• Brian L. Barefield

Unanswered Questions: Rockets departure from the NBA Playoffs starts an offseason of uncertainty.

Photo Credit/ Houston Rockets

Rockets fans all around the world will be glued to every social media outlet they have access to in the next three months as the 2019-20 NBA season rounds itself out. Houston was eliminated from the Western Conference Playoffs on this past Saturday by the number one seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Although their season is done on the court, the off the court situations and questions left behind by a team that was poised and ready to compete for a championship when the season restarted in late July after COVID-19 stopped play for over three months has just begun.

Here are a few things the Rockets will have to accomplish before the start of the 2020-21 NBA season:

Head Coach Wanted

Former head coach Mike D’Antoni parted ways with the franchise he had amassed a very impressive record with during his tenure with the Rockets going 217-101 in four seasons. Yet it was his five games above .500 (28-23) in the playoffs that had owner Tillman Fertitta worried if D’Antoni would ever take it to the next level and bring his team and this city an NBA Championship.

Photo Credit/Houston Rockets

Now Houston must begin an intensive search for the next coach who will be able to utilize superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook effectively while abandoning the “Small Ball” approach that consisted of forward P.J. Tucker playing center.

Looking for A New Role

One major area where the Rockets were exposed against the Lakers was the inefficiency of its role players. D’Antoni played a tight seven to eight-man rotation that consisted of players that fit his system of shooting three’s and playing a very fast paced style of defense. Now that he is no longer the coach, it leaves a small conundrum for the next head coach who will implement a new brand of basketball.

It will be easy to use age as a factor when it comes to forwards Jeff Green, Thabo Sefolosha, DeMarre Carrol and center Tyson Chandler. The real problem comes in when you look to retain veteran backup combo guard Austin Rivers.

Although he only averaged 8.8 points off of the bench this season, it was his ability to heat up at any given second that won the confidence of teammates and coaches. That fire showed up in a three-game stretch in early August where he averaged 21.6 points per game with the highest being a 41-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings. He thrived in the small ball era when he was on the court with other shooters as it opened up the lane and he used his quick first step to get to the basket, which often times collapsed the defense and gave other’s opportunities to shoot wide open shots.

With the new offensive style which will more than likely be a traditional one, it changes the complexity of the opposing defenses and will cut off a lot of those driving lanes that was readily available to Rivers. That will be an area where the new coach may want to take a look at when constructing a new rotation and that may make Rivers expendable and available for trade.

Will House Be Looking for A Home?

One of the biggest stories to come out of Orlando since the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season was the departure of forward Danuel House Jr. He was investigated after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers for breaking NBA COVID-19 safety related protocol when it comes to having unauthorized guest in his hotel room overnight according to reports.

The league held him out of Game 3 and 4 as they continued their investigation and eventually suspended him for the remainder of the season before the Rockets played Game 5. The NBA’s evidence is only circumstantial at this point based off of data that House potentially opened his room door during the timeframe in which the allegations are being made, but that may be enough to cause a red flag for the new head coach who may not to want to deal with the backlash that comes with the completion of the full investigation.

Photo Credit/ Houston Rockets

House, 27, had his best season as a pro averaging 10.5 points per game as a part time starter and sixth man off the bench. He increased his scoring during the playoffs to 11.4, but it was his ability to play on both ends of the court that made him one of D’Antoni’s favorites.

Now the dilemma arises on whether or not House should be kept in a locker room with his teammates that felt he let them down during a potential championship run. His absences was felt during games where other role players from Los Angeles were having an impact on the offensive end and his defense could have helped Houston slowdown that momentum. Although House is under contract, his future going forward is something that will definitely be taken into consideration during the interview process of head coaches.

So now we wait. Nothing will be done until the conclusion of this unusual NBA season that will conclude around the time the 2020-21 season would have been starting. With that uncertainty, Fertitta has some time to do some extensive research that may also include looking for a new general manager as well.

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