What We Learned from Week 1 of Houston Rockets Camp

Michael C. Jones@MikeJonesTweetsContributor IIIOctober 7, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  Dwight Howard #12 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets pose during Houston Rockets Media Day on September 29, 2014 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Consecutive exits from the first round of the NBA's Western Conference playoffs over the past two seasons have the Houston Rockets searching for the right path to a deep postseason run. 

In Week 1 of training camp, it was apparent that those early departures were unacceptable. From the front office all the way down to the players, everyone's tone reflected an attitude of focus and chasing an NBA title. 

It's early still, and there's plenty more to glean from this squad as the preseason takes shape. But as expected, the chatter about where the Rockets are headed started up front with their most recent star acquisition. 

Dwight Howard could be in the best shape of his life

Dwight Howard's game is predicated on athleticism. The fact that he could be physically stronger than ever has to be a concern for any opponent and a huge boost for team morale.

That was the sentiment given by Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, who also played with Howard for three seasons with the Orlando Magic, in a recent conversation with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

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"To be honest, he looks more athletic to me now," Ariza told Yahoo Sports. "He's always been big and strong, but he seems stronger to me, looks like he's jumping higher than he did."

If this is true, the Rockets have a legitimate game-changer in the middle.

The perennial All-Star is among the all-time greats on the defensive end when healthy, as evidenced by three consecutive NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors from 2009-2011.

If that weren't enough, on offense he'll continue to work with one of the game's legendary post scorers: 

That's Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the greatest offensive centers the NBA's ever seen. The Dream joined the coaching staff specifically to mentor Dwight prior to the 2013-14 season.

It's unrealistic to expect a sudden transformation, especially considering the two have worked together in the offseason for several years prior, but a reasonable outcome would be refinement.

Howard has a coach with credentials he can trust, and Olajuwon has a student with no physical limitations.

James Harden has taken the first step in fixing his defense

Harden's defense has caused a lot of pain within the organization, and now it appears the healing can begin. That's because the Bearded One addressed the obvious by admitting his effort was "pretty bad" during Houston's media day. 

How bad can it get? Here's one example of many as a case in point: 

The 12-step process to serenity suggests that admittance is the first step toward a path of righteousness. In this case, Harden has an addiction to applying little to no effort when defending.

Now that he's acknowledged his biggest deficiency, the glaring question is whether his actions will reflect his lofty ambitions. If so, the already-prolific scorer would reach a new level of superstardom, and the Rockets would be the beneficiaries. 

Basketball serenity for Harden himself isn't a bad ancillary result, either. 

Daryl Morey isn't afraid of Mark Cuban

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had some poignant words with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports when Mark Cuban's name came up. 

The Dallas Mavericks owner has fanned the flames of a budding Rockets-Mavs rivalry by suggesting that Morey didn't understand team chemistry and relied too much on analytics. 

Morey's response was tremendous: 

But let's be clear: If the money's equal between the Rockets and Mavericks, I think players are picking Houston. Every time. For Dwight, I just don't think it was a hard choice between us and Dallas. If you want to win, you're going to want to join our organization. We have a first-team All-NBA player in his prime [Harden]. They have an enormously talented superstar [Dirk Nowitzki] but he obviously isn't 24 years old.

With Chandler Parsons donning blue and white this season after the Rockets took a gamble in hopes of landing Chris Bosh, don't expect this story to go away.

The Lone Star State rivals have four opportunities to get the better of one another during the 2014-15 regular season. 

Houston's gamble to nab Bosh was a calculated risk

Morey shed some light on the way things unfolded with Parsons. It was a messy parting that could have played out much more simply had the Rockets expressed a vote of confidence in the 6'9" forward by extending his contract. 

In a recent conversation with ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the general manager explained why things unfolded the way they did: 

'Given our understanding of where things were,' Morey said, 'we felt like we were 95 percent-plus to potentially having the best team in the league. There was nothing promised, but I did believe [Bosh] was coming in almost every scenario except the one that happened at the last minute [Miami trumping Houston's offer with a five-year max].'

Parsons is an up-and-comer and Bosh is an established NBA champion. It's not difficult to see why the Rockets took a shot at landing the Heat star. 

Unfortunately, it backfired, and now Houston has to remain in limbo while searching for its third star.

With a host of young players and a possible lottery pick to dangle to suitors, Morey could pull something off early before the February 2015 trade deadline.

As for Cubes and Parsons? All those issues aren't their problems. Life in Big D is  treating them just fine:   

Hi Momma Parsons! “@sadie1532: A great celebration! pic.twitter.com/TfMCRqQ2zv

— kayhomie, (@TheMavsQueen) July 10, 2014

Pay The Guy!!! @mcuban @ChandlerParsons @WojYahooNBA @SpearsNBAYahoo @ESPNSteinLine @GoodmanESPN pic.twitter.com/K0kLUfuPPl

— Dan Morgan (@DmoSwag) July 10, 2014
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