The Houston Rockets had one of the more intriguing offseasons last year, signing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to bloated contracts and managing to snatch budding superstar James Harden in exchange for an aging Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb, who they had drafted just a couple of months prior to that trade.
Dwight Howard, who has been courted by Rockets forward Chandler Parsons throughout the course of the summer (per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle), would definitely be a great addition to turn this club from a fringe playoff contender to a championship contender.
However, without Howard or any other additions this offseason, how far could a team built around James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons take them?
Void at the Power Forward Spot
The four players mentioned above only cover four positions on the court, and the Rockets are still unsure of their long-term answer at power forward.
Naturally, it shouldn't be possible to predict the ceiling of a team when one of the positions on the court isn't covered yet. Even before the season started, the Rockets had a logjam at the four, experimenting with a rotation of young players like Greg Smith, Terrence Jones, Patrick Patterson and Donatas Motiejunas. After a midseason trade with the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets brought in rookie Thomas Robinson.
Recently, it looks like Robinson is the odd man out once again, as it has been reported that the Rockets are currently engaging in trade talks with the young power forward (per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle).
However, the Rockets still don't have a solid answer at that position. They have a bunch of young, talented prospects with loads of potential, but the starting spot is still up for grabs. Even in this past season, Carlos Delfino saw more minutes at the four than most of the natural fours on the Rockets' roster.
Competitive Western Conference
The Rockets surprisingly took the Oklahoma City Thunder to six games in the first round of the playoffs, but that was largely because Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury. After two commanding victories in Game 1 and 2, the Thunder just went 2-2 the rest of the way and their team's constant reliance on Kevin Durant was a major weakness that was exploited by the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round.
However, the top four or five teams in the Western Conference are legitimate contenders every season. The Rockets are on the outside and they would be lucky to get past the first round with their current core of players.
On paper, superstar shooting guard James Harden, defensive stalwart Omer Asik and versatile, improving swing-man Chandler Parsons look pretty good. But how do they compare to the rest of the teams in the west?
Obviously, all of those players are young and improvement is natural, but there's always a ceiling on how good a certain group of players could become. With the same group of players, it's unlikely that the Rockets could ever get past a healthy Thunder squad or the San Antonio Spurs. It will definitely take a few more key pieces to help this team take the next step forward, but with the competition in the Western Conference, the Rockets will need a few years before they can do anything.