Why Houston Rockets Won't Exceed Expectations in 2013-14
The Houston Rockets' vaunted trio will need at least a year of playing together before the team can reach the expectations many are hoping for. Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons are a solid core to build around, but championships aren't won simply by big names on paper.
Last year's Los Angeles Lakers, whom Howard was a member of, were a prime example of what happens when teams get ahead of themselves after comprising an All-Star roster. With one of the most impressive starting rotations ever assembled, the Lakers were expected to be instant title contenders.
In reality, the Lake Show struggled to find an identity and stumbled to a 45-37 record. They were eventually nabbed the seventh seed and were swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
This year's Rockets team will be much improved from last year's bunch (which also went 45-37 and lost in the first round, although in more dramatic fashion). The addition of Howard, the league's best center, gives Houston an offensive force in the paint as well as another imposing rim protector to go along with Omer Asik (1.1 blocks per game in 2012-13).
The Howard acquisition also raised the team's expectations. ESPN's Summer Forecast projects the Rockets to go 53-29 this season. Houston also received 45 votes from the Worldwide Leader's panel to finish as Western Conference champions, which was fourth-most on the list of contenders.
Fifty wins seems reasonable for a team with this much talent (though you could have said the same thing about last year's Lakers, too). A trip to the finals isn't out of the question, but there are concerns that need to be addressed first.
For starters, the Big Three have to mesh together. The NBA isn't fantasy basketball. You can't throw a bunch of stars together and expect them to dominate. Even the Miami Heat needed a year of developing chemistry before they became champions.
Head coach Kevin McHale is going to have to figure out a way to make everyone happy. Harden is an electrifying scorer that tends to dominate the basketball. Howard is going to want a significant amount of touches as well. It is going to take some time for the two to get on the same page.
A similar example would be the early days of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. The duo needed a few years of working together before they became a championship tandem. An inside-outside combination like Kobe/Shaq or Howard/Harden needs time to materialize.
It seems a bit hasty to think the Houston pair will get it right in the first year. You also have to factor Parsons into the equation. Last year, the Florida product averaged 12 field-goal attempts a game. Harden attempted 17 shots per game. With another mouth to feed on offense, who is going to sacrifice touches?
The same for pairing Howard and Asik together. Asik wasn't thrilled with the idea of Howard coming to town and immediately asked for a trade (per ESPN's Brian Windhorst). It will be interesting to see how two big men that are most effective playing around the basket will co-exist.
The next obstacle may be a bit overblown, but it is worth noting. Howard's temperament is going to be an issue until it isn't anymore. His final two years in Orlando were a fiasco, and his lone season in Hollywood had some bumps as well.
Parsons and Harden were both influential in luring Howard to Houston, so the chances of things getting dramatic are minimal. The problem could lie with the outspoken McHale. Howard has had issues in the past with coaches, from Stan Van Gundy to Mike D'Antoni.
If the Rockets get off to a slow start or problems arise with the scheme, will Howard waltz into general manager Daryl Morey's office and call for McHale's termination? You'd like to think those kind of politics are old hat for Howard, but who can say with any real certainty?
The biggest roadblock that stands in the Rockets' path to greatness is the overwhelming depth in the conference. The West is stacked this year. A case can be made for either the Thunder, Clippers or Spurs making it to the finals.
Behind them, there are dark-horse contenders like Golden State, Denver and Memphis. Even the Lakers can't be completely counted out, if they can get a few things to break their way. Most of these teams have a core of stars that have been playing together for years.
It will be tough for a Rockets team with a huge, new wrinkle to get very far in a postseason filled with established teams. Look at how hard it has been for Chris Paul to make a deep run in the playoffs since joining the Clippers two years ago. He hasn't even made it past the second round yet.
Houston is going to be a formidable contender for years to come. They have an impressive young core that will continue to grow together. Howard is 27 years old, Parsons is 25 and Harden is 24. Even role players such as Asik and Jeremy Lin are under 30.
They have a solid bench with guys like Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones (assuming he doesn't start) and Donatas Motiejunas. They also have a head coach with a championship pedigree from his playing days with the Boston Celtics.
That being said, the stars aren't aligned just yet. ESPN's prediction of 53 wins seems right on the money. In the playoffs, Houston will probably enter as the third or fourth seed.
Any chance of topping that will require a number of things to fall into place. Harden, Howard and Parsons will need time to adjust to each other, and the West is still too top-heavy for Houston to make a run this season.
The Rockets' time will come eventually but, as we've seen in the past, it will take more than putting a few flashy names together for this team to live up to the hype.
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