When the week began, Danuel House Jr. enjoyed the account of his coach’s praise, but said he was fine with being overlooked. He even put it cleverly, gaining some attention for his comment about not getting attention.
“I feel I’m slept on heavily, if you ask me, with a pillow and a blanket,” House said on Monday. “My goal here is to hit the snooze button.”
Had he remained a relative unknown, he reasoned, he and the Rockets could have benefited from him sneaking up on an opponent.
“Me being a G League guy, » he had said Monday afternoon, “I guess people don’t want to really talk about guys like us unless it’s a huge, huge story.”
Even if he did bring this dramatic turn on himself, with the NBA ruling he broke health and safety protocols when he “had a guest in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus,” it is an unfortunate way for him to have gained that acclaim and to have damaged his team’s chances.
By now, after months in the bubble, the rules are well known. It is not the same as Bruno Caboclo leaving his room in the initial quarantine because he wanted seconds of that night’s meal. But there also could be a tendency for those on the campus to lower their guard, to become so accustomed to life in the bubble that they forget how stringent the rules were when they arrived.
There was a sense when the NBA began its investigation that there was a determination to make an example out of House. Would the league have been as unyielding had LeBron James or James Harden been involved rather than a player that could speak about his relative anonymity?
There seemed validity to that when the announcement was made that the investigation was concluded and more details were included. The NBA did not just say there was “a recent violation of campus health and safety protocols.” The league uncharacteristically added what the violation was, sending the message that this will not be tolerated.
That point would seem to have been made when the Rockets lost Games 3 and 4 without House while the league held its investigation, and the Rockets were instructed to call House out for “personal reasons.”
The Rockets might not have won those games had he played, but the series was tied, 1-1. In Game 2, House was the only Rockets reserve that scored. In the Rockets’ nine-player rotation, reduced to eight by House’s departure, he was the only forward off the bench, and he was playing early, replacing Russell Westbrook roughly 5½ minutes into each half.
Teams have to overcome absences, especially this season. The Lakers are without Avery Bradley, who opted out of the restart. But this is an own goal.
The Rockets did score more points off the bench without House in Game 4 than they had with him in any game since Game 1 against the Thunder. But he was a significant part of their rotation, an important contributor. The Rockets ranked 28th in scoring off the bench in the regular season and House was their leading scorer among the reserves.
As much as the Rockets had framed the chase of a championship as their only goal, trading three first-round picks to add Westbrook and Robert Covington and putting off negotiations on Mike D’Antoni’s contract until the off-season, they were clear underdogs against the front-running Lakers. They could not afford to make things tougher on themselves.
That could leave some fence-mending for House to do with his team. He was, and could remain, an especially upbeat story, having paid his dues and worked his way to a contract with his hometown team. He brings the right mix of confidence and humility and a cheerful locker room presence, to say nothing of skills that fit with the Rockets’ style and needs.
How he and his guest spent “several hours” is not the Rockets’ or NBA’s concern, despite the social media comedy that was flying on Friday. His personal life, in ordinary times, would and should remain personal and certainly not the business of his employer. But these are far from ordinary times. His mistake damaged his team’s chances in the postseason, something that will be difficult to forget.
House is a rarity on the Rockets’ roster. He is relatively young, 27, and on a team-friendly contract, one year into a three-year, $11.15 million deal. He has a nice mix of 3-point shooting (38.1 percent in his two Rockets’ seasons) and athleticism with ball-handling skills.
If the Rockets decide to never allow him back, he can be traded, but at a marked down price. A team rarely benefits from reacting emotionally. Given the expectations and pressures of the postseason, there can be little doubt about how they would feel about an important player heading home.
There was a time this postseason, however, House had started to make a name for himself with his play. He had said he felt he had let down the Rockets and himself with his postseason struggles last season but was ready to step up. The league might not have noticed, but the Rockets had even before the restart games began.
“I think he realizes,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said in July, “that this is one of the key moments of his career.”
It could be. The way House’s season ended does not have to be career-defining. He is young and talented enough to change the subject with his play. But as he said with the week began, he was not well-known. He is now.
Jonathan Feigen has been the Rockets beat writer since 1998 and a basketball nut since before Willis Reed limped out for Game 7. He became a sports writer because the reporter that was supposed to cover the University of Delaware basketball team decided to instead play one more season of college lacrosse and has never looked back.
Feigen, who has won APSE, APME and United States Basketball Writers Association awards from El Campo to Houston, came to Texas in 1981 to cover the Rice Birds, was Sports Editor in Garland before moving to Dallas to cover everything from the final hurrah of the Southwest Conference to SMU after the death penalty.
After joining the Houston Chronicle in 1990, Feigen has covered the demise of the SWC, the rise of the Big 12 and the Rockets at their championship best.
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