However, while the Rockets squad will be structured around Howard, he alone won't dictate the team's success. James Harden, an All-Star in 2013, will have his fair share of contributions, as will the team's former leading big man, Omer Asik. The list of eye-catching names that compose the star-studded roster is long, but the contributions of a lesser-known talent will also play a primary role in determining the team's 2013-14 fate.
Donatas Motiejunas enjoyed a quiet 2012-13 campaign, though he can expect more noise in the upcoming one. At 22 years of age, Motiejunas is still in the learning stages, and Rockets fans shouldn't expect his peak for a few years.
However, while he is still underdeveloped, the second-year power forward will find himself with significant playing time and a sizable role as the Rockets prepare for a title run.
Howard—the team's newest star—will set the tone for the rest of the team. Harden is slowly ascending into the upper echelon of NBA stars, but he too will find his role supplementing that of the new arrival. But Howard, unlike other alpha dogs throughout the league, cannot jump into any situation and improve it. As showcased by his laughable 2012-13 season in Tinseltown, Howard must be surrounded with the proper pieces in order to thrive.
Enter Donatas Motiejunas.
Going into the season, Motiejunas won't start, but he'll headline a long list of talented reserves in the Houston frontcourt.
By the end of the season, however, the 7-footer may find himself alongside Howard in the starting lineup.
Motiejunas, despite his size, is a talented shooter whose range extends beyond the three-point line. He can also score in the post, but his ability to score while facing the basket makes him a threat as well as an ideal partner for Howard.
As a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard struggled to find success in a system that didn't revolve around him. From the start, it was evident that he couldn't succeed to the fullest while playing alongside teammate Pau Gasol. The two couldn't coexist because—to put it simply—neither role complemented the other.
While Gasol wasn't inept from mid-range, his vast array of post moves ensured greater success while on the block. Unfortunately for Howard, that was also the position in which he excelled. Throw in the ever-talented Kobe Bryant, and Howard was stuck in a situation that was anything but ideal.
In Houston, however, he'll find himself in an offense comprised of shooters that will spread the floor for him. Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons are all capable of thriving in the aforementioned set, meaning all is perfect and the stage is set for Howard to hog the spotlight.
Well, everything is perfect aside from one small problem. Actually, it happens to be quite big.
Seven feet, to be exact.
Omer Asik is talented, but alongside Howard he'll struggle; Howard will too. The same issue that presented itself in L.A. will arise, as neither Howard nor Asik can complement the other. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal explained the issue in detail, though it truly can be summarized in one word—redundancy.
Neither player has a jump shot in his repertoire, and both prefer to play in the paint. Asik and Howard have the same collection of skills, and while one may be more talented than the other, it would be foolish to predict that the duo can coexist.
Until Asik is traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Ryan Anderson—a move that makes too much sense to not occur in the near future—the team will be forced to find a different complement for Howard. The deal, initially reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, has since died down, meaning the Rockets will turn to the already-present big man who can play—and blossom—beside Howard.
New Orleans has shown strong interest in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik, w/ an offer likely centered on Ryan Anderson, sources tell Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 6, 2013
Motiejunas, like Anderson, can spread the floor effectively, as both possess the unique ability to shoot as big men. Like Anderson's role with the Orlando Magic—with whom Howard performed best alongside a roster of shooters programmed to give him space down low—Motiejunas can contribute as a big man when size is needed, while also giving Howard proper room to manifest his talents, remaining a threat all the while.
He isn't the most skilled player, and he definitely has to make strides before he can be considered a star.
But on a team comprised of a plethora of stars, Motiejunas will serve as a complement to the team's biggest one, and he'll shine as a result.
But most importantly, with an offense that remains dangerous while also giving Howard freedom to operate, Houston will flourish in a way that could only occur with the help of 22-year-old Donatas Motiejunas.