From the signing of the team's "Big Three" of Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and James Harden to the emergence of Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, there's been a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of this roster.
There's also been heartache.
Head coach Kevin McHale and his family are still mourning the loss of their 23-year-old daughter, sister and friend Sasha McHale—something that shouldn't be lost in the hustle and bustle of the team's daily activities.
Still, there's a lot of positives about this team right now. As the holiday season reaches full momentum and you're opening presents on Christmas morning (and well after the fact, too), think about what an NBA team would gear up to ask Santa Claus for during this time of gift giving.
Here's a brief look at what the Rockets' Christmas wish list might look like, if general manager Daryl Morey and McHale sat down with the team and crafted a note to 123 North Pole Drive.
Development of Younger Players
Terrence Jones, Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas have all seen time with the team's NBA Developmental League affiliate this season, and for good reason.
Machado is blocked by Lin and Toney Douglas. Jones, while an intriguing player because of his size and athleticism, is protruded by Morris, Patterson and Parsons. Motiejunas, the team's first-round pick in 2011, has maybe the most upside of the three, but they can afford to let him develop with Asik playing like a true 20-10 guy.
You can't rush development, but if you could, the progress of these young pups would be very high on the list. It was thought that the future was around the corner for the Rockets, but after an impressive start to the season and Harden playing like a Top 10 star, it appears the future is now.
That being said, having a group of youngsters to fall back on in the next two years could help turn this team into a dynasty. None of the core players are in their 30s, and with the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder, it appears Houston has a blueprint to follow.
Look for these guys to go up and down between the big club and the little brother affiliate, but that won't stop management from looking for progress on the developmental front.
Better Team Defense
Houston is 29th out of 30 in points allowed, at a whopping 103 points allowed per game. Lucky for the Rockets, they also lead the league in scoring at 106 points per.
Still, this team will have more success with a team-first idea of defense. They don't have many great individual defenders. Lin and Harden are great offensively and off-the-ball defenders, but you wouldn't want either in a one-on-one situation.
The same goes for the rest of the team.
That being said, McHale and this coaching staff must devise a plan to stop some of the bleeding when it comes to giving up points. The fast-paced, high-octane offense is great, but it hasn't historically brought championships to town.
Team defense does, and to turn the corner this group must work harder to limit penetration and open jump shots.
Play Better Against the West
If the Rockets were in the Eastern Conference, we might be grouping them with the Miami Heat and New York Knicks as the cream of the crop. They are 11-2 against Eastern Conference foes, while just 4-10 in their own backyard against the West.
That has to change.
It's no secret that the East is top-heavy, but to make the playoffs in the West, you have to get by the likes of 6-8 teams that can all challenge for two or three spots.
Whether it be the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs or Thunder, the Rockets must find a way to improve upon that record with the rest of the schedule still out in front. If they can continue to feast on the East, the possibility of a playoff spot is certainly there, but poor play against the West in March and April will cripple their chances.
No one expected the Rockets to be playing this brand of basketball. Now that they are, it's about adjustments and sustaining success. This Christmas, the team couldn't be happier about its prospects moving forward, but it can't forget the current task at hand.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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