Going into the off-season after having a magical postseason run, yet falling short in the Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors in five games, the Houston Rockets front office had one goal in mind: to bring every member of that squad back for another run at the championship.
Re-signing unrestricted free agents Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, K.J. McDaniels and Jason Terry was the Rockets’ top priority, and while they locked each up to multi-year contracts, they also filled a void they were desperately searching for: a point guard.
Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ GM known as the mastermind behind the NBA analytics movement as well as the co-founder of MIT’s annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held in Boston, pulled off another improbable trade in the off-season.
The Rockets traded away Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Pablo Prigioni and a lottery-protected 2016 first-round draft pick to Denver for PG Ty Lawson.
Putting Lawson’s off-court issues in the rear view mirror, he is not only a top 10 point guard who fits perfectly in Kevin McHale’s offense, but he is the point guard James Harden needs.
Last season, Lawson was the seventh best point producer in the league, which combines points and points generated by assist. He is a top 10 shot-creator, he ranked second in team points per game off of drives with 13.9. Who lead that category? James Harden. Lawson also has a incredible basketball IQ, which gives the Rockets arguably the most brilliant backcourt in the NBA this season.
Lawson also fits McHale’s philosophy of going “downhill” and ball movement on the perimeter as he shot 61 percent from the rim last season and most of his assists were dished to three-point shooters.
Lawson comes to a winning Rockets environment that has welcomed him with open arms and has taken care of him after spending the past six seasons with the Denver Nuggets, which the last couple being catastrophic because of coaching changes, missing the postseason and off-court alcohol abuse.
With the Rockets tipping off their 49th season on Oct. 28th at Toyota Center vs. Lawson’s former team the Denver Nuggets, neither talent, athleticism, psychological mindset, free throw shooting, or offense and defense will be the biggest key to the Rockets’ success this season.
Just as any team in the association, health will be the most pivotal deciding factor on how far the Rockets go in the playoffs this season. Last season, the Rockets missed 182 games to injury, which was the highest total for any playoff team in the Western Conference. They still managed to pull off 56 wins and earned the second seed in the conference all while losing starting Center Dwight Howard for 41 games, Forward Terrance Jones for 49 games, starting Guard Patrick Beverley for 26 games and Forward Donatas Motiejunas for 11 games.
If the Rockets can figure out how to defeat their biggest kryptonite for 82 games, and that’s a MASSIVE IF, which is the injury bug, the sky is the limit for this group, because everyone on this team has the correct mentality and one goal in mind.
The term “Pursuit” has a much larger definition for this team than your simple synonyms of quest or chase. The Rockets adapted “Pursuit” as their official marketing campaign and slogan last season, but it’s more than a slogan, it’s a mindset that each player on this roster has stuck to: Pursuit of the championship. Everywhere you look inside Toyota Center, the arena is decked out in “#Pursuit”, fans are wearing shirts that say “#Pursuit”, it has even become its own hashtag on social media for the Rockets and its fans. Every guy in the locker room has strong belief and a great feeling knowing they can accomplish something special.
Each player on this roster knows they will have to give their 110 percent every night and do what they do best individually so everyone can come together as a team and have a shot at winning every game in a brutal Western Conference to accomplish that Pursuit when they hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.