5 Goals the Houston Rockets Must Achieve During 2015-16 Season

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2015

5 Goals the Houston Rockets Must Achieve During 2015-16 Season

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Here's the thing about goals: Sometimes you have to reevaluate them.

    Such is the case for the Houston Rockets right now. They must temper expectations of a championship and reassess immediate priorities. 

    After getting blown out by 20 points in their first three games, the Rockets seemed to turn things around, winning four straight. Everything looked to be fine—until it wasn't. 

    The Rockets rediscovered the losing ways of season's dawn and dropped four straight by a total of 37 points. Five of their seven losses this year have been by double digits.

    Compare that with the 14 such losses the Rockets incurred in 2014-15. The team that finished with the No. 2 seed and stormed back to win the Western Conference Finals is unrecognizable in its current form. To get back to that, Houston needs to rediscover who it is one step at a time. 

    And now, they aren't with the coach that sailed them here. General manager Daryl Morey suddenly and unceremoniously dismissed coach Kevin McHale on Nov. 18, replacing him in the interim with J.B. Bickerstaff.

    The Rockets can hit the reset button and reestablish their goals for this season. These are the steps they need to take and the order they must take them to get where they want to be.

5. Stop Quibbling

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Problems don't get fixed until you admit what they are, and the heart of the Rockets' present turmoil is...well...turmoil. As Fran Blinebury noted for NBA.com: 

    But at the core of the problem is a distrusting relationship on the court and in the locker room that over the first three weeks of the season has turned the team into a squabbling, dysfunctional mess.

    One had only to watch the Rockets carping, griping and often finger-pointing at each in the embarrassing third-quarter meltdown in Monday's whipping by the Celtics to see all of it on parade.

    You're not going to get anywhere with incessant infighting. And it may be they addressed that at the players-only meeting, which occurred the day before McHale's dismissal. 

    Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reported: 

    While players tried to keep details of the meeting private, two themes emerged, three people told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. Harden's play and aloofness have frustrated teammates, and McHale took the brunt of the blame for the team's play. Practices were not resulting in improved play in games.

    McHale is gone. Harden is not. And when a team's best player is deemed by his teammates to be, perhaps, its laziest and most unreachable, it's going to cause problems. And only one person, Harden, can do anything about that. 

    For example, Harden was frequently, virally and rightly criticized for his lack of defense in 2013-14, but last season, he showed a tremendous improvement in effort. This year, he's reverted to his previous form. That kind of recalcitrance seems to be spurning problems. 

    Here's the thing about leaders: They're followed, for better or worse. It's not a question of whether Harden is leading; it's one of where he is leading his teammates. All the quibbling and infighting is his responsibility, and he alone can put an end to it. 

4. Be Coachable

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Am I the only one who appreciates the fact that the man tapped to take over the squabbling Rockets is named Bickerstaff? I mean, that's just asking his assistants to argue. 

    But seriously, folks, he's the right man for the job. While McHale was losing the players, Bickerstaff was keeping them. The Rockets' owner, Leslie Alexander, spoke with Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com (h/t James Herbert of CBSSports.com) and told him: 

    We spoke to him [Bickerstaff], and we think he's a good young coach with a lot of experience. He is on the defensive end, which we really need a lot of help on. We have a good offensive coordinator [Chris Finch], so at the same time we have both. J.B. has a good relationship with the players, which I think is very important. If they didn't know him, it would be tough in the adjustment process. Now it's much quicker.

    And Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports illustrates how Bickerstaff, growing up as the son of a head coach, has been more prepared than most for the interim tag. Bickerstaff said, "My dad always took over teams, except for Washington, that were rebuilding, and you hear the taunting, the jokes, negative, awful things about the person you love. That hardens you at a young age."

    And Wojnarowski also shows how Bickerstaff is translating that experience to his present situation: 

    This isn’t a franchise willing to wait on the growth of a young coach, and Bickerstaff understands the burden. Around the Rockets, they expect his style to differ. He’ll get on the players harder. He’ll demand discipline, dole out consequences. Bickerstaff walked into a room and told Lawson that he had lost his starting job for now, and that he needed to perform off the bench. Bickerstaff told Harden that he should expect to be pushed and prodded, too.

