The Houston Rockets had a fire sale of a season. The biggest story that came from Houston was the saga of James Harden. In the 2020 offseason, it was made clear that Harden wanted out of Houston. After eight full seasons in Houston, the superstar wanted out. It took only two weeks into the season to find a trade partner for the superstar guard, as Harden would be traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, and four first-round picks. Other players were involved in the trade as both the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers were part of the trade.
The Rockets did not stay quiet after the Harden trade, as right before the trade deadline the team traded Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a pick swap. This fire sale all started when the Rockets traded away Russell Westbrook in the offseason for John Wall. This trade would make it the fourth superstar to pair with Harden in Houston. Dwight Howard failed in Houston, Chris Paul fizzled out with Harden, and Westbrook and Harden’s playstyle did not work out. Houston tried one more time in acquiring Wall, but Harden had enough. After trading their superstar, the Rockets went into full rebuilding mode.
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Finishing with a 17-55 record, the Rockets ended the season as the NBA’s worse team. Going into the season, the team had many questions. The biggest problem was dealing with a disgruntled Harden. The team traded him early in the season for draft capital, which indicated the start of a rebuild. Once the team had traded Harden, expectations were low for the team. Although the front office kept telling the media that they were contending for a playoff spot. The team quickly realized that even with mediocre talent on the roster, the team just couldn’t compete in the Western Conference.
Knowing so, the fire sale continued, and with every trade, the team roster got worse and worse. The team’s expectations started to dwindle as the season progressed, and by the trading deadline, the Rockets admitted to the media that they will start a rebuild. There were a few bright spots on the roster in Houston, players that exceeded expectations. But overall, the team performed what many would expect from a team’s first year in a rebuild. Last place.
Team Award Winners
MVP – John Wall
Wall averaged 20.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game for the season. With little to no help for most of the season, Wall’s comeback season was nothing less than incredible. Wall came back after missing almost two full seasons and played like he never missed a game. He controlled the offense and was the only consistent player on the team. Wall was in and out of the rotation dealing with a hamstring injury and only played in 40 games. In those games that he played, he was by far the best player in each of them. Even when facing competitive teams, Wall was the true player in Houston that kept the team relevant in the games.
Houston had many candidates for this award, which is weird to think about for a team that is rebuilding. Christian Wood was a close contender to win this award, and when Wood missed time dealing with injuries the team flounders heavily. However, part of Wood’s success came from the guard play and shot creation of Wall. Wall’s ability to find the open man and create space and shots for his teammates is amongst the best in the NBA.
Defensive Player of the Year – John Wall
Wall had an average season defending opposing guards. The Houston Rockets did not have a spectacular season defending. They ranked 27th in defensive rating and did not have a standout defender. Wall averaged 1.5 steals a game, which is the highest on the roster. He also averaged just under a block with 0.9 a game.
Sixth Man of the Year – Kenyon Martin Jr.
Martin is one of the few Rockets players to not have half his games played marked as a start. Since Houston was plagued with injuries, most of their rotation saw at least a third or more of their games played marked as a start. Martin was one of the few that stayed on the bench and produced. The rookie averaged 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists on 50 percent from the field and 36 percent from three.
Off the bench, Martin provided efficient shooting and rebounding that helped the team show some success. The forward in his rookie season showed capable scoring attributes and off-ball help that gave life to a poor roster. Martin provided both offense and defensive coverage when on the court, and in the 23 minutes a game he played with high energy and consistency. This is rare for a rookie to do, as most struggle with consistency in their first year as professional players.
Biggest Surprise – Kelly Olynyk
Since coming from Miami in the Oladipo trade, Olynk has been nothing but fantastic for Houston. Averaging 13.5 points, seven rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game, the former rotational center saw starting center minutes. In his time with the Rockets, Olynyk has had games nearing the triple-double mark. His dominance on the offensive side of the ball came as a surprise, as the center was struggling to get consistent minutes in Miami.
With more opportunities to score in Houston, Olynyk took his second half of a contract year and made the most of it. Since arriving in H-Town, the center revitalized his career. Showcasing that he still has worth as a floor-spacing center. He even showed that he is a capable playmaker when given the ball outside of the post. The Oladipo trade at first looked very suspicious for Houston, but Olynyk outperformed Oladipo, who only played in a few games for Miami.
Biggest Disappointment – Christian Wood
This will come as a surprise to many. In his time on the court, Wood has been one of the best players for the team. However, injuries derailed his season thus making his first season in Houston a disappointment. Wood only played in 41 games this season, which is more than Wall but Wall was expected to miss time to heal from his knee and hamstring injuries. The forward had high expectations coming into this Rockets team, but injuries kept him from seeing the court.
With Harden gone, Wood and Wall were the stars of the team. When the youngest star starts to miss half the season, it becomes a disappointment. Everyone wanted to see Wood dominate the season, and when he played he averaged 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. This is an unfair assessment to Wood, as injuries are uncontrollable, but the team heavily relied on Wood playing.
The Rockets will have to continue the rebuild. The team has big injury concerns with Wall and Wood. It will be hard to trade Wall with his max contract, so the team will have to keep him on the roster until the 2022-2023 season. When Wood returns, the team will have to hope that he can stay healthy as he will be the cornerstone of the franchise. The team also has young talents on the roster to develop around Wood. Which will allow the rebuild process to take form quicker.
This offseason the team will have to look into developing Kevin Porter Jr., who was an absolute stud for the team. Injuries also derailed his season, and he was not able to play in more than half the season. The team does not have any big free agents that they need to sign, as it will make sense to let Olynyk walk this summer. The Rockets should not rush into trying to obtain a big market free agent or trade for another all-star. They should wait one more season and see how the young players develop.
The Rockets have a few first-round draft picks for this upcoming draft. With a total of three first-rounders in this upcoming draft, the Rockets will have to find players that will compliment their star forward. If the Rockets hold their own first-round pick, the team should consider guards Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State, Jalen Suggs from Gonzaga, or Jalen Green from the Ignite G-League team. The Rockets will also have later first-round picks outside of the lottery to which they should address backup positions for Wood, in the off chance he misses more time with injuries.
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