As presently composed, the Houston Rockets are not an NBA championship contender. Fortunately, they've got the kind of youth and available cap space to significantly change their composition this offseason.
Houston took its first step toward title contention when it snared its superstar last year. James Harden came on board via a preseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder and quickly established himself as a legitimate star. He was chiefly responsible for getting the Rockets to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. Cornerstone, the name is Harden.
But Harden can't carry his team alone.
Houston's brass is going to have to make a number of difficult decisions this summer, both in terms of personnel and style of play.
Figuring out which of the young pieces to develop and which ones to toss aside in favor of big-name free agents will be tricky. Determining which free agents to pursue (and how much to pay them) could be even trickier.
This will be a critical offseason for the young Rockets. If the team makes a few of the right moves, there's a chance that Houston could be in the championship mix as soon as next season. But spending money unwisely, or sticking with some of their own players for too long, could prove disastrous.
*All stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.