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Jimmy Butler Chooses Miami Over Houston

Rockets GM Daryl Morey swung and missed on Jimmy Butler, which is probably fine, but the natives are restless.EXPAND
Rockets GM Daryl Morey swung and missed on Jimmy Butler, which is probably fine, but the natives are restless.
Photo by Jeff Balke
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Day one of NBA free agency didn't disappoint. The Brooklyn Nets landed both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, plus Deandre Jordan. The Warriors replaced Durant with D'Angelo Russell. The Celtics replaced Irving with Kemba Walker. The Sixers re-signed Tobias Harris and nabbed Al Horford. And the Knicks essentially got screwed yet again.

For Rockets fans, the big news surrounded wingman and Tomball native Jimmy Butler, who, it had been widely rumored, could be a Rocket in a sign and trade deal involving, potentially, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. On Sunday night, Butler opted to go to Miami instead. Word was that Butler preferred to play on a team built around his talent instead of sharing the spotlight, which wasn't terribly surprising given his track record.

On the positive side, the Rockets did manage to hold onto Danuel House, who signed a three-year extension, and local favorite Gerald Green, who landed a one-year deal. Both are Houston natives and were key parts of the team last season.

If the somewhat muted fan reaction on the internet to the re-signings is any indication, it's not surprising considering many got their hopes up that Butler would join James Harden and Chris Paul in a rejuvenated lineup. Despite being one of the best teams in the NBA the last five years, the Rockets have struggled in the postseason, mostly at the hands of a Golden State team that ranks among the NBA's all-time greats. It's been a bitter pill for fans and the organization to swallow.

In truth, however, this may not be the worst thing in the world. This was, arguably, the second best team in the Western Conference last season. They should retain most of their existing talent, much of which was assembled at midseason last year, and the talent shift this offseason seems to be to the east, despite the Lakers acquisition of Anthony Davis to pair with Lebron James.

Also, there is the fact that Butler prefers to fly solo (even if that means doing so on a rather mediocre team) rather than pairing his talents with players that would likely relegate him to second or third fiddle, a position he is familiar with after seasons with Minnesota and Philadelphia. Do the Rockets really want another big ego in that locker room?

Still, if there was a mistake made by the Rockets, it was the trumpeting of not just their desire to but their confidence in landing a third star this offseason regardless of the fact that the cap has them cash strapped and it might require gutting the lineup to do it. That's the kind of thing that can stoke the flames of a fan base only to see those hopes dashed to bits on what would otherwise be a night when a team like the Rockets would do well just to stand pat.

Of course, this all comes on the heels of some controversial firings, a battle with their head coach over a contract extension and reports that the team's two stars aren't really getting along.

This is what happens when you constantly are the runner up. You get a little desperate. You try to pump up the volume on what you are going to do and do damage control when things don't work out. These aren't exactly massive holes in an otherwise stable and successful organization. Let's call them microscopic cracks in the shiny facade.

There is every chance the Rockets will pick up some help with the room they have (Danny Green, anyone?) and bring back the bulk of their guys (how about it, Austin Rivers?) en route to a very good season in a somewhat weakened Western Conference. But the reports of chaos, the aging of their stars and the ultimate failure to land a key target in the offseason (never mind the disaster of an offseason in 2018), the clock is ticking while the natives are getting restless.

None of this will matter if they are winning in June, but the Rockets haven't seemed this precariously positioned in quite a few years and while they may only be tiny cracks right now, they will grow if the Rockets don't figure out how to stem the tide.

If there's a bright side to all this, they aren't the Knicks.

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