Last year, the Houston Rockets surprised the NBA with a highly impressive defensive showing. After ranking 18th in the league in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, the Rockets flew up to sixth a year ago. Allowing just 103.8 points per 100 possessions, the Rockets defense was stingier than that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and, yes, the Golden State Warriors.
While Houston’s elite offense earned the team headlines, it was the defensive success that helped the team thrive. When the Warriors put the clamps on the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, Houston retaliated with an impressive defensive performance that nearly propelled the team to the NBA Finals.
But it’s been a bad summer for that defense. Surprisingly, the team let wing stoppers Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute walk, as they signed with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. Houston’s offseason additions included Michael Carter-Williams (defensively solid), Brandon Knight (defensively poor), and Marquese Chriss and Carmelo Anthony (defensively inept).
And then, to top it off, with training camp just a few days away, the mastermind behind Houston’s defense, assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, retired. Not only that, but the news was out of the blue, leaving the Rockets left to scramble.
In a blow to the Houston Rockets, associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik -- architect of franchise's rejuvenated defense -- has informed team he's retiring, league sources tell ESPN. Bzdelik, 65, was a head coach with Nuggets in NBA and Colorado, Air Force and Wake Forest in college.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 17, 2018
While it’s unknown why Bzdelik retired, it’s worth noting that he was the head coach of the Denver Nuggets when Carmelo Anthony was a rookie there. The two publicly butted heads after Anthony’s lack of defensive effort led to an unexpected benching, and management had to intervene.
Between the subtraction of some of the team’s better defensive players, and the addition of Anthony, it’s easy to find a narrative for why Bzdelik retired. But those moves happened long ago, and the coach only just now retired - something head coach Mike D’Antoni called “not ideal.”
To add to the confusion, Rockets beat reporter Kelly Iko reports that Bzdelik was excited about the 2018-19 squad, and, when asked about the additions and subtractions, responded with joy and enthusiasm.
It’s a weird situation. But for a team that came so close to knocking off the Warriors a few months ago, thanks in large part to their stingy, switch-heavy defense, it’s certainly a rough development for Houston.