The Rockets will follow through on a lot of the hoopla. They'll win a lot of games, make a postseason push—but not win a title this season—and see perhaps the best superstar duo in the league come together. They'll also have to make a move or two.
Overall, this looks to be a ramping up of a season for the Rockets; a promising prelude to years of title contention.
This prediction is, more than anything, one regarding the health of Dwight Howard’s back.
When he’s been healthy in recent years, was there really any doubt that he deserved this award? He won it three times in a row with the Orlando Magic.
Subsequent takers of this crown, Marc Gasol (2012-13) and Tyson Chandler (2011-12), cannot match Howard’s rim-protecting abilities. When he's at his best, Howard doesn't just stop teams from scoring at the hole—he prevents them from even trying.
As long as his bodily troubles fade—a question which warrants its own slideshow—this honor is Howard’s to lose.
Omer Asik has been the subject of trade rumors since Dwight Howard’s landing in Houston became a possibility.
Now that Howard has arrived, it seems like only a matter of time before serious rumors begin to swirl.
And unless the Howard-Asik pairing works out miraculously, the rumors will probably all be true. Asik is simply too much of an asset to marginalize. It’s much wiser for general manager Daryl Morey to ship him out for a player whose skills better suit the team. He’s only waiting for the best offer.
Atlanta’s roster is essentially a glut of assets itself, and Paul Millsap is one of them.
Millsap’s exceptional play at the 4 would fill the biggest hole in Houston’s lineup. His shooting range extends much further from the basket than either Asik or Howard's, and his and Asik’s contracts match almost exactly. As the Hawks struggle through a transitional season, they'll open the doors to all kinds of talks—and they should be more than happy to get a player as valuable as Asik out of those talks.
The Houston Rockets are one of the most talented teams in the league—this no one doubts.
But having talent and putting together a successful NBA campaign are two very different stories—just ask Dwight Howard about last year’s Lakers.
The Rockets, though, are a better bet for this level of prominence. Not only are they loaded with court-shifting star power, but they’ve also got a bevy of role players who thrived with the team late last season, and a strong corps of young and intriguing talent—Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones.
They’ve also got a coach in Kevin McHale who’s adaptable and willing to try lots of different configurations in order to make his team click most effectively.
Houston has the direction and the depth to roll through the regular season.
Patrick Beverley made a name for himself in last year’s postseason.
He came from close to nowhere, reputation-wise, and gave the Oklahoma City Thunder fits with his alarming tenacity. The first-time starter—replacing an injured Jeremy Lin—looked the part of a savvy veteran, turning in a positively John Starks-like performance.
And his brand of agitation might be preferred among this year’s Sixth Man of The Year voters.
The award has too often gone to pure scorers, and there is a rising media fatigue for players who fill only that role. A player of Beverley’s make, if the Rockets are good enough to give him the national attention needed, could be the man for a change of pace.
Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia share something in common: They’ve both spent most of their careers floundering with mediocre teams.
Now both have the opportunity to fill pivotal roles on a contending team.
Garcia thrived in last year’s playoffs as a perimeter shooter off of Houston's bench, stretching the floor mightily for James Harden and Chandler Parsons as he shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.
And Casspi has looked better than ever in the preseason, getting more open looks than he has in his entire career and making the most of them—he’s shooting 61 percent through four games.
This award is often given to a player who, in fact, just improved his situation and team the most. If either of these guys gets serious consideration for these honors, it will be a testament to how important context is to success in the NBA.
Last year, Houston’s defense was near the bottom of the league.
This year, the Rockets have Dwight Howard, one of the greatest defenders of the modern NBA.
They also have shifted priorities. Last year’s team was all about shaking off the franchise cobwebs and making some noise around the league for the first time in years. Their relentless fast-breaking was a great way to do that.
But now they’re doubling down on their progress and looking to contend for a title. They know as well as anyone that they will have to have a stronger focus on defending to get to that level. Look for them to stop far more opponents this season.
With 55 wins or more, the Houston Rockets will face favorable seeding in the first round of the playoffs.
And with a Western Conference that’s more top-heavy than many realize, they could see an opponent as manageable as the weakened Denver Nuggets, the mixed bag that is the Minnesota Timberwolves or the confusingly constructed Dallas Mavericks.
