With James Harden and Jeremy Lin in the backcourt, the Houston Rockets have the beginnings of a winning culture.
How can general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Kevin McHale build around these stars and turn the club into a contender?
In addition to empowering the young rookies and sophomores, the Rockets must make a couple key moves in the spring and summer of 2013 to address their most significant weaknesses.
Who should they bring in to support the guards, and who can they pair with rebounding machine Omer Asik in the paint? What should this squad look like a year or two from now?
Second-year pro Marcus Morris has seen an increased role in 2012-13 and he's taking advantage of it.
He played in just 17 games in 2011-12, but it looks like his offseason training paid off. He's a confident force when attacking the basket, and he also looks comfortable shooting from all angles on the perimeter.
Morris will probably never be a star in the NBA, but he's an ideal type of role player to run with Lin and Harden. If Kevin McHale can find a way to get Morris 20 or more minutes per night over the next few months, it will help the Rockets' depth in their quest for the playoffs and prepare him for the future.
He's already out-performing Patrick Patterson from a productivity-per-minute and efficiency standpoint, so Houston should try to give him opportunities to grow.
It's okay for Chandler Parsons to take 10 or more shots per game. He just needs to take smarter three-pointers or less three-pointers (he's currently tossing 5.3 per game and making 31 percent).
In other words, he shouldn't settle for triples. He has the handle, coordination and physique to effectively attack the rim and put pressure on the defense, but he hasn't done so yet in 2012-13.
He must make a concerted effort over the next couple months to draw more fouls. Parsons is second on the Rockets in minutes per game, yet he's ninth in free-throw attempts, with just 1.2 per contest.
Taking the ball into the teeth of the defense will get him more points per possession and help set up Lin and Harden. A combo forward who attacks provides his guards with better shooting space and angles to work with.
Although Daryl Morey will have loads of money (roughly $20-25 million) to spend heading into the 2013 offseason, he will use up most of it if he tries to secure a top-tier post player.
That means improving the backcourt will depend largely on the draft, if Houston gets a decent draft spot.
If the Rockets draft between the seventh and 17th picks, most of the premiere guards of the class will still be available. That includes Lehigh senior C.J. McCollum, whose combo-guard skills could help the Rockets immediately in 2013-14.
McCollum is more NBA-ready than most rookies, and his ball-handling and scoring skills off the bench will help support Lin and Harden every night. He can spot up, pull up, work the pick-and-roll and penetrate.
Other guard options if McCollum is unavailable: Lorenzo Brown, B.J. Young, Myck Kabongo
There's no way around it. Houston needs to add a productive low-post player.
No one currently on the roster qualifies as a legitimate interior scorer. Until the Rockets acquire a post-up player who can score with his back to the basket and facing up, they will be a relatively one-dimensional team.
There are several players Houston would love to bring aboard, and the option that's most favorable yet realistic is signing Utah Jazz forward/center Al Jefferson in July 2013.
Jefferson would be expensive, but his versatility is worth it. He provides a great shooting touch, a variety of post moves, dependable defense and ample rebounding.
He can play power forward and center, which means he could play with Omer Asik and Donatas Motiejunas, but also with Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones or Chandler Parsons if McHale wants to go with a smaller lineup.
Other realistic post player free agent options: David West, Paul Millsap, Boris Diaw
Houston must resist the temptation to make too many moves.
It's clear that players like Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Royce White aren't quite ready for heavy minutes, but they could be important pieces for playoff runs in 2013-14 and beyond.
Gradually grooming them into their roles will pay dividends in 2014 when players like Carlos Delfino and Patrick Patterson aren't around anymore.
The Rockets won't be a title contender in 2012-13, but a 2013-14 deep playoff run is possible if a scoring post player is added and the young talent chips in.
The summer of 2013 will be an opportunity to solidify the foundation of a championship-caliber Houston franchise, but only a couple key parts are necessary.
Starting PG: Jeremy Lin
Starting SG: James Harden
Starting SF: Chandler Parsons
Starting PF: Al Jefferson
Starting C: Omer Asik
Reserve G: C.J. McCollum
Reserve G: Carlos Delfino
Reserve F: Marcus Morris
Reserve F: Terrence Jones
Reserve F/C: Donatas Motiejunas
Reserve G: Toney Douglas
Reserve F: Royce White