However, to make it out of the pressure-cooker that is the Western Conference, it will likely take a marquee free-agent signing to create the trio of stars that seems to be in vogue for NBA teams looking to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are the two biggest players out on the market pushing the free-agency discussions.
The Rockets could certainly use a player of their caliber, but the team can't ignore the potential moves that can add the perfect finishing touches to its roster.
Here is the roundup of the latest rumors surrounding the Rockets.
Anthony Tells Rockets He Wants to Win
Anthony would be a huge catch for the Rockets this summer, and the team's star players might have been a big part of the recruiting push, via Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Rockets center Dwight Howard and James Harden had a good rapport with Carmelo & they all spent about 10 minutes talking alone,a source said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 2, 2014
According to Spears, Anthony intimated that winning was his No. 1 priority in the meeting:
While Carmelo Anthony gave off the impression if would not be easy to leave NY, he also said in Rockets meeting his 1st priority is to win.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 2, 2014
This is in line with comments he made back in February, well before the free-agency frenzy began.
"My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level," said Anthony, via a media report from ESPNNewYork.com.
The New York Knicks' greatest appeal to Anthony's desire to win is the presence of team president Phil Jackson. While they did add capable veteran players like Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert via trade, the 2013-14 campaign was marred by frustration over inconsistent play.
Jackson doesn't touch the court, and it's hard to believe a first-year coach like Derek Fisher can be counted upon to forge a championship-caliber team with a roughshod roster—although Jason Kidd did have considerable success with the Brooklyn Nets last year.
The strength of the Western Conference could also be an impediment to Anthony's pursuit of winning basketball. The Rockets won 54 games, and that was still only good enough to tie for the fourth-best record in the conference last year. The East featured just two teams with more than 50 wins and could be conducive to a team looking to make a quick turnaround like the Knicks.
Where Will Jeremy Lin End Up?
The Boston Globe's Jake Fischer reports that the Rockets might have a trade partner for Lin:
Hearing that Rockets & Sixers are in fluid trade talks surrounding Jeremy Lin. HOU waiting to unload Lin's deal if it signs Melo or Lebron.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 2, 2014
The Rockets moving Lin's contract is key to their ability to acquire a big-name free agent like Anthony or LeBron James. The silky point guard is an $8.3 million cap hit in 2014-2015 and is due to be paid $14.9 million. He averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in 28.9 minutes per game last season.
Lin is a very capable point guard, but $8.3 million is a fair chunk of change for a player who started just 33 games and platooned with the tenacious Patrick Beverly for much of the season.
The Philadelphia 76ers have plenty of assets to offer the Rockets that could keep the team's cap room clear. Philadelphia picked up a 2015 second-round pick and a 2017 first-round pick from the Orlando Magic in the 2014 NBA draft, both of which are excellent potential trade pieces.
Fischer did opine the Rockets might be losing more with Lin than just capable point guard play:
For Houston, you'd have to imagine forfeiting Lin's marketability in the Chinese market the Rockets clearly dominate.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 2, 2014
That being said, a foothold in the Chinese market likely can't make up for the glory and notoriety of a big free-agent splash that sets up this team for an NBA championship.
Rockets Interested in Trevor Ariza?
Ariza has generated attention from several teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, Cleveland, Houston and Detroit. But the process of the Wizards keeping him could take longer since the 6-foot-8 swingman could serve as a backup plan for teams that fail to attract either Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, who is sending hints to the rest of the league that he intends to remain in Miami after winning two championships with the Heat.
There is some familiarity here as the well-traveled Ariza—six teams and counting—made a stop in Houston for the 2009-2010 season, averaging 14.9 points and 3.8 assists per game.
Ariza is a capable player, but he wouldn't be the guy to vault the Rockets past the other top teams in the Western Conference. He does offer a bundle of skills for a player coming off a season where he earned $7.7 million. The 29-year-old forward can pass, shoot, and rebound with relative ease and uses his long wingspan to disrupt passing lanes on defense.
He's no Anthony, but Ariza could be a potential replacement for restricted free agent Chandler Parsons if the latter feels other teams are more interested in his services or a franchise offers up more money than the Rockets are willing to pay the young swingman.
Basketball-Reference.com, (all stats per game)
Ariza doesn't offer much of anything new to Rockets, but he is a solid player who fits in well on any team looking to contend for an NBA championship.
All player contract and team salary-cap information courtesy of Spotrac.com.