The Houston Rockets had an earlier exit from the NBA Playoffs this season than they had hoped or expected. After winning 65 games last year and grabbing the Western Conference’s top seed, the Rockets failed to live up to their own success once the postseason hit, enduring some bad luck to lose a tough Game 7 at home against the Golden State Warriors. This year was much of the same, with the team bowing out to the Dubs again, this time in the second round — which came after Golden State lost Kevin Durant to injury during the series.
Whether or not there’s a definitive rivalry with the Warriors or not, the Houston Rockets are making it clear that they’re trying to create one. That was evident last season when the team’s general manager, Daryl Morey, spoke out about how he’s “obsessed” with beating the Warriors, knowing that that franchise is the gold standard which every other NBA team needs to measure itself against.
While the Warriors have owned the Rockets the past few years, that hasn’t stopped Houston’s owner Tilman Fertitta from voicing his displeasure with the premature exit this postseason. So how far will the owner go in making sure the same thing doesn’t happen next year? Well, according to a Houston Chronicle piece, he’ll do “whatever it takes” following the “unacceptable” loss this season to the Warriors. Take a look at the candidness from Fertitta in the article.
When asked about the fallout from an “unacceptable” loss, Fertitta was far less specific. But every answer, he said, reflected not the emotions of the night, but the determination it inspires.
“Mike will be the coach next year,” Fertitta said. “He’s not a lame duck to me. That’s just a media term. That’s just a media buzzword.”
Fertitta offered no specifics about what he has in mind, perhaps limited by NBA rules about naming players on other teams and a determination not to show his hand for competitive reasons. But he indicated that “run it back” is not a mindset heading into his second offseason.
“We put a team together that should have gotten to the Western Conference finals,” Fertitta said. “You can’t say ‘I’m going to go win the championship.’ Or, ‘I’m going to go win the Western Conference or Eastern.’ All you can do is put a team together to be one of the top four teams. Then … you need luck, from (avoiding) injuries to hitting a last-second shot. You want to always set yourself up to get to the conference finals.
“I’ve directed my people to get better next year — anything we can do, from ownership to conditioning and training, all the way to that level. If we can make our team better player-wise, we’re going to make our team better. If we can make our team better coaching-wise, we’ll make our team better.”
“We’re here to win. We’re not here to be just OK and make it to the playoffs. We’re going to do whatever it takes to be a championship-style team every year. I will make moves to always extend our runway. I’m not a rebuilding guy to go collapse for three years to get draft picks. I want to keep us at as high a level as we can.”
Sounds like Fertitta and the Houston Rockets are still a little salty from being the bridesmaid the past two seasons, losing out to the Warriors in devastating fashion each time. It’s because of those defeats that the owner isn’t afraid, nor about, cutting costs or going into the luxury tax in order to win a title. We’ve seen other teams do it in the past, and the Rockets aren’t about to stop spending money if it gets them a championship.
“I’m not going to let a few million dollars (determine decisions),” Fertitta said. “Going to that seventh game, even though it would have been there, we’d probably still make a million and a half because we get part of their gate. If we go to the Western Conference finals, it’s worth $10 to $15 million to us. I’m not worried about the luxury tax. And that’s not just $10 million; it’s the next year’s ticket renewals, the sponsorships, everything. If you are in the luxury tax and you’re winning, you’re going to be a more profitable team.”
He was more perturbed by a report from a SiriusXM NBA radio host during the season that he was “feverishly cutting costs” throughout the Rockets organization. He had called that report baseless at the time and went further this week.
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Fertitta said. “I spend more money on little things than anybody else. I just bought us a brand-new 767 that we’re re-fitting right now. Everybody else just rents planes. I want our players on our plane. And it’s not a 757; it’s a 767.”
Considering the Houston Rockets have bowed out of the NBA Playoffs sooner than they hoped the past couple years — despite winning a bunch of regular season games and boasting one of the most talented rosters in the league — it’s no wonder the team’s owner has bigger goals in mind; and he’s challenging the entire franchise to be better.
“I know we have a team good enough to win 55 games, but that’s not good enough. We need to have a team we know we’ll get to the Western Conference finals. Then, you need a little luck to win a championship. We will do whatever it takes this offseason to improve ourselves.”
Clearly the Golden State Warriors intimidate the Houston Rockets. Everything the two-time defending champs do keep the Rockets on edge, and it sure as hell sounds like Tilman Fertitta will do anything in his power to change that mindset to dethrone the Dubs this time next year.
(H/T Houston Chronicle)
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