30 preseason predictions: Houston Rockets

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets added the most sought-after free agent of the off-season in Dwight Howard. Will they contend?

There hasn't been this much excitement among Rockets fans entering a season since the mid-2000s when Tracy McGrady came to Houston and teamed up with Yao Ming. Bringing in Dwight Howard, one of the most physically gifted big men of all time, to play alongside James Harden, the best shooting guard in the league right now, will do that.

The biggest question is whether a team who is just putting their roster together can win a title. History is not on their side, as we saw most recently when the Heat lost to the Mavericks in 2011. This is the NBA, and talent alone is far from a guarantee of success. Everyone is talented here; execution, chemistry, consistency, and defense are the name of the game at the highest level.

The Houston Rockets

Prediction: The Rockets will grab the 4th seed in the West and be knocked out in the conference semifinals.

Coach Kevin McHale knows plenty about being a big man in the NBA. McHale had one of the most devastating post games ever. He had more junk in his game than a southside San Antonio flea market near closing time. McHale could do it all: He could work from the left and right block with a dizzying array of drop steps, hooks, fade-aways, fakes, up-and-unders, put-backs, finger-rolls, reverses, and dunks. For the uninitiated:

Dwight Howard is in the best possible place to learn the intricacies of post play. The combined post knowledge of McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon together is probably unrivaled anywhere or anytime.

Will McHale and Olajuwon - who inherited the ‘Big with all the post moves’ title from McHale - be able to teach Dwight Howard any new moves, footwork, or mental toughness? This is Howard’s third off-season working with Olajuwon and the previous results were pretty disappointing. The early report this off-season didn’t suggest that anything changed. Olajuwon went on record this off-season saying, "As good as he (Howard) is right now, he’s still very raw." Olajuwon backed off this statement and said that it was insulting to say that about a ten-year vet. He probably realized that Howard is unable to take any kind of perceived negative press and turn it into positive energy.

Howard has been mentally weak during his career and is at an all-time low in terms of public perception. Tim Duncan was delighted when he trolled him during the first round of the playoffs last season:

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via i.minus.com

The Rockets are hoping the Howard-Hardin pairing will fare better than their previous attempt at pairing an elite wing with an All-Star center. Yao and T-Mac just couldn’t manage to avoid the injury bug together, and a handful of hopeful seasons ended in disappointment.

James Harden made a huge splash in the league last year when he posted a 26-6-6 average in 38MPG on 43.8 FG%, 36.8 3FG%, and 85.1 FT% shooting splits. He is a serious MVP candidate.

If Howard can return to his 2010 form, then that pairing will be a very tough challenge for any team on any night this season. My general feeling on Howard is that he spends too much time worrying about what people think of him, and not enough time in the gym trying to get better. The last thing we have heard in the media about him was about his concern that Tobias Harris is wearing his old number in Orlando. I’m not sure what he thinks gives him the rights to the number 12 in Orlando after the way he left, but he does and he let us know about it. That makes me think his head is still not in the right place. The Rockets will look to build on their high-octane offense that scored the second most points per game a season ago, while also trying to play some defense with their two defensive center starting lineup. They're also bringing back some nice pieces from last year.

Chandler Parsons shoots the ball above average (.468 .385 .721 splits) and is a steal at just less than $1 million this year.

Patrick Beverley looks like he won the starting poing guard job over Jeremy Lin as Beverley started the last two games of the preseason, but all McHale has said is that the lineup will be set by the time the official lineups are due before game time.

Beverley was a worldwide journeyman who was signed by the Rockets in early January, but by the time the playoffs rolled around averaged 33 mpg. He is a very good rebounder at his position, but hasn't impressed with his average shooting percentages or his inability to create for his teammates in a consistent manner. With that said, I am of the belief that he has a bunch of potential and is still relatively young (25). He should be able to take a step forward this year as he gets more experience in the league.

Omer Asik stated that he didn't want to come off the bench for Dwight Howard, so McHale is experimenting with starting them both. Asik is a very good defender and an elite rebounder. I don't see how the Rockets will be able to effectively space the floor with two guys who combined to make just 23 baskets outside of the paint over the ENTIRE 2012-2013 season. With Greg Smith and Donatas Montiejunas (who has shown range) as the other two capable bigs on the roster, the Rockets may look to upgrade at the wing by trading Asik at some point this season if the experiment doesn't work. Asik is making 8.3 million this year, so they could take on a sizeable contract if they decide to go that route.

Jeremy Lin has never impressed me much. He is back at the hefty price of $8.3 million, and he looks to maintain his average-at-best positional status.

Houston's still missing that one deadly shooter. They're hoping that Omri Casspi can find his touch again after two disappointing campaigns, or that Francisco Garcia (who hit 2.8 3 pointers a game on 46% shooting in the Rockets six postseason games last year) can stay healthy coming off the bench behind Harden and Parsons. If these two disappoint look for the Rockets to make a deal to bring in a shooting wing this season.

Still, the Rockets tore through their preseason schedule with ease, beating Indiana, Memphis, and San Antonio by double digits on their way to a 6-1 record. Expectations and hope are running high in Houston right now.

There's a lot of talent on this team. If everything comes together for them they probably have enough to contend for the title. That's a big if, as the Rockets are counting on one of the two biggest knuckleheads in the league (Javale McGee is the other, but he is a likeable goofball who will be good for a dozen lighthearted laughs this season -- unlike Howard with all his complaining and preening) to stay mentally focused for six-plus months.

The Rockets' season hinges on Howard. He got to choose where he went in this year's biggest off-season circus. All eyes will be on him and it is time for him to put up or shut up.

Other Rockets predictions:

  • Asik will be traded at some point this season-if Howard finds a groove and they add another playmaker that can shoot, the Rockets will be very tough to beat.
  • Howard will call out his coach during a 4-6 skid and Pimp C will roll over in his grave.
  • Harden will finish 3rd in MVP voting after his best season to date.
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