Are the Middling Houston Rockets Right Back Where They Started?
But now that the club's years-long search for a star appears over, the question becomes whether or not this club is really any better off than when they started?
Their record (9-10) and conference standing (10th) suggests that this is the same Rockets club it has been since the departures of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Their positioning on the nba.com's power rankings (17th) is slightly more favorable, but still indicative of a back-end lottery team.
To put this bluntly, Houston again appears not good enough for a playoff berth, nor bad enough for a decent lottery pick.
The search continues
Credit Rockets GM Daryl Morey for trying to find talent. Sure, he overpaid to acquire it, but the additions of Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik show he's trying to transform this franchise back into the playoff contender fans remember (five playoff appearances between 2003 and 2009).
But the additions of Lin and Asik haven't made nearly the splash as adding Harden. Asik has been the more effective of the two, but he's looked nothing more than another piece to solving this puzzle. Whether or not Lin can even be considered a piece is up for debate as the former New York Knicks star has struggled with his shot (38.1 percent).
Harden has been special for this team (24.7 points per game, fifth in the NBA), but defenses have adjusted to limit his effectiveness. Without a second star to draw defensive attention, Harden's been pressed into forcing the issue or deferring to open teammates.
Answers from within
If there's been a positive for this club outside of Harden, it's been the improved play of second-year forward Chandler Parsons. The former University of Florida star has increased his numbers across the board, including a nearly six-point jump in scoring (9.5 to 15.4 points per game) from his rookie season of 2011-12.
Third-year big man Patrick Pattersons has been an added bonus on the roster. He's increased his scoring (13.7) and rebounding (5.1) for the third consecutive season.
With both players under 25 years old, they've added to Houston's core of young talent to build around.
More work to be done
Even with the performances of Harden, Parsons and Patterson, Morey has his work cut out for him.
He's still searching for a superstar, only this time around he's looking for a complementary piece for Harden. As good as Parsons and Patterson have looked, neither appears capable of shouldering the kind of scoring load that this roster needs.
The 2012-13 Rockets rookie class has a ways to go before affecting this club in a positive manner. Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Scott Machado have all logged hours with the team's NBA Development League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Rookie Royce White would have joined them if not for an ongoing battle with his anxiety disorder that continues to delay his NBA debut.
According to salary figures reported on hoopshype.com, the Rockets have under $40 million committed to their 2013-14 payroll. So they have a chance to be players in the potentially loaded 2013 free-agent market (via hoopsworld.com).
Until that time, though, Houston will continue to battle the limbo that is life as a mediocre NBA franchise.
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