For most of the offseason, the Houston Rockets have failed to take off from the launchpad.
You couldn't have imagined the summer going much worse for Houston. Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony both stayed with their current teams while Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks after the Rockets decided not to match the steep price tag.
"It won't affect us at all," said Dwight Howard of Parsons' departure, per Jonathan Landrum Jr. of the Associated Press. "We have myself and James. We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It's on us."
Opposing scouts weren't as upbeat, per Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News.
"I don’t know if picking up [Trevor] Ariza really makes [the Rockets] better," said one Western Conference scout. "They acted like they were going to do a lot of stuff and came out of it kind of empty."
"I was stunned that they didn’t match it," added another. "That’s a heck of an asset to let walk out the door without getting anything in return."
The Rockets are still a very good basketball team without Parsons and a marquee free agent like Bosh or Anthony. What they aren't is a title contender, at least on the back of last year's results coupled with their rough offseason.
Maybe they can prove everybody wrong in the regular season. You can view Houston's full schedule on NBA.com.
According to Vegas Insider, the Rockets are one of the top threats to win the Western Conference. They have the fourth-highest odds in the West, at 10-1, which is behind the San Antonio Spurs (13-5), Oklahoma City Thunder (16-5) and Los Angeles Clippers (5-1).
In terms of winning the NBA title, Houston sits sixth, with 22-1 odds.
Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks
When: Saturday, Nov. 22
This matchup is always a lot of fun to watch, so their first meeting of the season will be full of intrigue. Both teams score in bunches with lesser attention paid to the defensive side of the floor. The Rockets and Mavericks have one of the better rivalries still going in the NBA.
Then you throw that together with Parsons' move to Dallas—a move he wasn't afraid to say he didn't see coming at all—and things get that much more interesting.
In a phone interview with Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, Parsons said:
Honestly, I was offended by the whole process. They publicly said that they were going out looking for a third star when I thought they had one right in front of them. I guess that's just how they viewed me as a player. I don't think I've scratched the surface of where I can be as a player and I think I'm ready for that role.
Watching Parsons return to Houston will be like watching the Rockets' first game in Oklahoma City after James Harden was traded by the Thunder. The fans inside the Toyota Center will likely give the 25-year-old a warm welcome, but that won't stop him from wanting to prove a point to his old team.
If Parsons really wants to show that the Rockets made a mistake, then he has two great chances to illustrate his true worth.
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
When: Monday, Dec. 22
The Rockets will not have forgotten Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater in Game 6 of last season's first round. Nobody has forgotten that moment. That's the kind of thing that will get replayed for years and years as the moment that Lillard took the step from very good point guard to great point guard.
The Toyota Center should be rocking when the Portland Trail Blazers make their first trip to Houston. This is one of those matchups that will have the proverbial playoff atmosphere.
The Blazers and Rockets will also likely be battling for one of the top four spots in the West. You can likely pencil in the top two spots—San Antonio and Oklahoma City—with the third and fourth seeds up for grabs.
The Clippers, Blazers, Rockets, Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors will all be fighting for those last two spots in order to secure home-court advantage through at least the first round.
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder
When: Sunday, Nov. 16
The Rockets vs. Thunder will never stop being a great game to watch. The undercurrent of Harden's move to Houston always lingers, and these two are among the elite in the West. What more could you ask for?
This could also be the time for Trevor Ariza to shine. The veteran is ostensibly Parsons' replacement, and his contributions on the defensive end will in part help make up for the loss of Parsons' offense, as Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote:
Ariza isn’t an off-the-bounce creator on Parsons’s level, but he’s a better 3-point shooter and in a different stratosphere as a defender. He is the wing stopper Houston lacked last season as James Harden stood around doing nothing and Damian Lillard escaped Parsons to nail the most wide-open series-clinching buzzer-beater in the recorded history of videotape and oral storytelling.
Playing OKC can be a way for Houston to prove itself as a genuine title contender—at least as much as a team can prove itself a title contender in the regular season. The Thunder will be among the West's top teams again, so taking them down would be a way for the Rockets to show that they're much better than their critics give them credit for.
The Rockets aren't much better than they were last season, but they aren't much worse, either. Houston finished with a 54-28 record in 2013-14, and it should finish with something similar in 2014-15.
That should be good enough for either the fourth or fifth seed, with the Blazers looking like the Rockets' toughest competition for fourth. The Warriors don't look to be there yet.
It will be interesting to see how much the Rockets improve defensively, with the arrival of Ariza and departure of Jeremy Lin. If Houston can improve that area of its game, then it may even be able to sneak into third.
Final Prediction: 52-30