Year One of the Mike D'Antoni era in Houston went better than anyone expected, but the Rockets' impressive 2016-17 season came to an ignoble end in Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.
Without Kawhi Leonard on the floor to check James Harden, Houston still rolled over and lost by 39 points at home in an elimination game.
While it wasn't the greatest way to go out this season, the Rockets can take solace in the fact they're a team on the rise. They don't need to make any earth-shaking adjustments; they just need to trust their process and make a few changes to turn the modern version of D'Antoni's Suns into a team that can compete for a title.
Here are three ways the Rockets can improve this offseason.
Realize that defense wins championships
As long as Mike D'Antoni has been a coach in the NBA, he's faced criticism for his teams' defensive shortcomings.
Some context is required. The Phoenix Suns were a better defensive team than they get credit for, and D'Antoni's stops in New York and Los Angeles were doomed from the start.
Still, there's no doubt D'Antoni focuses on his precious offensive system to the detriment of the other side of the court. If he's not going to take on the responsibility of fixing his defense, then he needs to hire a defensive coordinator, much as the Golden State Warriors have in assistant Ron Adams.
He'd still be free to dream up ways to put the ball in the basket, but his team would actually stand a chance of stopping elite opponents.
And on that note ...
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Add another defensive option on the wing
The Rockets can clear out about $10 million in cap space this summer by relinquishing all of their cap holds, or they could have approximately $7 million by retaining Nene, who fills a pretty large hole as a backup big man. Unless the Rockets can add Nerlens Noel for a steal, Nene's probably coming back next year.
That means this team will basically be the same next year as it was this season, which isn't the worst news in the world. Another year of seasoning and chemistry-building could be enough to lift the Rockets to the next level, rather than getting embarrassed by the Kawhi-less Spurs.
All Houston really needs to do is tinker in the margins by adding one of the less-desirable 3-and-D wings on the market this summer. Thabo Sefolosha would be a great fit, and after a down year in Atlanta, he should be available for the right price. If the Raptors forego re-signing P.J. Tucker, he'd make sense in Houston, too.
Either way, our defensive role player will need to be able to knock down 3s, because ...
Take even more 3-pointers
I realize how ridiculous that sounds right off the top. The Rockets set a record by attempting 40.3 3s per game in 2016-17. Why in the world would anyone ask them to shoot more?
Two reasons, really.
First, the Rockets should be prepared for the worst when the competition committee meets this summer, as the NBA is almost certain to change the 3-point flopping move James Harden loves so much.
If that change comes to fruition, Houston will have to find a way to make up those few extra points per game, and doubling down on triples would work wonders.
Shooting even more 3s would stretch the floor, giving the Rockets more opportunity to drive to the rim, while also taking a higher expected-value shot than the rest of the league.
Second, as prolific as Houston is from downtown, the Rockets haven't quite hit the theoretically optimal point for 3-point shooting. Deep in the darkest corners of the analytical community, there are models that suggest a team should probably shoot as many as 42 to 45 3-pointers a game.
Houston is close to that theoretical limit. If they want to try to take down a superior Warriors team, slamming the 3-point pedal to the metal is their best option.