The Houston Rockets have a whole new feel in 2016-17.
For starters, the Rockets hired Mike D'Antoni to be their head coach, and he'll bring his up-tempo, high-scoring offensive philosophy to Houston. And he knows that this may be the last coaching job he gets if he doesn't succeed.
"As one of the last shots that'll I have going forward, I wanted this chance to be able to get it all right," D'Antoni said, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. "Try to get my vision that I think how basketball should be played and I think we can win that way."
He has the personnel at his disposal to do that in Houston.
Superstar James Harden will lead the way, and he should benefit from the tempo and floor-spacing that D'Antoni will install. The Rockets were busy in free agency, adding Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, who are excellent running mates for Harden, dangerous offensive weapons and excellent schematic fits in D'Antoni's system.
Sam Dekker, the team's first-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, will also return after missing nearly his entire rookie season, and he could be another quality contributor.
The Rockets also brought in Nene Hilario to add depth behind Clint Capela at center. Those two will be tasked with replacing Dwight Howard, who signed with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason. Howard's tenure with the Rockets was uninspiring, and the new-look Rockets seem to be better constructed to fit D'Antoni's vision and complement Harden's strengths.
That's perhaps one reason why Harden was so comfortable signing a four-year, $118 million contract extension.
"You just feel it sometimes," Harden said in July, per Watkins. "You got that feeling where everything feels comfortable. You feel love. You feel like people want you to be here and that feeling right there outweighs everything. The ultimate decision was to stay and make sure we get it done."
But will the Rockets get it done?
Below, we'll break down the team's key matchups and title odds and project its regular-season record for the 2016-17 campaign.
Season Opener: Oct. 26 at Los Angeles Lakers
Championship Odds: 50-1 (per Odds Shark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
First Home Matchup: Jan. 20
The Rockets didn't have a ton of success against the Golden State Warriors last season.
In the regular season, the Warriors swept them, winning all three matchups. Things didn't get much better for the Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs, as the Warriors won the series 4-1.
So the Rockets probably aren't thrilled to see the Warriors after going just 1-7 against them last year, especially after Golden State added Kevin Durant to the mix, leaving the team with a core that also includes Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
But if any team is equipped to hang in a shootout with the Warriors, it might just be this Rockets team.
D'Antoni's up-tempo style and the core of Harden, Gordon, Anderson, Capela, Nene, Dekker, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Michael Beasley will put points on the board. It will be entertaining to see if that core can put up enough points to surpass the superstar-laden Warriors.
The Southwest Division
First Home Matchup: Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 30
There are four tiers in the Western Conference in the 2016-17 season:
- The Warriors
- The other contenders (San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers)
- Potential playoff teams (most of the West)
- The surefire lottery teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings)
Here's how the Rockets fared against their divisional opponents last year and the major moves each team made this offseason:
|Rockets vs. Southwest Division in 2015-16|
|Opponent||Record||Key Additions||Key Losses|
|San Antonio Spurs||1-3||Pau Gasol, draft pick Dejounte Murray||Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw|
|Memphis Grizzlies||2-2||Chandler Parsons, head coach David Fizdale, draft picks Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis||Former head coach Dave Joerger|
|Dallas Mavericks||2-2||Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut||Chandler Parsons, Zaza Pachulia|
|New Orleans Pelicans||3-1||Draft picks Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo||Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon|
The Rockets won't be expected to compete with the Spurs for the top spot in the division, but they'll likely jockey for position with the Grizzlies, Mavericks and Pelicans all season long.
While the addition of Chandler Parsons and the return of Mike Conley make the Grizzlies a safe bet to reach the postseason, the Rockets, Mavs and Pelicans will all be fighting for their postseason lives.
Thus, the matchups between those teams will be crucial. The Mavs' offseason was seemingly a wash, with Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut being negligible upgrades over Parsons and Zaza Pachulia. Dirk Nowitzki is 38, and at some point, he is going to start running out of steam. It may not be this season, but he won't be able to lead the franchise forever.
The Mavs were just a 42-40 team last year. They'll be on the fringes of the postseason once again this year, making their matchups against Houston vital.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, will only go as far as superstar Anthony Davis can take them. A glut of injuries hurt the team in 2015-16, and the loss of Anderson and Gordon to the Rockets this summer will add a layer of intrigue to these contests.
The Pelicans have a nice core, which is led by Davis, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield—who should be an instant contributor and could be in the running for Rookie of the Year. They should improve upon last season's disappointing 30-52 mark as long as they stay healthy.
The Southwest could be the deepest division in the NBA once again, which isn't great news for the Rockets.
The Rockets are going to undergo a transitional period this season. It's inevitable. They have a new coach and a lot of roster turnover, so Harden and company will need time to jell.
But Harden is a legitimate superstar and one of the NBA's most dangerous scorers, and D'Antoni's system should further unveil Harden's playmaking abilities. Anderson is an excellent stretch-4 who fits D'Antoni's system and who should have a great year, while Gordon is a prolific scorer when he can stay healthy.
The Rockets also have excellent depth, which is led by Beverley, Corey Brewer and Beasley, who was excellent for the Rockets down the stretch last year and is a nice fit behind Anderson in D'Antoni's scheme.
Do the Rockets have the star power of the Warriors, Spurs or Clippers? No. Do they have a well-rounded roster like the Grizzlies or Utah Jazz? No.
But will they score a ton of points? Will they be exciting to watch? And will they probably sneak into the postseason as a low seed?
Yes, yes and yes.
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