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.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
Yannick Noah would rather do more of the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag
Mar 11, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
This seems like more than a coincidence.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Griffin should have gone for the full tear, though.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“There’s no better preparation than going straight to the NBA… I think the NBA is the best teacher.”
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 AM EDT
Blake Griffin is good at basketball. Also: Kyle Korver can still shoot.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:05 AM EDT
Los Angeles learned an important less on Monday — don’t let up against the Suns.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:18 AM EDT
“We got tangled up and went down and, you know,” Griffin said with a grin after the game.”Took a little forearm. But you know, it happens.”
Mar 11, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
This was not the one shot Griffin missed on Monday.
Mar 10, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Guard has been out since Jan. 10 surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:03 PM EDT
Serious charge of fun challenge?
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Run, Phil, run
Mar 10, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT
All the audio and video you need to enrich your NBA feud of the day.
Mar 10, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Does he mean Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani or J.R. Smith?
Mar 10, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Phil Jackson seems destined for New York. I argue that’s a good thing… but only if Jackson has a Jedi mind trick that can keep James Dolan at bay.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Kansas’ Joel Embiid — potentially the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — has sought out a second opinion on his back injury. Just a reminder of why he should jump to the NBA rather than stay another year in college.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As if his season hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will miss at least 10 games with a knee strain.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Mike D’Antoni is the long term answer for the Lakers, but what is the point of switching out coaches this late in a lost season?
Mar 10, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
All the buzz has Phil Jackson taking a front office job with the Knicks (he’s just deliberate in making decisions like this)… but nobody asked Carmelo what he thought? Really?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
And the first Eastern Conference team comes in at …
Mar 10, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Bulls fans have taken to chanting “M-V-P” when Joakim Noah heads to the free throw line — and he does not like it one bit.
- The Extra Pass: Gerald Green doesn’t regret moment of his winding journey to NBA stardom 4
- Monday NBA grades: Blake Griffin shows off his jumper (and yes, he can still dunk) 4
- Suns’ P.J. Tucker ejected after elbow thrown to Blake Griffin’s head (VIDEO) 11
- Report: Phil Jackson’s camp doesn’t believe agreement with Knicks is close 11
- PBT Extra: Can Phil Jackson help right the ship in New York? 13