Disappointing summer puts pressure on McHale and Rockets this season…
The Houston Rockets lost some key pieces this summer and the pressure is on after the franchise were unable to land their free-agent targets, can they still harbour realistic ambitions of winning a championship?
The Rockets ended the regular season with a 54-28 record which was enough to secure fourth spot in the Western Conference. While their home form was exceptional with a 33-8 run, they fared much worse on the road at 21-20. However, ultimately they achieved their goal of making the post-season.
Nevertheless, their year didn’t go much further as they were defeated by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, with Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beating three in Game 6 producing one of, if not the best, highlights of the season.
It was a disappointing end for Houston who had perhaps had ambitions of at least going further in the West, and so overall they arguably fell short of their objective.
Are Harden and Howard enough to take this team all the way?
It’s no secret that the Rockets went after both Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh in free agency, but with both players opting to remain with their respective teams, Houston were left short-handed.
Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik have moved on, and although Trevor Ariza is a solid pick up, it isn’t enough to add quality depth to the roster that now only has two reliable and consistent scoring options.
James Harden is arguably the best shooting guard in the league and is capable of creating offense all on his own. Despite his critics, Dwight Howard is still one of the best centers in the league. However, is that really enough for Kevin McHale?
Harden’s non-existent defense will also cause a problem, and so the Rockets have certainly dropped off from last season. Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones are all good players, but ultimately, that isn’t going to be enough for Houston to be successful in a competitive Western Conference.
McHale publicly revealed his frustration and disappointment with the inability to bring in the high-profile targets that he would have liked this summer. As a result, there could already be unrest within the ranks, particularly with Harden dismissing the roster aside from Howard as a supporting act.
Parsons continued his war of words with his former team-mates well into the summer, and he could well be the one smiling at the end of it as he looks ahead to a new future with the Dallas Mavericks.
The constant changing of the roster will also not help the coaching staff or players in terms of stability and familiarity, and it may well take some time before they are comfortable with those around them. There are 16 players on the roster, but aside from the likes of Jason Terry and Francisco Garcia, you really have no idea what you’re going to get with the rest over the course of the year.
Harden and Howard are enough to ensure that the Rockets will make the playoffs, particularly if Ariza continues his recent form with the Washington Wizards. That trio will be key and Beverley and Jones perhaps make up a relatively strong unit.
However, an injury to either of the big two and Houston tumble out of the top eight in my opinion. Provided that they stay healthy, expect the Rockets to drop down a few spots from 4th last year, and I think they will be amongst that mini group of teams fighting for 6-8.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers look well equipped to take the top three again, while Dallas, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies all look in good shape. As a result, Houston will be a low seeding provided a few things go in their favour.
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Terrence Jones
C: Dwight Howard
Sixth Man: Francisco Garcia