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.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
Stats show Boston defended LeBron well, he just hit the shots anyway.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
I say Smith should get at least three games.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
They need the swelling to go down to get a sense of his return,
Apr 27, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT
Preview socks for the Cavaliers, Heat, Spurs and Warriors
Apr 27, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Cavaliers gave him a chance to wait by sweeping Celtics
Apr 27, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
Rockets lost closeout game to Dallas
Apr 27, 2015, 1:12 PM EDT
Wallace owed more than $10 million next season
Apr 27, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT
What does Walker’s cratered draft stock say about Billy Donovan?
Apr 27, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
If that was their plan, they executed it well
Apr 27, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
Isaiah Thomas played, um, creative defense
Apr 27, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT
Celtics were reportedly gaining ground before Kelly Olynyk
Apr 27, 2015, 9:46 AM EDT
Wizards forward started talking before series, hasn’t stopped
Apr 27, 2015, 9:07 AM EDT
Celtics forward: ‘I would never intentionally hurt Kevin or anyone else’
Apr 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Somebody looks a lot more comfortable with no Rajon Rondo around.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Well played Rick Carlisle. Well played.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:34 AM EDT
Love being out could be an issue in the next round as the Cavs take on the Bulls.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:38 AM EDT
The question is can Dallas replicate all they did right on the road?
Apr 26, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
The Boston Celtics fans got a show.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Another stellar performance from John Wall buries Toronto’s season.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
The Clippers needed their big stars to step up Sunday or they were going to be in a very deep hole. They got it.
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: LeBron his shots despite good Celtics defense 0
- PBT Extra: For how long should J.R. Smith be suspended? 18
- Report: If Kevin Love leaves Cavaliers, Lakers are team to beat in free agency 26
- Rumor: Kevin Love out minimum of two weeks, will likely miss most or all of series vs. Bulls 39
- Monta Ellis, J.J. Barea pairing ignites Mavericks offense, gets Dallas Game 4 win over Houston 9
- Wizards blow out Raptors to complete first-round sweep 17
- Chris Paul scores 34 points, Clippers win Game 4 to even series with Spurs 6
- Cavaliers advance to second round – but but maybe lose Kevin Love and moral high ground in process 65