General manager Daryl Morey had to scramble to fill out the roster with plenty of role players—many who have played for the Rockets in the past such as Trevor Ariza, Joey Dorsey, Jeff Adrien and Ish Smith.
These signings are decent additions, but it won't be enough to replace the losses of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik.
Howard proved last season that he can be his dominant self in Houston—especially in the playoffs, when he played outstanding defense and showed off his new and improved post game.
Harden was a first-team All-NBA selection last season. His offensive game is the best of any 2-guard in the league. However, unlike Howard, Harden's regular-season success did not translate to the postseason. He couldn't get anything going on offense, and his defense was unsurprisingly less than impressive.
On the bright side, this just means that Harden has plenty of room for improvement—especially on "D"—and yet was still a first-team All-NBA selection last season. At age 24, the Beard has emerged as a top player in the league, and he is only just beginning to hit his prime.
Though Parsons is gone, the Ariza deal makes a lot of sense. For half the price, Ariza may not have the playmaking ability that Parsons has, but he is a much better lockdown defender. The Rockets' biggest struggle last season was defense—especially around the perimeter—which Ariza will help fix.
He was also a better three-point shooter than Parsons in 2013-14, which fits nicely in Houston's system.
Even though the roster may have been downgraded, this team has always been about the successes of Harden and Howard, and will continue to be this year.
It won't be easy in the wild Western Conference. You still have the dominant Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, who all finished ahead of Houston last season.
Then there are the up-and-coming teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors, who will be dangerous this year as well—not to mention other potential playoff contenders like the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns.
It's a crowded conference, and many teams have improved this offseason. The Rockets aren't one of them. Fortunately, they still have the Harden-Howard duo to lead them into the wild.
Houston excelled on offense last season, averaging the second-most points per game in the league. Howard and Harden have a full year of chemistry under their belt, as does coach Kevin McHale with that tandem.
The offense should still be among the best in the NBA with Morey's efficient system and Harden leading the way.
The three-point shooting is a key component to the offense. The Rockets launched the most threes of any team last season, yet their three-point percentage was fairly average. That needs to change this season.
Where will the Rockets end up this season out West?
Morey has stockpiled some solid snipers that could help the cause, such as Ariza, Troy Daniels, Robert Covington and potentially Francisco Garcia if he comes back.
The defense is the biggest concern entering this season. However, it may not be as dreadful as last year. Ariza is a big boost defensively on the perimeter.
Along with Howard and starting point guard Patrick Beverley, he is a top-tier defender. That's three starters who are quality defenders, which could have a big impact on the team's overall defense.
The schedule isn't out yet, but I think the Rockets' finish to the regular season will be very similar to last year's. They will be able to win at least 50 games once again and could also get home-court advantage in the first round again.
Hopefully, they won't throw it away this time with two home losses to start the playoffs.
Final Prediction: 54-28, 4th in West, 2nd in Southwest Division