After the Rockets just completed a surprisingly strong season – winning 56 games and reaching the Western Conference finals – their biggest stars were asked about keeping this group together.
“There’s been so many cases to where we could’ve folded, hung our shoes up,” James Harden said. “But they didn’t quit. I think, if you can have those guys around you, you’re going to be successful more than not.”
Howard, given two chances to answer similar questions, was much more vague.
“We just want to win,” Howard said. “I’m all about guys who want to get in there and fight and never give up.”
Put that quote in context with Howard’s comment after Game 3 – “I saw quit from everybody in the arena” – and draw your own conclusions.
Houston had a heck of a season. Houston might turn over large portions of its roster this summer.
These are both valid statements in Daryl Morey’s world.
The Rockets are always tinkering, always looking for edges. Lately, that has meant pursuing a third star – an effort that kicked into overdrive this summer.
But Houston missed on LeBron James, missed on Carmelo Anthony, missed on Chris Bosh, missed on Dirk Nowitzki and missed on Kevin Love.
The Rockets’ fortune didn’t improve from there.
Dwight Howard missed half the regular season due to injury, and Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas were sidelined the entire postseason.
Yet, Houston still secured the No. 2 seed and won more playoff series than the previous 17 years combined. By any reasonable standard, this season was a resounding success.
The Rockets proved they belong in the West’s second tier with the Clippers and Spurs and maybe the Grizzlies and healthy Trail Blazers. Houston just ran into an all-time juggernaut in the Warriors. Without Golden State in the picture, the Rockets might be on their way to their third championship.
Plenty of teams would love to be in that sub-Warriors group, a Golden State injury or two away from title contention. But I doubt Morey is content to leave his team’s fate in the hands of another team’s medical luck.
After Houston was eliminated Wednesday, the MVP-winning Curry hugged Harden, who placed second in voting.
“All year, dog, you pushed me,” Harden said. “All year.”
The Rockets were the secondary character in the Warriors’ story this year.
And that’s great!
The Rockets traded Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik and declined to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet in order to maximize their chances of landing another star. Morey was willing to take a step back this season.
Thanks to Harden, the year was a major step forward.
Houston can go a number of directions from here. Beverley and Josh Smith will be free agents, and Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry were backup options after the Rockets struck out on major free agents.
Morey, due to his nature and how it was created, might be less attached to his roster than any general manager ever has been with a team so successful. If he’s looking for change, he can point to this final loss. Harden had nearly as many turnovers (a playoff-record 13) as points (14), and Howard lost his composure a couple times.
Howard was asked what Kevin McHale told the team afterward.
“To be honest with you, I was zoned out, boss. I was zoned out,” Howard said. “All I heard was, ‘Great job this season.'”
There’s a lot for the Rockets to process, but Howard heard the most important part.