The Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Houston Rockets
There have been several headlines concerning the Houston Rockets early on this year, some of them good and others not so much.
Amidst all of the turbulence, Houston has gotten off to a solid start to the season, but has plenty of room for improvement. The team must address its issues before it can focus on becoming a legitimate contender as the season progresses.
Here's a look at some of the top storylines in Houston so far.
Omer Asik Trade Rumors
When the Rockets signed free-agent center Dwight Howard over the summer, Omer Asik immediately expressed his discontent and requested to be traded. Asik performed well in his lone season in Houston as the starter, and does not want to go back to his days on the bench like he did with the Chicago Bulls.
Asik is understandably upset. He had a career year last season with the Rockets, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds a night. However, you can't blame general manager Daryl Morey for going out and getting Dwight Howard, a legitimate superstar.
Coach Kevin McHale experimented with starting both big men together for the team's first several games, but it was an utter disaster. The offense looked stagnant, and the defense relinquished wide open three-pointers in bunches.
It was a good try, but it had to come to an abrupt end.
Once Asik was pulled from the starting lineup, he formally submitted his second trade request. Since he was benched, Asik missed a few games with an illness and has barely played in the games in which he dressed.
GM Morey originally denied Asik's request for the second time in a row, but rumor has it that Houston has been shopping Asik around the league for a very high asking price.
All signs point to Asik's departure in the coming months before the February trade deadline. Asik could be shipped off as soon as this week, but Morey won't pull the trigger until he gets what he wants: an immediate impact player or a protected draft pick in the upcoming 2014 draft with a stacked class of recruits.
Houston is still looking for a power forward to fill out the starting lineup and play alongside Dwight. Terrence Jones has stepped in that role so far and has done a formidable job. You also have to worry about Dwight getting hurt after Asik leaves. Who would play center?
Follow this story closely because the Asik dilemma is bound to be resolved once and for all sooner rather than later.
Although this is not much of a surprise, it's still a storyline from the Rockets' season that has had a huge impact so far. Teams are hacking Dwight Howard nearly every night, and usually, it works.
Dwight is shooting just 52.9 percent from the charity stripe in 136 attempts, by far the league's most. As a result, Houston is shooting a woeful 70 percent from the line as a team, second worst in the NBA.
Howard's struggles from the line have cost the Rockets some close games, including a one-point loss to the LA Lakers and an OT defeat to the Philadelphia Sixers. The Rockets were heavy favorites in each of those games and held late leads, but the Hack-a-Howard strategy allowed the teams to claw their way back into the games.
In a recent home game against the Denver Nuggets, Dwight had his best free-throw shooting performance yet, hitting 17-of-24 of his attempts en route to a wire-to-wire victory for the Rockets. Houston will take 70 percent from Dwight any day of the week.
Instead of taking him out, McHale has been leaving Dwight in the game because he wants him to find a rhythm—like he did in the Denver game. Hopefully Dwight can continue to improve his percentage and prevent teams from intentionally fouling him and prolonging all of Houston's games. The best way to stop the hacking is to make the free throws, but that's easier said than done.
The Rockets have only played a handful of games together with their current roster. There are a few new guys on the squad this year, and the chemistry isn't quite there yet.
It takes time for teams to mesh. Many analysts argue that a team needs time to develop chemistry with each other before they can win it all, and teams with new impact players rarely bring it all together within the first year.
For Houston, the championship window is wide open and will be for years to come. There isn't a big rush to make the finals just yet. The Rockets need to continue playing and practicing with each other, and the chemistry will continue to improve as this season progresses.
Now that McHale has decided on a starting lineup, the Rockets have noticeably performed better all around. If an Asik trade goes through, it would be a minor speed bump in the chemistry development, but again, the Rockets have time.
The Return of Linsanity (Coming off the Bench)
After his 15 minutes of fame in Times Square, Jeremy Lin had faded back into obscurity with the Rockets until now. Lin has emerged on the scene this year as a key role player for Houston after losing his starting job in the playoffs last season.
Lin has been outstanding so far this season and is an early leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Lin is averaging 17.6 points and 5.0 assists per game, including back-to-back 30-point outbursts against Philadelphia and Toronto.
Lin has provided the spark off the bench that has helped the Rockets win ball games. He pushes the pace and facilitates for the second unit.
The most drastic improvement has been his shooting. Lin's field-goal percentage so far is 53.1 percent compared to 44.1 percent last season. His three-point percentage has also increased dramatically, and he's up to 43.8 percent on the season.
Linsanity is back. This time, in a different role. Lin has been the most pleasant surprise of the season thus far as he continues to help the Rockets win.
Up to this point, the Rockets have a solid 8-5 record. They have beaten most of the weaker teams that they are supposed to, but they don't have any impressive wins yet.
The teams the Rockets have beaten have a combined record of just 41-53. They have lost to some weaker teams as well like the Sixers and Lakers. The Rockets have only played two games against an elite team, both of which were humiliating losses against the LA Clippers. They have yet to play other contenders this season like San Antonio, Miami or Oklahoma City.
8-5 isn't terrible, but Houston fans expected better from a team that just signed the best free agent of the year. With two superstars in Harden and Howard, the Rockets think they can win it all, but their record thus far has not proven that they are capable.
As the season progresses, the Rockets will start to win more of these close games and put away the bad teams. They have not beaten a legitimate contender, but it will happen once the chemistry is there.