It’s hard to believe that Houston was on the doorstep of the NBA Finals just two seasons ago. Last year’s squad was a far cry from the 2014–15 Rockets, who challenged Steph Curry and Co. as the West’s best team. The 2016 version limped to a 41–41 record and a first-round playoff exit. Even making the playoffs seemed like a disappointment for a team that didn’t even want to be there.
The Rockets had brought back almost the exact same roster that had done so well — so what went wrong? Houston GM Daryl Morey joined Chris Vernon on The Ringer NBA Show to talk about last year’s team and the squad’s future. Here are his explanations for why last season was such a disaster.
Check out the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Daryl Morey: People always want to [criticize] the chemistry last year. I’m not saying it was perfect last year, but two years ago, we had the exact same roster and everyone said our chemistry was great. We made the Western Conference finals. We brought literally the same team back, and of all a sudden now chemistry is the problem. So it didn’t make any sense to me that you could point to chemistry.
That’s why I pointed to our defense, [and] to the Ty Lawson acquisition I made that didn’t work out. People want to make it like a chemistry issue and I’m not saying, I’m not trying to argue last year was perfect, but if last year the chemistry was the problem, then why, with the exact same set of players, was it a positive the year before? To me, chemistry is very important, but it’s more important that we have very good players for the system. And that’s what I always tried to do and that’s what we feel like we have this year.
Chris Vernon: OK, well, if it wasn’t chemistry, let’s just take a step back. Why do you think there was a regression on Harden last year?
D.M.: If you add a very important player at a very important position at point guard in Ty Lawson and that doesn’t work out, I think that that really affects things.
[Trading for Lawson] hurt us in several ways. We gave up many things, [including] an important first-round pick. So we could have used that another way. Ty didn’t play very well, and when you make an acquisition that big … normally, when someone’s not playing well, you just don’t play them. But when it’s a bigger acquisition and they don’t play well, then it’s difficult. You want to try to make it work. So you end up playing him a little bit longer.
D.M.: We played poor early, we came out of camp poorly. We got too caught up in what I call a relative success of making the Western Conference finals, which was a failure again of myself. Maybe not keeping the team focused.
I would say there are a lot of factors that went into it, but it definitely was a down year. But we’re focused on this year. I think if people have watched us in the preseason — not that those games matter, but I think you do learn a lot in terms of how a team’s playing in the early games — we’re outscoring teams more than anyone in the preseason. We’re executing well on both sides of the ball, so we’re pretty excited about what’s coming up.