As Sunday approached, NBA fans approached 5 p.m. like it was 8 a.m. on Christmas morning.
The frenzy of the first day of the NBA free agency was all that was anticipated, with billions of dollars being doled out and seismic shifts in how several teams looked from now to when the Toronto Raptors won the crown a few weeks ago.
But the biggest moment of free agency – and at the same time the Rockets’ offseason plans – changed when Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
In that moment, Golden State, the team that has ruined Houston’s chances for an NBA title shot the last two seasons, now is a hobbled team, with Klay Thompson also injured for most of next year.
Then in the first big moment of Free Agency Sunday, Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, joining former Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and former L.A. Clipper center DeAndre Jordan. The Nets are the new superteam in the East, while the Lakers look to be the new superteam of the West if they can add Kawhi Leonard.
Meanwhile, the Rockets turned from a possible shakeup of their core players to mostly standing pat, resigning Danuel House for three years, Gerald Green for a one-year deal, and the biggest steal of free agency, bringing back Austin Rivers for a two-year deal at the veteran minimum.
Why would Rivers sign a deal for the minimum when he could have gotten a lot more elsewhere? “It’s about playing somewhere I feel comfortable and somewhere I know I can build on,” he said on his Instagram account.
Rivers’ statement flies in the face of negative criticism and stories for most of the offseason saying that the Rockets was an organization drowning in drama and insensitivity for its players.
Sometimes I think the media was working against the Rockets for some reason. So many stories and tweets about them ended up being either disputed or turned out not to be true.
Look at the Chris Paul situation. We all heard and read the story that Paul demanded a trade because he and James Harden couldn’t work together anymore. But it was full of unnamed sources and Paul later denied he asked for a trade.
Then we heard the Rockets were in discussion with Jimmy Butler to bring him to Houston despite not having the cap space to do so. Turns out that Butler didn’t even meet with the Rockets’ brass and ended up working a sign-and-trade deal to go to Miami.
But I take Butler’s diss of his hometown team (yes Jimmy, Tomball is a part of Houston, no matter what you say) as a blessing in disguise. Acquiring Butler would have resulted in Houston dealing away key players like Eric Gordon and Clint Capela, ruining the cohesiveness that this team has built the last two seasons.
Now the Rockets are in position to contend again in the West, even though the Lakers, Jazz and Trailblazers all made big moves to become a lot better than where they were at the end of the season. If Houston can land another big role player, like Danny Green or Marcus Morris, this team should be right back contending for an NBA championship.
Even though they didn’t get any big gifts this year, this might be the best Christmas in July for the Rockets.
Chad Washington is a news and sports reporter for the Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ChadDWashington.