It could sound premature to exclaim rebuilds are a necessity after just one playoff loss for the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks, but once you get past the final score and look at individual performances, each roster looks primed for a huge makeover.
Let’s examine the team with the more horrific loss worthy of inspiring future-pondering: The Houston Rockets
Houston had some of the best circumstances it could have hoped for going into Game 1 of its’ playoff series facing the defending champs at home in Golden State. MVP Steph Curry going out for a whole half due to injury, and three Warriors (Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston) shooting a combined 7-of-26 from the field is a great start if you are Houston. The Warriors shot under 43% as a team at home. As crazy as that sounds, that team shooting percentage might be the best you’ll get all series. Golden State shot almost 49% (.487) as a team in the regular season.
Despite all this, the final result wasn’t even close. The Rockets got destroyed, 104-78. Scores are not the whole story ,obviously, but when you break the game into detail, the Rockets might have wish they just missed the playoffs this year. What that means for the future could be painful.
Houston has long made it known that it hopes to leverage star guard James Harden’s (MVP runner-up last year) friendship with soon-to-be free agent (and former MVP) Kevin Durant into creating a NBA shooting juggernaut. After last season’s surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, that recruiting effort seemed destined for success.
However, the Rockets, while fielding almost all of the same roster from last year, have limped into the playoffs as an 8th seed. Guard Ty Lawson (acquired in the off-season, and who gave Denver 14 ppg last season), was a failed experiment and waived this season. Center Dwight Howard may be mulling a leave as well. But these are minor problems compared to what Game 1 against Golden State revealed.
Three Houston starters – Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, and Corey Brewer (also three players who have two or more years left on their individual contracts) put up dismal shooting numbers. They combined for a 5-of-25 night shooting. Two young, promising bench pieces (Clint Capela and K.J. McDaniels) played 38 minutes combined, but finished on a 3-of-13 shooting night.
Interim Head Coach J. B. Bickerstaff’s decision-making was also questionable, as playing 38 year-old Jason Terry for a bench-high 24 minutes on defense could be seen as a liability. Bickerstaff also let late season signing Michael Beasley pine away on the bench in Game 1, only letting the forward play six minutes despite giving the team almost 14 points a game in just 20 minutes in the regular season.
The Rockets could still conceivably regroup, and win a game or two in the series (especially if Curry is hampered by his ankle issues moving forward), but the Houston front office has a huge task ahead of them in who to keep and how to lure top free agents (like Kevin Durant), to the team. Harden is in his prime (age 26) and with three Rockets starters over 30 (Howard, Ariza, and Brewer), hard choices need to be made.
Houston still can hang their hat on having a young superstar, while our next team (they don’t have a young superstar), has a familiar but dark time ahead of them. They lost 108-70 to Oklahoma City in their first playoff game.
Yes, the Dallas Mavericks have a far easier, yet perhaps more painful, future path than the Rockets. Tank.
Yes, Dallas wants to stay competitive with legend Dirk Nowitkzi (18 ppg this year, 6th all time in NBA history at age 37), but being 38 next season will not attract big name stars to join you. The team was incredibility banged up coming into the playoffs. Chandler Parsons is out the rest of the year (and a free agent this summer), and guards J.J. Barea and Deron Williams both are hampered with injuries (and shooting woes, they were 1-of-15 from the field in game 1.)
The oldest team in the league struggled with bench play too, getting little from Charlie Villanueva and Raymond Felton in the way of 4-of-18 shooting in a combined 43 minutes. Dallas has few young players, and few trade assets after last year’s Rajon Rondo transaction, so tanking might be the teams only viable option. Parsons could bolt this summer, and Deron Williams is a 32 year-old free agent this off-season as well.
It’s understandable Dallas wants to honor Dirk with the best team around him every year, but with his team-friendly contract next year ($8 million), the team isn’t hampered by payroll. It could be a good time to save money for 2 years or so, get some high draft picks, let Dirk mentor them, and continue to keep Dallas an attractive free agent destination. Wesley Matthews will be a solid piece for years to come, and Barea is the only other big contract on the books as the cap rises to record levels next year. To delay this process could to lead to a much longer rebuild.
Both Houston and Dallas need roster rebuilds after this season, but what that process could take, or turn into, looks to be very different for each team. Regardless of what shape those moves take, these squads look to be very changed come day one of the 2016-17 NBA season.
Graphic by NBA.com, Harden photo by 2O, Nowitkzi photo by Playmaker Magazine