will turn out to make up the nucleus of a winning team sooner rather than later. There are just no guarantees.
Because of the nature of baseball the Astros can handle player turnover better than a basketball team. They can continue to shift pitchers and outfielders until they hit on something that works. It can’t hurt and ideally can help. When they find those pitchers who can keep the opposition off the scoreboard and hitters who can come through in key moments they will be on their way. The tough part in baseball is determining how much time should a player be given to make a fair evaluation.
The Rockets are very close to being a very good team. That is why Dale Morey has to start being a bit more careful in his transactions. Astro GM Jeff Luhnow is not there yet. He can still move some players around fantasy league style since his team is far from being a good one yet. There will come a day the club will be a potential contender. That is when he will have to become a real MLB GM and not mostly a scouting and development guy. That time with the Rockets in the NBA for Morey is here now.