As Mike D’Antoni makes himself a free agent in the coaching circle, it spells an end to an era of Houston Rockets basketball. It may be premature to assume that the team will try its hand on a possible rebuilding, especially with James Harden still in the peak of his elite abilities.
But despite the fact that the Rockets didn’t even step foot in the Finals, they’re still one of the most memorable teams of this decade. Amidst the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, the Big 3-led Miami Heat, and the soon-to-be-crowned LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets’ continuous proactive approach to improving their roster will be talked about for many, many years.
Here are some of the more interesting storylines that highlighted the Rockets’ transition to the “micro-ball” season.
The relentless pursuit of beating Steph Curry and the Warriors
When thinking of the Rockets, almost every basketball fan remembers how close the team was in defeating the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 playoffs and entering the Finals. But that rivalry started during the postseason of 2015 when they both faced each other in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State dominated in that series, dismantling Houston in just five games. Interestingly, the Warriors would go on to beat the Cavaliers and book their first championship in the Curry-Klay Thompson–Draymond Green era.
Houston would again face Golden State the following postseason, and it resulted in a first-round exit. The Rockets would then bring in D’Antoni after that playoff disappointment. It was obviously an effort to revamp their offense and match the uptempo, free-flowing system that the Warriors integrate.
D’Antoni restructured the Rockets’ roster year after year, resulting in the micro-ball line-up that they unleashed this season. Even though they didn’t manage to even win one playoff series against the Dubs, they should still be applauded for their proactive, relentless pursuit of beating arguably one of the best teams in NBA history.
The transformation of Harden into an unstoppable scorer
If only the Oklahoma City Thunder knew that Harden would become the elite superstar that he is right now, would they have opted to let go of Serge Ibaka instead? After three years with the Thunder, Harden left Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to become the main star in Houston. The Thunder had the opportunity to be aggressive in re-signing Harden, but they were hesitant to offer him a big paycheck as they were also trying to lock up Ibaka.
But Harden, who averaged 16.8 points in his last season with OKC, increased his production to 25.9 points in just his first year in Houston. More than his scoring, the lefty star also improved in every facet, including his passing and rebounding. He also showed glimpses of progress in his defense this season, establishing himself as a Top 5 player in the league right now.
The unique micro-ball line-up
It’s not usual for a team to put in a natural forward as their starting center, let alone a 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker. But the Rockets, in their pursuit of a unique and innovative system, dived deeper into the small-ball and built their roster around versatile, positionless wing players.
It didn’t end in the success that they wanted to achieve, but it was fun to know that the game of basketball can still give birth to new strategies.