5 Reasons Why the Houston Rockets Are Legitimate Contenders

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent IJuly 14, 2013

5 Reasons Why the Houston Rockets Are Legitimate Contenders

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    The Houston Rockets exceeded expectations last season, but only made it to the first round of the playoffs before being sent home by the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, after the acquisition of free-agent center Dwight Howard, as reported by Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets have bigger things in mind.

    With two stars in place, an unmatched offensive attack of young guns and a highly-regarded front office, the Rockets are primed to make significant strides. Houston is now a legitimate contender, and it may have what it takes to go all the way. Here are five reasons why the Rockets could win a championship in the next few years.

5. Youth Movement

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    Unlike most contenders in the NBA, the Rockets are relatively young. At the start of last season, the Rockets were the youngest team in the NBA. The roster has changed since then, but the same young core is still intact.

    Francisco Garcia is the only guy on the roster over 30 years old. After him, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik are the next oldest at 27 years old. Other than those three guys, not a single player on the roster is over 25 years old.

    Many contenders have older teams with windows that are closing. The Rockets' championship window is wide open, and should be for years to come.

4. Top-Tier Management

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    The Rockets would not be in the position they are now if it weren't for a great front office. Les Alexander is a terrific owner who understands both the game of basketball as well as the business that goes along with it. But the majority of the credit belongs to general manger Daryl Morey.

    Morey has taken a mediocre team without a star and turned it into a championship contender in just two seasons. Here's a great piece from Clutchfans.net that describes how Morey brilliantly transformed the roster after Yao Ming's retirement.

    Morey made all the right moves to bring the Rockets into contention. He saved a ton of cap space while compiling assets for a potential trade, which eventually brought in James Harden to be the franchise player. He also cleverly used "poison pill" contracts to steal restricted free agents, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

    Morey, also known as Dork Elvis, is all about analytics. He hired Coach Kevin McHale to bring the analytics from behind the scenes to the court. The Rockets' system is all about efficiency and taking smarter shots. From top to bottom, the Rockets organization focuses on making smart decisions.

    The organization and execution by McHale, Morey and Alexander has been vital to the franchise. The management has gotten the Rockets to where they are now, and should continue to carry the team into the bright future ahead as the Rockets take the next step.

3. Constant Rim Protection

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    These two guys above, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, will play a pivotal part in the Rockets' system. The Rockets are an offensive-minded team, and they need all the help they can get on the defensive end.

    As a team last season, Houston was in the bottom half of many defensive statistics. The only reason they were not even worse was because of Asik's elite defense in the paint. The Rockets were below average on defense, but when Asik was on the bench, they were even worse.

    With the addition of Howard, Asik can now come off the bench, which means the Rockets should have an elite rim protector on the floor at all times. This will help the Rockets dramatically on defense and prevent them from giving up an abundance of points in the paint.

    As reported by Hoopsworld.com, Asik requested a trade but the Rockets denied him his desire. The Rockets know that Asik is very valuable and desperately want to keep him on the team to help improve their interior defense.

    If Asik can get used to the idea of being Howard's backup, the Rockets will have a big guy defending the rim and grabbing rebounds for all 48 minutes, and that makes them difficult to beat.

2. Offensive Firepower

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    It's no secret that the Rockets like to run up the scoreboard. Last season, the Rockets finished second in points per game. They were first in the league in the three-pointers attempted and made, which is evident in the video above against Golden State.

    The Rockets are a high-octane team offensively, and they are also very efficient with the basketball. They take the least amount of mid-range jump shots in the NBA, focusing only on shots around the rim or behind the arc.

    Jeremy Lin and James Harden were the catalysts of the offense, typically running the pick-and-roll. With Howard in the mix, the Rockets should be able to run the pick-and-roll even better than last year because Howard is slightly better at it than Asik. Also, after another year in the league, Harden and Lin should turn the ball over less, which would only help the offensive efficiency improve.

    The Rockets should be able to put up over 100 points a night next season, and it will be tough for opposing teams to outscore them.

1. Multiple Superstars

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    For the first time since Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, the Rockets once again have a dynamic duo of superstars. James Harden established himself as one of the best scorers in the league and perhaps the best two-guard in the game last season. Dwight Howard has been an elite center for years, and he still is improving his game.

    In NBA history, the team that hoists the Larry O'Brien at the end of the year usually has multiple superstars. The past two years, it was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. In the previous decade, Kobe Bryant won five rings with the help of Shaq and Pau Gasol on the Lakers. The Spurs sparked a dynasty with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

    Multiple superstars has been a recurring theme in the NBA. Houston finally has its two studs to boast about. Rockets fans flooded the streets at the Toyota Center on Saturday to welcome their newest star, Howard. The fans know that the time has come for the Rockets to contend again.

    Harden's offense and Howard's defense surrounded by a handful of talented role players looks pretty good on paper. The Rockets coaching staff now has to figure out a system to utilize everyone's talents. This is no easy task, and it will take time for the Rockets to develop chemistry.

    The Rockets may not win a championship right away, but they are not in a huge rush. The championship window is wide open, and the pieces are finally in place for the Rockets to make a push for those coveted championship rings.