The Rockets’ season ended back in May when they fell in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2017 NBA playoffs. Since then, they’ve undergone a pretty radical transformation for a team that was already quite good. Last season, they were the second best offense team in the league (based on OFFRTG), trailing only the Warriors. Their NETRTG (Offensive and Defensive ratings combined) was good enough for third overall, trailing the Spurs and the Warriors.
For what it’s worth — and to further compliment the Warriors on the absolutely ridiculous campaign they put together in 2017 — here are the top ten NETRTG teams from last season. Look at the drop off from the top rankled Warriors to the second ranked Spurs, and then watch how far everyone else falls off all the way down to number ten. Whoa.
Anyways, this is all to say that by some metrics, the Rockets were one of the top three teams in the league last season. With James Harden putting up historically impressive numbers (garnering himself a second place finish in MVP voting), and with Mike D’Antoni firmly back in the league after years toiling around with unimpressive rosters (congrats on that COY award Mike!), the Rockets were humming on all cylinders.
But no matter how impressive they seemed last year, you never got the feeling that the Rockets could truly compete with the Golden State Warriors, who — with the addition of former MVP Kevin Durant to an already historically great team — put their collective foot on the throat of the NBA and never let up, almost sweeping the playoffs and letting the league know that a new dynasty was in the making.
To prove that point, Bob Myers and the front office went out and put their money where their mouths had been (sorry, that sounds bad) by successfully bringing back the core. Stephen Curry signed a huge contract, Kevin Durant signed a bargain deal, and the team was able to bring back Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. If you’re the Rockets, what are your options when chasing such a team? You can either pack it in and hope that the Warriors somehow falter into an unseen abyss, or you can give it your all and make this thing competitive.
Luckily for all true NBA fans, the Rockets decided to double down and take on the Warriors head first.
They went out and convinced Chris Paul to join, orchestrating a sign-and-trade with the Clippers. They signed almost-MVP and face-of-the-team James Harden to a lucrative four year extension. There have been talks about bringing in Carmelo Anthony, who happens to be Chris Paul’s best friend. Listen, I’ll be the first one to admit (read: scream it from the mountain top) that I hate Carmelo’s game. It’s iso-heavy and ball dominant in an era that is quickly sprinting away from such practices. Also, it’s prudent to remember that he once got Mike D’Antoni fired. Seriously. Anthony declared an ultimatum that the Knicks needed to choose between him and his then-coach, and D’Antoni made it simple for ‘em.
In New York in 2012, after Anthony said the team needed to choose between him and D'Antoni, Mike made it easy.
"I just went in and quit," he says.
"Don't say 'quit,'" Laurel [D’Antoni’s wife] says. "I hate that word. You resigned. You walked away. Mutually walked away."
Mike rolls his eyes and turns to me.
"I quit," he says.
So, yeah. That could be awkward. But if Carmelo does end up waving his no-trade clause and joining Paul in Houston, would that team have a chance to compete with the Warriors? Or, playing devil’s advocate, would they even be better than last year’s high-octane, attacking squad? Remember, Chris Paul loves to slow it down in the half court. Carmelo Anthony can’t help but slow it down in the half court. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, and he never was the, uh, speediest of players.
That being said, a starting lineup of Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony (finally playing the four full time), and Clint Capela could be a very interesting team. Throw in Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, and you’ve got yourself the makings of something potentially special.
Beyond the basketball side of things (they’re an interesting team, I’m sure we’ll have much more on them leading up to the start of the season), they are currently defying expectations in other ways as well.
Rockets are far sale, Rockets president Tad Brown announces.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 17, 2017
Wow. Superstar under contract long-term in a big market. Price is going to be really interesting. https://t.co/TJpZ2P6Mwl— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 17, 2017
People have been wondering which owner/group would cash out first after dramatic rise in team valuations over past 5-6 years.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 17, 2017
Don't remember last time franchise being for sale shocked the league. Usually rumors/reports well in advance. This came at press conference!— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 17, 2017
Right now, Forbes values the Rockets at $1.65 billion. The primary owner of the Rockets is Les Alexander, who bought the team in 1993 for $85 million. The timetable for selling the team is “sooner than later,” per Brown, but he also clarified that there’s no rush.
The Rockets are poised to be a top-three team in the West next season, and they have a superstar (and MVP runner-up) locked up until 2023 after James Harden recently inked a new contract extension with the team. That could shoot the team’s evaluation up even higher than the Forbes estimation.
The last NBA team to sell was in 2015, when the Atlanta Hawks sold for $850 million. In 2014, Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for an incredible $2 billion and the Milwaukee Bucks went for $550 million, as well. After a rash of franchises being sold in 2010 and 2011, there hasn’t been nearly the demand ever since.
Could we see the Rockets sell for $3 billion? Is that possible? Side note, remember when Joe Lacob and crew bought the Warriors for an unprecedented $450 million and now the team is worth a cool $2.6 billion? (By the way, that valuation was made way back in February of 2017. You know it’s climbed substantially higher now with the addition of another Finals trip and another title.)
Whoever buys the Rockets is gonna have to shell the f out for them, but will immediately reap the benefits. They are not in rebuild mode. They are not searching for another coach. They already have a face of the franchise superstar locked into a long term deal (Harden), a superstar second banana who couldn’t wait to play in a new city (Paul), and could potentially lock in a third star (Anthony) in the next few weeks. The city of Houston loves their team. The market is strong and growing.
It’ll be really, really interesting to see what happens not only throughout the remainder of the offseason, but also what the ceiling could be for the new-look Rockets. Can they challenge the defending champion Warriors? As a basketball fan, I can’t wait to find out.