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.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
No surprise, and Lakers fans feel the same way.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
It might be because short of an insane offer of a max deal, Thompson would rather take his chances as a restricted free agent next summer.
Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Nice job of McCallum to stay active on a play where he had already missed a shot.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Will Thomas make Kings regret choosing Darren Collison over him?
Oct 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Thunder will be very short-handed the first month of the regular season.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
It’s far from guaranteed that they will use it.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
And it was probably the smartest possible play
Oct 24, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
76ers forwent any guaranteed salary to hit free agency sooner
Oct 24, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Bucks point guard Nate Wolters makes heads-up play
Oct 24, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Can’t say I ever pictured that.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT
This is a minor trade, even in Sam Hinkie’s world.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
Clippers owner affirms reputation
Byron Scott says Lakers may need to trade for point guard. For now, Ronnie Price starts, Jeremy Lin off bench.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT
Expect the Lakers to try and trade for a point guard… no, not Rajon Rondo.
Oct 24, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Nash was everything we want as a fan in an NBA player.
Report: Tobias Harris won’t sign contract extension, would get Nike bonus by playing in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles
Oct 24, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Could forward leave the Magic in 2016?
Oct 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order. JaVale McGee played just five games last year after injuring his leg. How did we…
Oct 24, 2014, 2:18 PM EDT
Varejao the better choice, but Cleveland should be careful here
Oct 24, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Phil Jackson says the triangle is not rocket science.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
Pacers center filling huge role after last season’s great start, big collapse
Oct 24, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Childress, who played for Pelicans last season, now playing (dirty) in Australia
- Report: Kobe Bryant viewed Dwight Howard leaving Lakers in free agency as ‘a positive’ 0
- Report: Cavaliers have had ‘zero discussion’ on contract extension with Tristan Thompson 7
- Why I am going to miss Steve Nash 26
- Victor Oladipo out indefinitely after taking elbow in practice, suffering facial fracture 13
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans 10
- Five teams poised to make a big leap forward this season 5
- Steve Nash to miss entire 2014-15 season with ongoing back injuries 70
- Jeanie Buss: ‘Any free agent that would be afraid to play with Kobe Bryant is probably a loser’ 71