Tramel: Rockets' future more murky than the Thunder's
The Thunder-Rockets are set to play Game 7 Wednesday night, and the loser faces an uncertain future.
The same is true for every NBA team this off-season, because of financial uncertainty. We don’t know what the 2020-21 salary cap will be. We don’t know what kind of revenues can be expected for the 2020-21 season, whether teams will have fans at their games or even if there will be home games. We don’t even know when the 2020-21 will start.
Those are the issues facing all 30 teams, be they the Lakers or the Hornets. And the uncertainty for the remaining playoff organizations -- there are nine left as the Thunder and Rockets take the court in Lake Buena Vista, Florida -- becomes the focus as soon as the team leaves the NBA bubble.
But Houston’s uncertainty trumps all.
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The Thunder doesn’t know what its roster will look like next season. Will Chris Paul be traded? Will Danilo Gallinari be re-signed? Will Billy Donovan stay on as coach, considering his contract will expire?
Lots of questions. But the Rockets have even more questions, all of them major.
Houston has uncertainty at coach, general manager and even ownership, the latter of which leads to roster uncertainty.
Coach Mike D’Antoni’s status with Houston has been a subject of much debate for a year. D’Antoni’s agent and the Rockets reportedly have been at odds, and few expect D’Antoni to return.
When Indiana fired coach Nate McMillan a few days ago, despite the Pacers consistently overachieving, some viewed it as a sign that the Pacers were going after D’Antoni.
D’Antoni’s departure from Houston would be startling for a team that plays different from every NBA squad. No center. No pretense of a center. A record-setting cavalcade of 3-point shots. Complete abhorrence of mid-range shots.
Perhaps a new coach can adapt and keep the Rockets playing the same way, but no one other than D’Antoni has done it.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s status is questionable, too. Morey has been in danger since last autumn, when he tweeted support for Hong Kong freedoms. How a basketball executive can shake world politics is beyond me, but Morey did it. The Chinese were outraged, the NBA went into total spin control and everybody came out a loser. Except Morey.
The Chinese banned all things NBA. The NBA lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Hong Kong has fallen into even tighter Chinese control.
Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta quickly claimed distance from Morey, who just as quickly took down his tweet. But many wonder if Morey will be employed come next season. Could he be sacrificed to appease the Chinese? Seems goofy, but have you looked outside and seen the world in the Year of our Lord 2020?
Speaking of Fertitta, his financial base has taken a massive hit. He makes his money in casinos and restaurants, and the pandemic has crippled those revenues.
A variety of reports have centered on Fertitta’s shaky financial standing. Fertitta is a huge donor to the University of Houston and was considered a Rockets godsend when he purchased the franchise.
But now, Fertitta appears to be scrambling financially. Could he try to get out of some contracts, like Russell Westbrook’s? Trading Westbrook’s contract, which has three years remaining, won’t be easy, and Houston would have to throw in some enticements.
The Rockets had a championship window. They came within a whisker, or a Chris Paul hamstring injury, of taking out the Warriors in the 2018 playoffs.
But now Houston has struggled to dispatch the overmatched Thunder, and when the Rockets are sent home from the bubble, the uncertainty starts to accelerate.
Houston is an old team. James Harden, Eric Gordon and Westbrook are each 31. P.J. Tucker is 35. Jeff Green is 34. Robert Covington turns 30 in December. The Rockets’ only rotational players under 30 are Danuel House, Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore, and none are younger than 27.
Plus, Houston has traded several future draft picks, and the Thunder has the right to swap first-round slots with Houston in two future drafts.
The Thunder’s future is cloudy. The Rockets’ future is shadowy.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.