Oct 22, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last season: The Rockets began the year with the somewhat surprising trade for James Harden — surprising because of the Thunder’s choice to deal him so soon instead of pursuing a title with him in place for one more season. It was the right call on Houston’s part, as Harden immediately turned into the offensive star many believed he was capable of becoming.
It was enough to get the team to 45 wins and and eight seed in the West, although facing the Thunder in the first round, even after Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury, proved to be too tough, and the Rockets were eliminated in six games.
Signature highlight from last season: There was no one game or single play that defined the Rockets last season as much as the overall play of Harden did, so it seems appropriate to simply enjoy his top 10 plays from last season.
Key player changes: Unless you were living in a cave during the summer, you’re probably aware of a certain high-profile free agent center that chose to sign in Houston.
- IN: Dwight Howard, signed to a five-year max contract in free agency. Omri Casspi, Marcus Camby, and Aaron Brooks were all signed to one-year guaranteed deals, and Ronnie Brewer was signed to a non-guaranteed deal for some depth defensively.
- OUT: Thomas Robinson, essentially given away to the Blazers to create the cap space necessary to sign Howard. The headache known as Royce White was dealt to the Sixers, and Carlos Delfino signed with the Bucks in free agency.
Keys to the Rockets season:
1) Dwight Howard: The man who has been more about drama than bona fide basketball results over the past two seasons has a fresh start in Houston, and he’ll be expected to immediately begin earning that max contract the Rockets handed him this summer.
The good news is that by all accounts, Howard is healthy, and fully recovered from the back surgery that limited him over the first half of his ill-fated season in Los Angeles. The other positive is that while Howard is as high-profile an acquisition as possible, he doesn’t have to be “the man” in Houston — at least not offensively. That’s Harden’s role, so while Howard will have plenty of opportunity to score and will get plenty of touches both on the low block and in pick-and-roll situations, he won’t be relied upon as the primary offensive option.
All the Rockets need Howard to do is return to form as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who protects the rim, rebounds, and intimidates other teams from even thinking about coming inside. The Rockets were sixth in offensive efficiency last season, but 16th defensively. Howard’s presence should immediately change that.
2) James Harden: Harden was the focal point of the offense last season, and while the team has capable point guards in Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley (who are currently competing for the starting spot at that position), more often than not it was Harden who ended up with the ball in his hands creating for himself or for others. There will be an adjustment period with Howard now, not only because he will warrant a certain amount of touches, but also because his presence in the middle won’t leave as much space for Harden to do what he does best, which is getting to the basket.
There will be an adjustment period while Harden and the Rockets figure out the spacing and use both players’ talents to their advantage. How quickly it all comes together may partially determine just how many regular season wins are piled up in Houston.
3) The rest: Harden and Howard are monster talents at their respective positions, but how much production the team gets from everyone else is more likely to determine their ultimate postseason fate. Camby is a guy who could be of real value in the playoffs, and won’t be expected to be ready long before then.
Omer Asik will be interesting to watch, as he was initially unhappy with the Howard deal for fear his role would be diminished. It will be, despite head coach Kevin McHale vowing to try to play his two big men together, though most don’t believe that will work in anything more than very short stints against very specific matchups.
Why you should watch: James Harden is one of the more entertaining offensive players in the game, and a healthy Howard is one of the best defensively.
Prediction: The West is stacked, but if Howard and Harden are able to figure it out then the Rockets should approach 60 wins, and be a top-three team in the West by the time the regular season is finished. It’s tough to see them getting to the Finals in their first year together, but a deep playoff run should not only be the goal, it should be expected.
May 28, 2015, 2:55 AM EDT
This is where the week off until the Finals tip off benefits the Warriors.
May 28, 2015, 1:49 AM EDT
Houston won 56 games, secured No. 2 seed in powerful Western Conference and won more playoff series than its previous 17 years combined
May 28, 2015, 12:39 AM EDT
The Warriors don’t care how it looked, they will take it.
Dwight Howard elbows Andre Iguodala but avoids flagrant foul and suspension – for now, at least (video)
May 27, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
Rockets center elbowed Andre Iguodala high
May 27, 2015, 11:36 PM EDT
That sounds bad. Is that bad?
May 27, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
“Hey!” -Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, probably
May 27, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
Will it stand?
May 27, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT
Who will it be (if anyone)?
May 27, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT
First Kobe, now Melo – Dudley goes scorched earth
May 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT
The Cavaliers are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possession in the playoffs, the best of the four teams to reach the conference Finals
May 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
Will he become Anthony Davis’ next head coach?
Stephen Curry feels like there’s a bruise ‘all the way up and down’ his body, will likely wear arm sleeve in Game 5
May 27, 2015, 6:28 PM EDT
Warriors guard says he shot well with sleeve in shootaround
May 27, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
If they want him gone, they just have to pull the trigger on the firing. Otherwise, bring him back.
May 27, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
The Hawks had an exciting season, they filled an arena that in past years felt like a mausoleum, they played beautiful basketball for months at a time.
May 27, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
Free agents will still come to the Lakers, but their pool may be smaller than some other teams because of Kobe.
May 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
There were plenty of rumors to the contrary.
May 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Suns don’t need any more young players.
May 27, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Plenty has changed since LeBron re-joined the Cavaliers last summer.
May 27, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Hawks, too, have some decisions to make this summer.
- Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that? 3
- Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years 20
- Dwight Howard hit with suspension-triggering technical foul 6
- PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals 7
- Reports: Bulls getting closer to firing Tom Thibodeau 23
- PBT Extra: Despite ending, Hawks had season worth celebrating 3
- Bucks’ Jared Dudley: “Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe” 62
- PBT Extra: Expect a healthy Stephen Curry for Game 5… sorry Houston 4