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NBA - Houston Rockets after GM Daryl Morey resigns: The Harden era is drawing to a close

The Houston Rockets are in a difficult position. In Daryl Morey, the long-standing general manager resigned, and the Texans still have no coach. The structure of the squad with the two superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook is also worrying, especially because owner Tilmann Fertitta was hit hard by the corona pandemic. Is it now time to panic?

The news hit like a bomb. After 13 years in Houston, the era with Daryl Morey as GM of the Rockets came to an end. There had been rumors for a year that Morey would no longer be firmly in the saddle in Texas, but nothing happened.

The Rockets held on to the 48-year-old despite his Hong Kong tweet and the enormous public pressure, and Morey was not blamed for the poor playoff performance. On the contrary: owner Tilmann Fertitta even publicly emphasized - which is unusual for an owner - that there would be no discussions about the general manager and that he should continue to exercise his office.

It was only in 2019 that Morey had extended his contract by five years to 2024, now the analytics guru has resigned of his own free will and is likely to forego a lot of money. "For me personally, now is the right time. My youngest son has just finished high school and it is time to see how things can go on for my family and other things in the future," Morey said Decision.

Houston Rockets: New coach as a landmark decision

That doesn't just seem to be a pretended reason, but also Jonathan Feigen from Houston Chronicle reported that Morey was not pressured to resign, but was "100 percent" responsible for the decision.

The timing still raises questions, after all, it came just before Rockets coaching candidate Tyronn Lue signed with the L.A. Clippers. The two events have no connection, however, the Rockets probably could not or would not have afforded Lue anyway.

Now it is up to Rafael Stone, Morey's former assistant and successor, to make one of the most important decisions in recent Rockets history, even if Morey would like to help with the search in an advisory capacity. After Mike D'Antoni was more or less frightened off, the Texans have to land a direct hit in the coaching position. It is perhaps the biggest adjustment screw that can be turned to get the Rockets back on track.

Candidates are John Lucas (Development Coach Rockets), Stephen Silas (Assistant Coach Mavs) and Ex-Rockets Coach Jeff Van Gundy (ESPNExpert), but they are all likely to face the same problems.

Houston Rockets: The future doesn't look bright

Morey has left a team that lacks flexibility because the salary cap situation is completely overdone. The potential starting five from Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker alone is already devouring $ 120 million, the rest of the team can actually only be replenished with minimal contracts.

There isn't much left of assets either. Houston only has its own first round pick in the years 2022 and 2023 until 2026, whereby only the former can be traded. Oklahoma City will have the right to swap picks in 2021 and 2025.

The reason for this is the Westbrook trade in summer 2019, which was completely atypical for Morey. Probably greater forces were involved here, namely James Harden and Fertitta, who according to Tim MacMahon (ESPN) called Chris Paul's contract the "worst contract" he had ever seen.

That Paul was then exchanged for Westbrook, on the one hand because the chemistry with Harden was no longer right, on the other hand because CP3 had to struggle with injuries again and again. The Irone: CP3 made every game for OKC, while Westbrook contracted the coronavirus before the restart and suffered a quadriceps injury in the bubble, which then visibly affected him in the playoffs.

Houston Rockets: Expensive Stars, Little Flexibility

Westbrook was previously the key to Houston's success with the so-called micro-ball strategy, in which the guard was used like a center. After the restart, the explosiveness that gave Houston that certain something extra after the trade deadline in addition to Harden's scoring was missing. The Rockets didn't have any other way of playing, after all, Morey had put everything on one card for the trade deadline and with Clint Capela traded the only capable center in Atlanta.

Robert Covington and P.J. Tuckers did their job more than well, but a real fiver would certainly have done Houston's game well in a few phases. In the Free Agency there are some candidates for the Rockets, in order to improve something at least for the narrow thaler.

Nevertheless, the Rockets will (have to) continue to play primarily small, regardless of who is ultimately selected as the new coach. Much more important, however, will be how the two stars present themselves in the coming season. Harden wanted to play Westbrook with his buddy, even if the two didn't really go together.

Both are still under contract until 2023, both of which will each rake in around $ 133 million during this period. Whenever the 2020/21 season kicks off, it could be Houston’s last chance to show that you can play for the title with this duo in the strong Western Conference.

Houston Rockets: Can Westbrook and Harden Form a Contender?

In any case, the competition is huge. The Los Angeles Lakers are the top dogs, and the L.A Clippers and the Denver Nuggets will try again. With Dallas, a young and hungry team is knocking on the gate to the top, and Portland and Golden State are also to be expected if health plays a role this time.

Houston's, including Harden's and Westbrook's windows to win a title, on the other hand, seem to be slowly but surely closing. Harden and Westbrook are both 31 years old and their salaries are growing every year, which affects possible moves.

Money is a scarce commodity in Houston anyway. For years, Morey had to thread trades under Fertitta again and again in order to avoid slipping into the luxury tax, even if the latter always emphasized that he was willing to pay it. The actions of the Rockets refuted this year after year.

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Houston Rockets: Owner Fertitta In Trouble?

Now the Rockets are just a million with just ten players, but if the squad were replenished, you'd slide into the red. Due to the corona pandemic, Fertitta is likely to demand even more vehemently that the Rockets or he do not have to pay an extra dollar.

Fertitta was hit hard by Corona. The businessman was not one of the wealthier owners before, now the pandemic is hitting his numerous casinos and restaurants particularly hard. There should be a lot of work waiting for GM Stone and he can show that he has learned a lot under Cap-Fox Morey.

The situation in Houston is in a mess, it may not even be resolved. It is likely that the core of the previous years will be tried again. If the desired results are not achieved, a James Harden should no longer be sacrosanct.

It's the normal way of things. For eight years now, the Rockets have been in win-now mode with Harden, but they never got a title closer than the seventh game of the Conference Finals 2018 against the Warriors. Such an advance in the coming season, however, would be a surprise. The signs of the times are pointing to change in Texas.