PORTLAND, Ore. -- The day after Christmas, Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said his team embarrassed the game following a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
A little more than a month and half later, Bickerstaff said his team is broken. He used words, such as fragmented, and said it's not the front office's responsibility to fix it. The oldest player on the roster, 38-year old Jason Terry, said the group has chemistry issues.
The current status has forced Rockets GM Daryl Morey, whether he wants to or not, to make a deal by the Feb. 18 trade deadline. A deal has to be made to shake up this team because this current group doesn't seem to enjoy playing with one another.
"Not on the same page," Bickerstaff said. "It's however you want to say it. At the end of the day we all want to win. We all say we want to win. We all say we'll do whatever it takes to win. You got to walk that walk."
The Rockets are failing at that so badly that Morey must do something.
"We're generally an active team," Morey said to ESPN regarding trades. "I mean we won't force anything. They're not many windows where you get a chance to upgrade your team. We'll have to look at it very closely."
So what can be done?
The only in-season move Morey has made so far was to arrange Josh Smith's return to the club. The Rockets won three straight upon his arrival, but since then he has struggled so badly that he hasn't played in the second half of the last three games. Smith played only six minutes Wednesday. Bickerstaff said Smith isn't in the doghouse, and Morey said the veteran forward will improve.
In regard to everything else, the Rockets need to take strong looks at what they can get for everybody on their roster short of Harden, who continues to be a strong offensive presence. He scored 34 points on 20 shots Wednesday night. Howard, who scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, also should remain.
Yet the appearance of Howard and Harden not being on the same page offensively is damaging, which filters down the roster.
On defense, the Rockets get beat too many times in the front court and place too much pressure on the bigs to protect the rim. The Rockets are a poor team defensively when it comes to rotating. Knowing all this, Morey must find a strong post defender, or maybe a strong defensive guard.
He already has one strong defensive guard in Patrick Beverley but needs someone else, if they're out there. The Rockets would love to acquire another shooter, with the theory being if you're making shots, you're not trying to grab rebounds.
In the locker room after the loss to Portland, players said goodbye to one another as if the season were over, but in reality they were getting a needed break -- hopefully to get their act together.
Is it too late?
"If you look at it, the chemistry is not quite where you would like it, and hopefully the break can be what we need to get away from each other," Terry said. "It's like a marriage. You might need time away to get back right. I've seen worse."
Bickerstaff said it's on the coaches and players to solve this.
"[We're] just not willing to help each other out," Harden said. "That's all it is. Everything, both ends of the floor. That's what a team is."
Morey doesn't have a team right now. He has a dysfunctional group that must be put back together before the quickly evaporating season fades away. In some ways the season already has for the Rockets.
"Genuinely do we like to play with each other," Terry said. "That's as simple as I can get it. X's and O's take care of itself. We're talking about basketball, and if you can't get five guys on the court that can function as a unit you're not going to have much success."