Next season the Western Conference will be wide open. There are too many variables that have yet to be put in place to determine who the clear cut favorite will be in the NBA’s tougher of the two conferences. The Houston Rockets have had ample opportunities to reach the NBA Finals, but they came up short in dramatic fashion in each of the last five seasons. Chris Paul and James Harden are two of the game’s best players, but a recent report from Yahoo! Sports suggests the Rockets are a team in turmoil.
Let’s look at how the Rockets got to this position, and what we should expect from the franchise going forward.
Mike D’Antoni a lame duck coach?
Earlier this year, we discussed Mike D’Antoni’s contract status with the team. He has one-year remaining on his deal and unless the Rockets make a significant playoff run or a trip to the NBA Finals he could see himself out as the Rockets head coach.
There won’t be any shortage of job openings for D’Antoni, as he is one of the best coaches in the league at getting the most out of the talent around you.
James Harden and Chris Paul’s relationship
When James Harden was traded to the Rockets from Oklahoma City, he turned into one of the league’s best scorers. He quickly asserted himself as the alpha dog on Houston, so when the Rockets traded for Chris Paul, onlookers wondered about their ability to get along.
Paul was past his prime but still an excellent point guard, but Harden looked at Paul as his sidekick, and not a co-leader. The two have often had heated exchanged on the court and during timeouts, so this report came as no surprise to many with sources around the team.
Harden and Paul went two months of the season without talking to each other, and Paul has been viewed as extra petty after his altercation with Steph Curry during the Western Conference semifinals over the use of the court for shootaround practice.
The relationship between the two doesn’t look like it can be saved, so expect one of the players to be moved before the start of the season.
Shedding salary to avoid the luxury tax
Houston will want to avoid the repeat offender luxury tax penalty, and it needs to shed a lot of salary to get there. There are two ways to do that.
The first would be to move Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker in separate deals for expiring contracts. That would save the Rockets about $22 million and would get them under the salary cap.
The other is finding someone crazy enough to take on Chris Paul’s salary. He is scheduled to make $128 million over the next three seasons, but he is on the decline. He will be 37 during the final year of his max deal, so we could be looking at a team such as the Washington Wizards or Phoenix Suns as the only possible options to make the trade.
How will they look next season?
With all the turmoil surrounding the team, will the Rockets make the playoffs next year? We fully expect James Harden to be the leader of this team, and if he can find a way to play with Chris Paul for one more season, you could be looking at one of the best teams in the Western Conference. A deep playoff run could be in store for the Rockets and possibly a shot at a championship.