he Houston Rockets came into this season with the intention of being championship contenders. General Manager Daryl Morey has created the expectations for his team that they were expected to win a championship. Before the NBA restart, Morey boastfully explained what he thought of his team's chances after he acquired Russel Westbrook to pair up with James Harden.
"Two of the greatest players ever on our team, we should win this thing. That's how we measured success the past few seasons, so I guess we've been a bust". Rockets GM Daryl Morey
Rocket's Owner Tilman Fertitta has been mostly hands off and lets Morey handle the front office moves, but his expectations of a championship have also been clear. His patience have been slowly running out as well, mainly due to the fact that he made a promise to the city of Houston that they were going to win some championships when they lost to the Warriors in May of 2019.
"I know we are going to rise to the occasion and our time is going to come. James is 30 years old, Hakeem didn't win his first championship until he was 31. I can promise you, we're going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here". Rocket's Owner Tilman Fertitta on his promise to win championships in May of 2019.
They definitely didn't sit there, as they traded away Chris Paul for Russel Westbrook after they lost in the Semis in 2019. Chris Paul was excellent for the Rockets, he always showed up in the playoffs during his 2 seasons there. It is widely believed that had it not been for his hamstring injury in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors in 2018, the Rockets would have won it all.
The Motivation of CP3
Ever since Chris Paul landed in Oklahoma City last summer, everyone expected him to be traded away at the very least by the trade deadline in February. This is because the Thunder were categorized as a developing team with young talent that weren't ready to be real contenders. Every pundit you can think of wrote the Thunder off at the beginning of the year. Instead, Chris Paul has become a veteran presence that many of these young players needed, he became a mentor to the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, became a great locker room guy, and the voice of encouragement to every player on the Thunder. He helped create an identity for the team as one that keeps fighting through adversity, and with this mentality they exceeded everyone's expectations throughout the regular season.
Even during the many months of hiatus due to the Coronavirus, Chris Paul kept tabs on his teammates to ensure that they were staying in peak physical condition. His team responded as well. The scoring touch of Danillo Galinari, the improving play of upcoming star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the rebounding machine of Steven Adams, the aggression of Denis Schroder, and the great defensive play of Canadian born Luguentz Dort just to name a few, have all been revelations to this team's success.
So when the first round match ups of the NBA playoffs were announced in the Orlando bubble, Chris Paul was as motivated as ever when they were facing his old team, the Houston Rockets. He wanted to prove the Rocket's front office wrong, specifically Daryl Morey, that it was a mistake to trade him away for a stat stuffing, turnover machine like Russell Westbrook.
Nobody predicted this series would go 7 games, yet here we are.
What's at Stake for the Houston Rockets?
Rocket's head coach Mike D'Antoni is without question in the hot seat, and he will no longer be the head coach of the Houston Rockets next season if the Rockets lose in game 7. It is almost inconceivable for a championship contender to lose in the first round, and almost always, the head coach suffers the most in sports when a team plays poorly. His offense of isolation ball with Harden up top dribbling for most of the shot clock instead of really moving the ball around is not something ideal and will have to change.
Russel Westbrook has to show up in game 7. His terrible performances, specifically down the stretch have been downright awful with key turnovers late in games. A first round exit for the Rockets would mean that the duo of Harden and Westbrook might have to be reconsidered of potential trades. Not only that, but it would reinforce many Rockets fans that state that it was a mistake to let go of Chris Paul. Especially when you consider how Chris Paul has been literally carrying his team on his back with stellar performances. One major fact to consider regarding Russell Westrbook is this: He has not gotten past the first round of the playoffs since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City in 2016.
Key role players being traded away will also be on the table. Eric Gordon has had an up and down year, PJ Tucker has been that physical presence they needed but he hasn't hit his stride, and Jeff Green and Robert Covington also haven't really stepped up.
Daryl Morey's addiction to small ball will also have to be reevaluated. The Rocket's organization has emphasized that 3 point shooting and spacing are key ingredients to win a championship, and a first round exit will spell doom for this theory. His addiction to analytics and solely making his decisions based on numbers will also have to be somewhat halted.
And last, but certainly not least, James Harden's window of winning a championship as the main guy gets narrower and narrower with each passing year. He has played well, but his 5 turnovers in game 6 have certainly not helped his cause. A first round exit will mean that many of James Harden's critics that say that his inflated numbers don't translate to winning will have more ammunition to their argument.
We shall see what happens in game 7.