    “In my conversation with each and every one of them, I said, ‘I’m going to coach you,’” Bickerstaff told Yahoo. “We aren’t going to let things slide. We won’t get better unless you allow this staff to coach you.”

    And, for the Rockets, the challenge will be, "Can you take coaching?" They need to be the players and do what their new leader on the bench instructs them to. Otherwise, they'll be re-visiting the same situation next fall. 

3. Dicsover How to Play Ty Lawson and James Harden Together

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The nice way of saying it is Ty Lawson and James Harden have not played well together. The more accurate way would include adjectives and verbs that would upset your meal if you're eating something while you're reading this, so we'll leave it at nice. 

    The numbers sometimes tell a different story than the eye test, but not in this case. Harden is better with Lawson on the bench, averaging 39.0 points, 9.1 assists and 7.8 boards per 100 possessions with a 57.3 true shooting percentage. He gets 32.5 points, 6.8 assists and 7.2 rebounds on 53.4 percent true shooting with him. 

    It's not much better the other way around. Lawson averages 9.6 dimes per 100 possessions without Harden and only 6.4 when the "Undynamic Duo" are together. 

    This isn't the first year we've seen this genre of movie. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade came together in Miami during the 2010-11 season, they struggled to figure out how to share the ball early on. When James went to Cleveland last year, he had similar issues with Kyrie Irving

    Both times, things worked out eventually. It takes time for ball-dominant players to work things out. Harden is clearly the alpha dog here, but he's in dire need of a beta, something he's well aware of. 

    Whoever doesn't have the ball tends to watch, and for Harden in particular, that extends to the defensive end too, which explains his backsliding to his worst defense days. 

    The pair needs to figure this thing out. When they learn to play together, the team can start plumbing the depths of its talent. 

2: Win the Next Game

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    The Rockets won their first game with Bickerstaff in charge the same day he got hired. It was their fourth of the season. Now they need to go out and win their fifth. 

    One of the best idioms in sports (and normally I abhor cliches) is you can only win one game at a time. Short-term goals are critical both in life and sports. 

    The Rockets don't need to "turn it around" or "draw a line in the sand" or some such other thing. They need to beat their next opponent, which is the 6-6 Memphis Grizzlies.

    Then they need to win No. 6 against the 6-6 New York Knicks. Then the Grizzlies again. Then the winless Philadelphia 76ers. Then the Knicks again. Then the Pistons, who are a skidding 6-5. Then the New Orleans Pelicans who are just 1-11 to date. 

    Of their next 15 opponents, only the Pistons, Washington Wizards (5-4) and Dallas Mavericks (8-4) are above .500. Everyone else has, at best, an even record. 

    The Rockets have a great chance to put together a winning streak here and get traction on the season. But they have to do it one game at a time. 

1. Win 50

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    There's little question that the Rockets' season peaked last year when they came back against the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs. Down three games to one in the Western Conference Semifinals, Houston eviscerated the Clippers in Game 5.

    Then, trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter of Game 6, they positively roared back and won the game by a dozen, outscoring the Clippers 40-15 in the final frame. Then they took Game 7 by 13 points. 

    The point is: Never count the Rockets out until they're actually out. As in their season is officially over, the locker room is closed and the bags are packed.

    Certainly don't write their obituary a dozen games into the season. 

    They may not get the No. 1 seed or even the No. 2, but they can very realistically win 50 games, and this needs to be the mindset of their adjusted long-term goal: Keep it achievable. 

    Another thing about achievable long-term goals? They can help in the short term too, especially in things like bickering. 

    Have you ever heard the trick to balancing a broom on your fingertip? Look at the top of the broom, not your hands. If you look at the top, your hand automatically follows. By keeping their focus on the big picture, the Rockets can avoid overreacting to the smallest miscue. 

    But that's only if they have taken the previous steps. If they do, however, they can win 50. And if they win 50, they'll be in the postseason. And if they can do that, they can do anything. 

    Stats for this article are current through Nov. 18. and were obtained from NBA.com

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