James Harden is leading the Houston Rockets with another MVP-caliber season (Keith Allison/Flickr).

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

After a disappointing second-round exit in the 2017 playoffs, the Rockets were busy during the offseason, trading for star point guard Chris Paul and adding defensive specialists Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker. Those moves have been bearing fruit thus far, as last week they became only the third team since 2015 to win the season series over the Golden State Warriors. To help us assess how much of a threat these Rockets pose to the defending champions, we brought back Salman Ali, managing editor of Red Nation Hoops, for his second appearance on the show. He takes us through how Rockets GM Daryl Morey was able to engineer this roster in the offseason, the new dynamic of the Chris Paul-James Harden pairing and the rumors that Houston might be at the top of LeBron James’ free agency list in the coming off-season. Blast off with these clutch excerpts below:

4:22-4:42: “The Rockets are probably more health-dependent than any other team outside of maybe Cleveland. They’re so dependent on health. If any of their main guys gets hurt, there’s a significant drop-off. Even when Luc Mbah a Moute went down, their defense went down the toilet for a good stretch there.”

10:14-10:58: “He [Chris Paul] is so different at running an offense than James Harden…Chris Paul is like that kid who studies all week, gets the 92 on a test, and James Harden is that dude who just walks in and gets a 98 after not studying. The offense clearly runs a lot smoother with James Harden, and it feels a lot more effortless…With Chris Paul, it’s different. It’s effective; it’s damn effective. But it’s just more calculated, and I guess maniacal in the way that Chris Paul targets defenses’ weaknesses. James Harden thinks the game, obviously, but he thinks the game at a different level. He plays the game more fluidly.”

17:52-18:33: “To me, if they’re gonna answer the Death Lineup for the Warriors, they’re gonna have to play P.J. Tucker at the 5, because he’s the only one who can defend Draymond [Green], defend Durant and defend Curry on switches. The Warriors are gonna try to get their best matchup no matter what, and that involves playing the Steph-Draymond pick ‘n roll over and over and over again until the Rockets fade. And in my opinion, P.J. Tucker is kind of like Walmart Draymond. And their P.J. Tucker-at-the-5 lineup is kind of my favorite. It’s P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza at the 4, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at the 3, Chris Paul at the 1, James Harden as a 2. That’s my favorite lineup.”

28:16-29:59: “The Rockets are absolutely gonna pursue it [acquiring LeBron James]. If we’ve learned anything from Daryl Morey it’s that he’s aggressive and he’s gonna try anything to get what he wants. His general thing is you need three guys, right? And he’s talked about it ever since he came to the Rockets: You need three All-Star-quality players to truly compete with the best of the best for championships…but the question is will they have a chance of landing him? That’s always been the central question. That’s gonna be the central question in LeBron’s free agency this summer. Can the Rockets clear enough cap space to get LeBron straight up in free agency? Or will they try to facilitate some sort of opt-in trade like they did with Chris Paul? I think that [a trade for James in which he opts into the final year of his contract] is the most interesting scenario.”


Subscribe to, rate and review On the NBA Beat on iTunes

Follow @OntheNBABeat and your hosts (@byAaronFisch, @jjfisch, @LorenLChen) on Twitter

Discover the rest of the Almighty Baller Podcast Network at AlmightyBaller.com and on iTunes

Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod