NBA TEAM PREVIEWS
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Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs
Presenting an NBA preview of the Houston Rockets that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.
What’s Good… James Harden was locked up for a multiple-year extension. In spite of his horrid defense and widely mocked debut shoes with Adidas (at least the initial pictures that were put out), Harden remains a top-10 NBA player. Any lower ranking is a ranking stemming from the mouth of a hater. In addition to securing Harden for the future, Dwight Howard is out of the picture, and his lack of fit/detrimental presence makes this development classify as good. Ryan Anderson, an elite shooter and prototypical stretch big man, was brought into the fold, as was Eric Gordon. Gordon could help lessen the offensive load of Harden in spurts. The Rockets also cut ties with Josh Smith, a decision that stands as good for the same reasons as losing Howard. I’d take Nene Hilario over Smith any day. Overall, Houston cut some dead weight and made decent additions.
What’s Bad… The Rockets still might lack an identity suited for success. I’m not going to call Mike D’Antoni a poor coach, mind you, the Phoenix Suns would’ve won a title under him had the NBA not suspended Amar’e Stoudemire back in the day and so on and so forth BUT I DIGRESS. Stated differently, it’s not that D’Antoni is bad, it’s that his offensive emphasis might not be the ideal style for a squad lacking focus on the other end of the court. Beyond the coaching dynamic, Houston has unproven big men. Anderson isn’t going to be crashing the glass, and players such as Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, and others aren’t exactly proven studs. The bad dynamic of Houston’s season is the element of the unknown – will D’Antoni rediscover his touch, can they receive production from the interior, and will Harden finally put forth effort on both sides of the ball?
The X-Factor… I’m going to roll with Gordon on this one. Would it surprise you to learn that Gordon is only 27-years-old? Even though he seems like a veteran and might in fact be one, he’s both young and hasn’t experienced immense taxing on his body given his injury history. Of course, the flip side of that is the notion that even without the mileage on his frame, Gordon has nevertheless failed to prove he can give teams full seasons. If he can offer the Rockets 60-70 games, he could become the most critical non-bearded player on the team. With a 38.3 percent career number from deep and 81.4 percent total from the line, a healthy Gordon would do wonders for the Rockets.
Bet On… The enigmatic spell still plaguing Houston. Remember when a team with an identical roster went from second in the West to eighth the following year? Yup, that was the Rockets. I still can’t explain that one. Maybe Daryl Morey is in fact nutty, perhaps a team seeking Harden leadership is doomed, or maybe the lack of other stars around the beard has made it so success is fleeting. However you slice it, the Rockets have been difficult to figure out in recent times. Nothing that occurred over the offseason has the power to alter this trend.
The Crystal Ball Reveals… A 44-38 season that lands them seventh in the West. I do believe D’Antoni will aid the Houston offense more than J.B. Bickerstaff was capable of, and I particularly like the Anderson addition. Harden is surrounded by more weapons than last season and the exit of Howard should make for a stronger locker room. I’m just not convinced this squad has enough juice to crack back into the elite territory of the Western Conference. It’s likely that Houston mildly improves without reaching the ultimate goals they seek.