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.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:21 AM EDT
Remember Sanders suffered a serious eye injury last season.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Way more Andre Iguodala than you might expect.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Turner’s stock has dropped significantly since being traded from the Sixers to the Pacers in the middle of last season.
NBA’s rookie transition program tries to educate, but some of the information is presented in poor taste
Sep 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
You can see what they’re trying to do, but some of the things presented went a bit too far.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Our first real look at the new uniforms and new court design.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
I’m pretty sure Popovich doesn’t want him taking one of these in a game.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
He’s going to fight for minutes at a crowded wing spot in Charlotte.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Nobody expects much from the Timberwolves or Wiggins this season, outside of a few highlight dunks.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
A team is going to have to pay him at least $2 million a year to make it worth his while.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Neither player made this summer’s final 12-man roster.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Lakers president believes Bryant is ready after he missed all but six games last season due to injury.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Sep 20, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Rubio may not like it, but Minnesota can retain his rights in restricted free agency next summer.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Big man from Mexico preferred to remain in the NBA, but took the payday to return overseas.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch it all the way through.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
With two years left in the NBA, Bryant has an eye on life after basketball.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
A previous report said Gibson was less than thrilled with remaining a reserve.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Blatche can play, but the NBA offers simply weren’t there.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
10-story-high banner will return after a similar one was taken down when James left in 2010.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
Sessions could start at point guard for Sacramento.
- Tony Parker hits a back over-the-head halfcourt shot (VIDEO) 8
- Timberwolves ‘not necessarily in a rush’ to agree to contract extension with Ricky Rubio 15
- Andray Blatche signs deal to play in China next season 11
- Is Klay Thompson the best two-way shooting guard? Stephen Curry would ‘put him up against anybody.’ 18
- UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks 40
- LeBron James unveils latest signature shoe from Nike: The LEBRON 12 12
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Toronto Raptors 10
- Dwyane Wade credits David Stern’s dress code for improving his style 18