Oct 22, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
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.
Dec 13, 2013, 4:58 PM EST
When last we left off with “Days of our Kyle Lowry,” the Raptors were shopping their favorite point guard around hard and had talked with New York. Then Knicks owner James Dolan pulled the plug on it because… well, he’s James Dolan. Now the Nets may be the frontrunners but the Knicks want back in…
Dec 13, 2013, 4:10 PM EST
Evan Turner leads the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring this season — he’s still not a great shooter but he has a couple spots he can get to on the floor (along the baselines in the midrange) where he is solid, plus he is finishing better inside. He’s really a solid rotation player on most teams,…
Dec 13, 2013, 3:42 PM EST
One of the best parts of NBA League Pass is getting to see the quirky local commercial in cities around the nation. From Pizza Guy in Sacramento to Native American casinos all over this land, there are some amusing advertisements. Like this one from Portland featuring LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Brilliant. Hat tip to…
Dec 13, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
For the Toronto Raptors, Rudy Gay never got out of the hotel while Aaron Gray was doing a pregame workout when they found out they had been traded to Sacramento. But nothing was as good as Patrick Patterson’s story that he had been sent back the other way. Patterson was taking his mom to see…
Dec 13, 2013, 2:52 PM EST
Once again you, dear readers, were the programmers for this edition of the PBT Podcast — myself and Eyton Shander of NBC Sports Radio took your twitter questions and tried to answer them. What you care about this week are trades and the draft. With that we talk about how the Lakers aren’t looking to make…
Dec 13, 2013, 2:28 PM EST
Yes, but what would Jim Boeheim have said if he was successful at recruiting Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? There’s plenty of talk about teams tanking this season for the chance to draft Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and the other elite players expected in the upcoming draft. You need franchise changing players to…
Dec 13, 2013, 1:23 PM EST
Gilbert Arenas last stepped on an NBA court on May 13, 2012, as a lightly used backup guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. After the last couple years of his career and at age 32, let’s just say it’s a long shot we get to The Hibachi back in an NBA uniform. But he’s hoping for…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:53 PM EST
The Lakers and Los Angeles Kings share a practice facility in El Segundo — basically near LAX — and a security guard at that facility has been arrested for allegedly stealing two NBA championship rings plus $20,000 in gift cards. The Daily Breeze newspaper, which covers this part of L.A., has the details. Eddie J.…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:25 PM EST
Pau Gasol just does not fit in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. And it shows. In years past I’ve defended Gasol because one segment of Lakers fans were unnecessarily harsh on him because he didn’t play like Shaq — but how Gasol played was perfect for the triangle. The Lakers won back-to-back rings because of him, not…
Dec 13, 2013, 11:20 AM EST
Zach Randolph can, and likely will, become a free agent next summer. He is owed $16.9 million but at age 32 he may want the security of a longer deal even if he takes a little less per year to get it. Which means if you’re Memphis you may not be able to keep the…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:37 AM EST
There’s a small window at the start of next week where we could see a little flurry of trades. On Dec. 15 everyone who signed a contract this summer becomes eligible to be traded. Anyone traded before Dec. 19 can be traded again at the trading deadline (after that you are stuck with the player…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:12 AM EST
NEW YORK – A few leftover items from Thursday night’s big win for the Nets, the team’s third straight. When Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant coach Lawrence Frank a little more than a week ago, it was viewed in one of two ways. Either it was a desperate attempt to shift the blame for…
Dec 13, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
There is a whole lot of spin going on around the idea of a trade of Kyle Lowry from the Raptors to the Knicks, but a couple of themes seem to be consistent: 1) The Raptors want a lot to give up Lowry. By a lot we mean Raymond Felton plus some combination of Iman…
Dec 13, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
By Brett Pollakoff NEW YORK – It was only a week ago that the Nets were a sinking ship on the verge of capsizing completely, following consecutive losses at home where the team didn’t even seem capable of competing much less staying close enough to win for anywhere near the requisite 48 minutes. Jason Kidd may…
Dec 13, 2013, 2:50 AM EST
Our quick look around the association on a busy Thursday night, or what you missed while worrying about what could happen to Santa’s home due to global warming… LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. I’ve been saying he is the best power forward in the game all season (yes, better than Kevin Love) and he showed…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:12 AM EST
There was a time when “Deron Williams or Chris Paul?” was a legitimate question worth debating. Not for the past few years however — D-Will has hobbled around with injuries while CP3 has assumed the title of best point guard in the game (with reason). But for a night, the debate could be on again.…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:46 PM EST
NEW YORK – Things were going almost perfectly for the Nets by the time the team suffered its latest injury blow, a sprained ankle to Brook Lopez that prematurely ended his night. Lopez returned to the game briefly after coming out to get the ankle looked at with four minutes or so remaining in the…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
NEW YORK – Deron Williams began the night by falling to the floor after being victimized by a crossover from Chris Paul. The fact that he stepped on the foot of teammate Brook Lopez was what ultimately caused him to crumble, but Paul’s action at least sent Williams sliding in that direction. In the second…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:30 PM EST
After trying to play through it for a month and it not really working, Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal is going to have surgery to repair the torn ligaments on the outside of his right wrist, the team announced Thursday. 1 of 2) @jermaineoneal will undergo arthroscopic surgery tomorrow to address a torn ligament in his…
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