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Houston Rockets

'6 seconds or less' and the revamped offensive strategy for Mike D'Antoni and the Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have never been afraid to dream big and this season is no exception.

The temptation to add 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to a backcourt already featuring 2018 MVP Jams Harden proved too great, even if it meant parting ways with future Hall of Famer Chris Paul whose acquisition two years ago brought Houston to the brink of a championship.

But brink doesn't beget parades and in an offseason that saw significant shifts in the league's tectonic plates, Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey opted against standing pat.

And thus began arguably the greatest chemistry experiment in NBA history.

This experimentation of star power isn't the first time players of this magnitude have joined forces. Everyone remembers when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James teamed up for the Miami Heat. They won multiple titles, although not quite as many as had been expected by some.

Although James' now infamous prediction proved a bit off the mark - they still won two titles and reached the NBA Finals in four straight years - the precedent of friends teaming up had been set.

The Rockets themselves are not stranger to experimentation. Prior to David Robinson and Tim Duncan winning titles as two powerful post players in San Antonio, Houston paired two powerhouses of their own down the road in Texas. And this was even before Hakeem Olajuwon teamed up with former college teammate Clyde Drexler.

That duo of Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson climbed all the way to the NBA Finals and played a competitive series against the Larry Bird-led Celtics but failed to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy as they lost the series 4-2.

So what makes Houston's experiment different this time around?

Never before in NBA history have two MVPs shared the same backcourt, let alone two players that have literally turned in the two highest usage seasons ever. Not only are they making history in that regard, they're trying to do so while playing at a furious pace which represents a 180 degree turn from the team's walk-it-up style over the last few seasons.

After years of walking it up, Coach Mike D'Antoni now wants the Rockets to play at a "6 seconds or less" pace when running the offense.

Of course, this isn't D'Antoni's first attempt to re-invent the game either. You could make a compelling case that he's not re-inventing anything right now, but merely updating his own work.

Long before bringing the best out of Harden and establishing the Rockets as an annual contender, D'Antoni concocted the "7 seconds or less" offense with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s. That fabled system - one in retrospect that's proven to be ahead of its time - leaned on the creative genius of Steve Nash and transformed him from a shaggy haired two-time NBA All-Star into a cerebral two-time NBA MVP. With D'Antoni pulling the strings, the Suns were either first or second in offensive rating each full season he coached them.

Ironically, D'Antoni is now once again leaning on the talents of MVP point guards to re-imagine the Rockets on the fly.

It's certainly early, but the Rockets aren't far off the standard D'Antoni set over a decade ago in Phoenix as the Rockets are currently third in the NBA in offensive rating.

Of course, nobody criticizes or questions his ability to build teams that score. That's never been the big concern.

The big one? Whether or not he can win THE BIG ONE.

When we think of evolution of any kind and in any industry, we first tend to lean towards of things that worked. Challenging the status quo and offering an alternative... now that's progress!

But often times, the greatest lessons aren't taught through achievement, but rather failure. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Raise your hand if you've heard some variation of that a thousand times.

What does that have to do with the NBA?

One of the greatest impacts that a specific style of play had on the NBA occurred with the late-90s Cleveland Cavaliers who were coached by another Mike, Mike Fratello.

That team would maximize time of possession on the shot clock and take the last available shot with the play clock winding down. Mathematically speaking, there are 12 minutes in a period which equates to 720 seconds and 30 total possessions in any given period. Of course, that depends on the opposing team also taking the entire shot clock each time down and that may be why those Cavaliers teams ultimately failed to even reach the second round of the playoffs.

Fratello's teams were out-executed and ultimately outplayed on cumulative possessions in games. Fratello's version of the Cavs even had the best defensive rating in the 1997-98 season, but couldn't get past Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Fratello's teams proved that defense alone couldn't guarantee a championship and that fewer possessions demanded perfection, an impossibly high standard.

Needless to say... this Mike isn't that Mike and these Rockets are not those Cavaliers. Nothing Houston does at this moment will have any longstanding consequences. Rome wasn't built in six seconds and that's small potatoes when compared to the idea of pairing Harden and Westbrook.

But these are trending upwards and there's certainly time to figure it all out. Championships aren't won in October or November, but the blueprint to do so begins long before June.

Right now, the Mike D'Antoni is channeling those Suns of yesteryear: pushing the pace and betting that the answer towards a successful launch to the promised land is simply more Rocket fuel.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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