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.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:00 AM EDT
Bzdelik, who most recently coached Wake Forest, previously served as Nuggets head coach
Jul 22, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Bieber wearing a Nets hat, so you know what that means…
Jul 22, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Donald’s lawyer says ruling might not come for years
Jul 22, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
Devin Harris 2.0?
Jul 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Brooklyn reaches regular-season roster limit of 15 players
Jul 22, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT
Utah reportedly trades John Lucas III, Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy to Cleveland for Carrick Felix, second-round pick and $1 million
Jul 22, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
Sterling will be removed as Clippers owner one way or another because he is toxic to the organization right now.
Jul 22, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
He’s going to get some of Paul Pierce’s minutes.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Adam Silver does the classy thing. Again.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Evan Turner is now a reclamation project — if he wants to get paid he has to become more efficient.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
It means the Timberwolves want to send Kevin Martin out in the Love deal, Cavs trying to make that happen.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Once signed, he can’t be traded for 30 days … to the Timberwolves, for example.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler would reportedly be sent to Minnesota.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
Blake Griffin, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Damian Liillard among players who would face fines if they participated in a planned exhibition in Manila.
High school standout Emmanuel Mudiay skips college for China payday. You’ll see more of this if age limit goes up.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
If the age limit jumps to 20 more players will choose getting paid over college.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
Wizards take a more subtle approach than some of the others we’ve seen.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Rookies Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart make the cut to train with the National Team in Vegas.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:13 AM EDT
Vujacic is known for his time with the Lakers, and hasn’t played meaningful minutes since 2011.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Kings go nuts after winning Summer League championship.
Jul 22, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
Restricted free agent remains unsigned.
- Justin Bieber and Kevin Durant share brunch (photo) 5
- Clippers CEO: If Sterling remains owner then Doc Rivers, players, sponsors all ready to bolt 42
- Report: Cavaliers trying to acquire other players to put in Kevin Love trade 53
- Report: Bulls making push to trade for Kevin Love 70
- Seven standout players from Las Vegas Summer League 10
- Maverick Carter: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade still speak nearly daily 37
- Red hot Ray McCallum leads Sacramento Kings to Summer League title with 77-68 win against Houston 3
- Lakers great Michael Cooper diagnosed with cancer 16