Such a challenge will be no problem for the Rockets, who will be as serious about winning as any team in the conference come April.
The Houston Rockets are happy with their nucleus and even with the majority of their supporting cast. They have every reason to believe that they're capable of winning a title.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll shy away from discussing a move that could risk it all for even more.
Rajon Rondo isn’t on the trading block at the moment, but most believe the Celtics will put him there as soon as he returns, proves his health, and reinforces his market value.
Of course, in Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, Houston already has two quality point guards.
But is either a game-changer on the level of Rondo? Definitely not. Team management knows this as well as anyone and will at least proceed with conversations. Whether the move could ever happen is a different story—but it's something we'll be talking about.
By midseason, the Houston Rockets will be established title contenders—and they’ll owe most of it to these two guys.
There’s no one who better epitomizes their positions than these two—save for the injured Kobe Bryant, in the case of shooting guard.
It doesn’t hurt that Houston’s audience is huge and that both of these guys are hugely covered throughout the press. They'll get their votes.
Seeing them both start in the annual exhibition will be as good a symbol as any for just how far Houston has progressed in so little time.
With the Rockets’ major uptick in winning, look for credit to spread everywhere.
Not least of all to McHale, who has some balancing duties that—despite his overload of talent—many would not envy.
If McHale can make all of his pieces fit together, it will be considered a great performance of leadership.
Not only are there myriad working parts to coalesce on the basketball level, but McHale’s also got Dwight Howard’s famed ego to keep in check.
Look for the Hall of Famer to dust off his memory of playing with multiple stars in Boston and show these young stars how to fit together in a lasting way.
The Houston Rockets are likely to try many offensive sets before settling on anything consistent—they’ve got too many different talents to know how to best use them, right away.
But what’s clear already is that they’ll be able to surround Dwight Howard with shooters and slashers.
Howard’s ability to draw defenders was the engine beneath a perimeter assault that worked well for multiple years in Orlando.
In Houston? Howard’s got far more dangerous weapons. Look for him to spread the ball to them with ease and have the best distributive season of his career. He's never averaged even 2.0 dishes per game; that will change in 2013-14.
Jeremy Lin, whatever he may be as an overall NBA player, is definitely explosive.
He’s also got a chip on his shoulder, put there by all the doubters who've written off “Linsanity” as a mere flash in the pan.
On at least one occasion this season, Lin will have his way with his critics. The surplus of offensive weapons in Houston will distract some team just enough for Lin to sneak in through the cracks. He will remind us all of who he can be with a big exclamation mark.
Lin has scored 38 points in games the last two seasons. Expect him to go off for even more this time around.
In spite of all of the criticism Dwight Howard endured for his performance with the Lakers last season, he did still manage to lead the NBA in rebounds per game, with 12.4. This is par for Howard, who is at 12.9 rebounds per game over his career.
Whether he’s able to repeat this figure in 2013-14 depends largely on the fate of Omer Asik; if the two both play ample minutes, it’s hard to imagine either player pulling down as many boards as they did last season.
But if Asik is traded—a likely development—Howard will be depended upon for the bulk of the team’s responsibilities on the glass.
And he’ll deliver, and lead the league while averaging at least those 12 per game.
With Kobe Bryant potentially out for most of the year, the race for this year’s scoring championship is much easier than in past seasons.
Harden came in fifth in the NBA in scoring last year, averaging 25.9 points per game.
This year, though, he’ll be a season better. He’ll also have Dwight Howard on the floor, creating space that Harden could only have dreamed of last year. Expect him to get a lot more easy baskets, a higher percentage, and more points overall.
And for someone who shot 44 percent on over 17 shots per game last year, even more scoring will be quite the accomplishment.
The Los Angeles Lakers put Dwight Howard in a very bad situation.
His reputation was made fair game for Kobe Bryant in the media, as well as for coach Mike D’Antoni. This would’ve been bad enough—but the Los Angeles press is already extremely harsh on the Lakers, unless they’re winning titles.
In Houston, it’s clear that extra measures have already been taken to ensure that Howard is more comfortable.
The Rockets, unlike the Lakers, seem to see the benefit in appeasing a player of Howard’s abilities. They’re meeting him halfway; Howard, in turn, will meet them back and have his lightest media season in years.