The Houston Rockets have hashtagged their 2013-14 season the “New Age”. A fitting description for a team that began their new plan a season ago with the additions of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. This season the Rockets will add the big man they have lauded for, Dwight Howard. The nostalgia of past Rockets’ teams with All-Star big men have the entire city of Houston buzzing. Can the team live up to lofty expectations?
Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been with the organization since 2006, but this will be the first time he has two superstar pieces on the roster. As soon as he announced the signing of D-12, he jokingly commented that he has been moved back to assistant GM while Howard and Harden will be making the majority of the roster moves. A joke maybe, but a very true statement. Morey’s relationship with the legends like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler has given the roster opportunities to learn the game on a different level. When you add a Hall-of-Fame player in Kevin McHale as the coach, you get the right mix of support around a young team. This will be the first season without Gersson Rosas, whom many undersale his value to evaluate role players.
This is the best roster the Rockets have had in a decade or more. Just as impressive as the addition of Dwight Howard is the cast of players that will surround him and come off the bench.
“I will be the spark off the bench and a stretch-out shooter. The group coming off the bench, we gel together pretty good”, says Francisco Garcia.
Garcia along with Patrick Beverly, Omer Asik, and Omri Casspi will play big roles this season. The bench gets deeper when you factor in Ronnie Brewer, Donatas Motiejunas, and veteran Marcus Camby. In three years, they have gone from a team desperate for a spark off the bench to one of the deepest teams in all of the NBA.
On the offensive end, the Rockets are able to score against anyone. They have the perfect inside-out players to run the score up on any team. Dwight Howard, now healthy, is a walking double-double. James Harden led the league in scoring the first quarter of the season last year. All the other pieces are good to great spot-up shooters that will benefit from having the big man drawing double-teams.
One player that will benefit the most on the offensive end with the addition of Howard is second-year small forward Chandler Parsons. He averaged 18.2 points per game in the playoffs last year. Not only will he be able to get easy buckets when Howard passes out of the double-team down low, he has really worked on his shooting during the offseason.
Parsons: “We have been working really hard together. It’s a learning process for us and it’s [going] to take some time. I think everyone is working extremely hard and everyday we get into the gym we get better and better.”
On the defensive end, having the option to play two seven footers with Asik in the lineup gives them an advantage over the majority of Western Conference teams. Howard alone is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2008-09, 2009-2010, 2010-11). Now that he is healthier than he has been in three seasons, he should return back to form. Backup Marcus Camby ranks second among active NBA players for block shots (2,331). Ronnie Brewer, Patrick Beverly, and James Harden are all more than serviceable on the defensive end.
The real question mark for the Rockets this season is if they can get the chemistry together with the addition of Howard in the lineup. Coach McHale has rolled out different lineup options throughout the preseason to find the right mix of players to surround the big man. He told the press recently that he has two starting point guards with Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly. He understands the importance for Howard to get touches under the basket and won’t take any chances on the sloppy point guard play that Lin has exhibited in the past.
Lin on the team’s chemistry: “I think we are making strides. It’s never going to be perfect right away. We are working towards that. We’re just understanding each other’s strengths more.”
James Harden on team’s chemistry coming together: “We have a real close bond already. The game is a lot easier for us [once] we learn everybody’s tendencies on both ends of the floor. The faster we pick that up, the better off we can be.”
If the preseason is any indication of team chemistry, things are going very well. The Rockets have a 6-1 record, winning three games by 10 points or more.
Unlike rosters in the recent past, this Rockets team will have to handle the pressure to win. Adding Howard made them a top five team in the Western Conference and possibly the entire NBA.
Lin on expectations: “We are at a place right now where we feel we can win every night.”
Garcia is little more realistic: “We can’t worry about what the hype is going to be about…we have to know that every team is going to show-up because of the hype. We have to be ready every night to go play hard.”
The most noticeable difference in the locker room has to be the demeanor of Dwight Howard. After seeing him for his Los Angeles Lakers debut in last year’s season opener, his deer-in-headlights look is completely gone. He looks comfortable with not just the organization, but also with his teammates. Harden is the perfect type of superstar to pair with him because he does not mind riding shotgun. Consider the fact he rode in the backseat with the OKC Thunder while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook rode up front. A direct contrast from the alpha male persona of Kobe Bryant. Dwight is the brightest star and he loves it.
In summary, the Rockets have everything needed to contend for a championship this year. Eighty-Two games is plenty of time to get the chemistry together.