Are they already contenders, or do the Rockets still need one more big move?
While some might argue for a number of reasons why they're not contenders until that additional big move, it's important that we recognize that in today's NBA climate, the Houston Rockets are already title contenders contrary to what anyone else thinks.
Injuries Level The Playing Field
Last season we witnessed catastrophic injuries to the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and as a result, it completely changed the dynamic of how the Western Conference playoffs unfolded. Memphis didn't have to deal with a hyper-athletic tandem in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. That series turned into a grinder which allowed the Grizzlies to bottle up Durant and punish the Thunder's frontcourt into submission.
Despite being among the favorites to win both the Western Conference and a Larry O'Brien trophy last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't even make it to the Conference Finals. Overnight, an injury can change the entire complexion of a playoffs series; it can morph a title contender into a flawed squad in a hurry.
No disrespect to the Memphis Grizzlies—they're a great squad—but most betting men would likely wager that a Thunder team with Russell Westbrook running the show is a lot more lethal than a unit with Reggie Jackson at the helm.
Who knows, but we know that the aforementioned injuries certainly altered the course of what ended up being one of the most memorable postseasons in years.
Because injuries can level the playing field at any given time, we have to respect Houston as title contenders—anybody in the West is talented enough to make it out of the conference given the right matchup, and all it takes is one bad injury to a key player.
Dwight Howard + Shooters = Title Contention
We've seen this movie before—we all have.
Put Dwight Howard (or any other dominant big man for that matter) on a squad with marksman, and you're pretty much set to go far.
Dwight has been on Orlando Magic teams that were not only pretty good, but they ended up going to the 2009 NBA Finals after beating a Kevin Garnett-less Boston Celtics (remember that whole injuries thing?) in seven games.
While some people have a bad habit of acting like Dwight Howard was the only guy playing ball for Orlando during their prominent years of late (especially their 2008-09 title run), Orlando had some solid role players.
Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu were all key players, and all of them had one thing in common: They could flat-out shoot the basketball.
Lewis and Turkoglu especially were adept at getting scorching hot from behind the arc. The latter of the two could even put the ball on the floor and score. Lewis could do that off of pump fakes at times, but Turkoglu was quite a player that season thanks to in large part to the presence of Dwight Howard.
Here in Houston, we will likely witness a similar dynamic.
Chandler Parsons is a nifty transition guy who can shoot, and James Harden is a multi-tooled scorer who's also capable of running the point in certain situations.
While Parsons and Harden are certainly different players stylistically, they both provide good floor spacing, and they will make Dwight's job a lot easier.
Dwight gets less double teamed less, and they get more open shots if they choose to double. Teams will be forced to pick their poison, and overall it enhances the Rockets offense to a point where it might become unstoppable.
Does A Lack Of Depth Matter?
Ok, while we acknowledged injuries can help certain teams, we also have to concede that this phenomenon is a double-edged sword. But is lack of depth for Houston serious enough to knock them out of title contention?
Short answer: no, absolutely not.
Depth is not the end all, be all—look at the Los Angeles Clippers of last season.
They made all of the sexy moves—be the already great team that bolsters its reserves by bringing in talented role players like Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom, and all of a sudden, people crown you as preseason title contenders.
The Clippers were extremely deep, but they were bounced out of the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Houston has done what they can to improve their bench by adding Aaron Brooks, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams and, reportedly, Marcus Camby (per ESPN), but enhanced depth doesn't mean Houston all of a sudden becomes a title contender.
It doesn't disqualify them either.
Benches aside, positional shallowness should also be added to the list of overblown NBA myths. If Houston lacks depth at the 4 spot, mask your weakness, a la the Miami Heat, and start a true 3 at the 4 if need be.
Try throwing a couple sets of starting Omer Asik with Dwight Howard, or you could run a small lineup where Parsons is at the 4 with Dwight at the 5 spot.
The reality is, the Rockets don't have a link so fragile that it compromises the whole chain. Dwight Howard, James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons are strong enough as a whole that whomever they choose to start at power forward won't bring the collective group down.
Positional shallowness kills a team when the spot they desperately need production from is lacking.
Are the Houston Rockets in the title hunt?
Dwight Howard and company don't really need to depend on Greg Smith, Terrence Jones or any other power forward on the roster to do anything to sustain their productivity. While it would be nice if the power forward spot is productive for Houston, that would be just be an added bonus.
If one opts to look at a team like Miami for inspiration, they were so stacked on the perimeter that those strengths made up for their lack of a frontcourt. Miami had no true centers playing a key role, and if they got away with it, Houston can get away with having a non-impact player starting at power forward.
Every team has it flaws, but the greatest teams have strengths that cover up their blemishes. While the lack of depth should be a primary point of concern, there's no question Houston is capable of winning an NBA championship, given the right circumstances.
What makes Houston so scary in the eyes of a lot of teams is that fact that they have absolutely nothing to lose.
For an underdog team like Houston, they should remember the legendary words of Kevin Garnett, "Anything is possible" (per Youtube).