Disappointing playoffs and off-season
After having two consecutive successful off-seasons by signing superstars, James Harden in 2012 and Dwight Howard in 2013, the Rockets were set for a bright future. However things didn’t exactly go as planned as the team exited the 2014 Playoffs in the first round itself after a 4-2 series loss to the Portland Trailblazers.
Following that unexpected early exit, the franchise began recruiting Chris Bosh, once the former Toronto Raptor had opted out of his contract with Miami Heat to become a free agent. Offering him close to $90 million for a four-year max contract, could the NBA team from Houston have its third successful off-season in a row?
No. To sign Bosh with the amount they had estimated, they needed cap space and lots of it. Hence the summer was a witness to couple of trades that saw important bench players on the Rockets being shipped to other teams. Omer Asik was traded to New Orleans Pelicans and Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers.
To make matters worse in the attempt to chase Bosh, they even let go off restricted free agent Chandler Parsons who was a bright young talent to state rivals Dallas Mavericks. After being rejected by Bosh who resigned with the Heat, the team had to eventually settle for Trevor Ariza. Although the franchise ownership and management might start positive, losing more than a couple of in form contributors in exchange for nothing is not the way you want to remember you summer.
Projected position on standings at end of the season: 6th/ 7th in best case scenario.
Projected Strating Line-up
Point Guard- Patrick Beverly
Shooting Guard- James Harden
Small Forward- Trevor Ariza
Power Forward- Terrence Jones
Center- Dwight Howard
Having given up on so many good in form role players in exchange for not so much, the realization of the Rockets’ championship hopes are a long term work in progress. These are the factors that hold the key to the team having the best season possible this year
Dwight Howard’s performance
Last season with the Rockets, Howard had a better team than he had in Orlando with the Magic and a younger team than the Lakers in Los Angeles. It was the perfect situation he was looking for and he got it yet he couldn’t lead his team past the first round, personally its his fourth year running that he hasn’t seen the lights of the second round of the Playoffs.
His inconsistent and unacceptable performance with the Lakers could be pardoned given that he was recovering from a back surgery that he went through the prior summer. On the other hand under no circumstances can his lack of leading the Rockets by example be let off. His current Head Coach Kevin McHale and Rockets legend/advisor Hakeem Olajuwon are among the best big men ever to play in the post yet Howard has no go to move in the post to dominate with.
Nobody his doubting his drive to win a championship however he is lacking the aggression to show it on the court. With a slim bench, the responsibility on Howard to deliver is that much more if he intends to celebrate a NBA title on the streets of Houston in the near future.
The way things have gone for the franchise in the off-season certainly means that a championship team is being built with youngsters around a superstar duo. The failed to sign Bosh which means all that cap space they cleared by trading Lin and Asik is still available to them. If this cap room is used well, given the talent in the roster there is no doubt in a couple of years they should be legitimate title contenders.
Focussing back to the upcoming season, the Rockets will have a tough time dealing with Lin and Asik’s absence coming off the bench. A struggling bench is definitely their biggest and most probably only weakness. The lack of production from the reserves would put unwanted pressure on the starters, who are already finding it hard to get things going.
Howard and Harden’s leadership as a superstar duo
Harden, 25 and Howard, 30 are the leaders of this group that the Rockets have assembled. Individually or as a two punch combo, they are the guys who need to come through when their team needs them the most.The do have co-ordination and they are both on the same page unlike Howard and Kobe Bryant a couple of seasons ago for the Lakers.
They All-Star duo are arguably the best at their own positions and also among the best as a two man combo. Even if it means putting up big numbers and hogging the ball to some extent, they must shoulder most of the load this season and groom the current group of youngsters.
They have to lead by example and not by their name or their stature. Howard his known for his defense and should call upon the youngsters do the same, in the same manner Harden who is a killer on offense must teach, preach and lead the young crop in the Houston locker room. If they put the minds to it and focus together on the task at hand they have the ingredients of becoming the next Kobe and Shaq type of combo.