Now that they have signed Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets can lay claim to having one of the best one-two punches in the NBA with Howard and James Harden. However, we all know how this league is today, and it's that generally, you need three stars to get to a championship. You need a Big Three, and while the Rockets certainly have solid supporting talent around their two All-Stars, they don't have that kind of trio.
Fortunately for Houston, it has the pieces to get that third star. The Rockets are absolutely loaded with skilled young players in the way of Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones (although his off-court issues may deter teams from wanting him in a deal), Greg Smith, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas and even rookie guard Isaiah Canaan.
You would have to think that with all of that youthful talent, Houston would be able to put together some sort of an impressive package to land the final piece of the puzzle. Of course, salaries would have to match, and that is always difficult, especially with high-paid players like Howard and Harden on board. But other teams have done it, so why can't the Rockets?
Looking at Houston right now, it is undoubtedly a 50-win ballclub that has a very strong chance of making the conference finals and an outside shot of playing for a championship.
The problem is, the rest of the Western Conference is pretty darn good. Say what you want about their age, but the San Antonio Spurs aren't going anywhere—not in 2013-14, anyway. The Golden State Warriors have arrived too, and then you have to deal with squads like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Clearly it is going to be difficult for the Rockets to win a title as currently constructed, as the depth of the West can simply eat you alive if you don't have the proper roster to defend yourself. They are going to be a very good team, but do they have enough to make it out of the West at the present point in time?
What Houston can hope for is that Parsons takes the next big step this coming season. The 24-year-old showed dramatic improvement across the board during his second year. See for yourself.
Most importantly, Parsons significantly ameliorated his shooting percentages, particularly beyond the arc and from the free-throw line. The augmentation in both of those areas resulted in much higher true shooting and effective field-goal percentages, two categories in which the Florida product was fantastic in 2012-13.
Could the Rockets expect an even bigger jump out of Parsons in 2013-14? If the forward does indeed continue to improve, it would surely reduce the need for a third star to put alongside of Dwight and Harden, especially if some of Houston's other players get better.
If Parsons doesn't step his game up, however, the Rockets could definitely consider making a move to land that final part. What you have to wonder, though, is what type of trade Houston could strike.
Looking at general manger Daryl Morey's roster, the first thing that you would likely recommend for improvement would be a low-post scorer to take some pressure off of Howard up front. However, we saw how uncomfortable Howard was playing alongside of Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, so maybe that would not be the best solution. Unless Dwight would be more willing to accept another big man who wants the ball in his hands with the Rockets than he was with the Lakers (where he was never really content), it probably wouldn't happen.
Another potential move could be at point guard, but with Lin, Beverley and Aaron Brooks in tow, it's not like Houston is ailing at that position. It doesn't have a star at that spot, but it definitely has a ton of very capable depth, not to mention the fact that Harden can also take on the role of floor general throughout the course of a game.
Would the Rockets dare adding another wing scorer to pair with Harden? It's not like No. 13 isn't used to that. Case in point, he played with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, so unless ego is a factor, it's hard to imagine any reason why Harden wouldn't permit that—and flourish—once again.
Regardless of what exactly Houston does, it has countless options. It already has two stars in Howard and Harden and tons of intriguing young talent around them. The Rockets can always focus on developing their youth, as Dwight (27) and Harden (24 at the end of August) are going to be around for quite a while. If not, then they have plenty of trade chips to work with.
This could—and should—end up being the most exciting time in Houston since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, no matter which route the club decides to take.