Who's New?: G Ty Lawson (trade), F Sam Dekker (draft), G Marcus Thornton (free agent), F Montrezl Harrell (draft)
Who's Gone?: F Josh Smith (free agent), F Kostas Papanikolau (trade), G Pablo Prigioni (trade), F Joey Dorsey (trade), G Nick Johnson (trade)
Off-season Grade: B. It's dependent on how Lawson meshes with the team, but it was a no-brainer considering how little they gave up for him. I love the Dekker pick at 18, I think that's a steal. (But I'm never right on these things.)
2015-16 Season Slogan: "Straddling the line between revolutionary and completely loathsome since 2012."
What Else Is New?: Couldn't find much, except James Harden is dating a Kardashian sister (umm) and signed a $200 million Adidas endorsement deal, only to wear Nikes in public until almost the final day he was contractually obligated to stop. He's a bit of a loon.
Swag indeed, James. Swag indeed.
Also, Dwight Howard told a radio station that he played on a torn MCL and meniscus last season during the Western Conference Finals. You can take that one of two ways. Yeah, maybe Howard is tougher than we give him credit for, but there's also the issue that the dude just keeps getting hurt. A third possibility: Maybe he was just talking to make himself sound tough after the fact. Neither injury was severe enough to require off-season surgery, for what it's worth.
Your Likely Starters:
C Dwight Howard
F Terrence Jones
F Trevor Ariza
G James Harden
G Ty Lawson
Harden said in that ESPN story that he's looking forward to playing off the ball but while I agree that it'll help his percentages to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy, I don't see how he'll get to the line nearly as much if he's not doing the iso thing and suckering people to swipe at the ball. Harden keeps insisting he should've won the MVP last season, which is a move that's dangerously close to not giving his teammates enough credit. Lest you forget, in Game 6 at the Clippers last year he shot 5-of-20 and was on the bench during their entire comeback, when Corey Brewer and Josh Smith played the quarter of their lives to outscore the Clips by 25 and stun the crowd. Then, in another elimination game in the Western Conference Finals he shot 2-of-11 and turned it over 12 times (or as many as Manu Ginobili in Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals combined).
The reason Harden will have the ball less, of course, is Lawson who was moved to Houston as part of Denver's rebuilding initiative. Lawson's been remarkably consistent over the years, just below All-Star level in the stacked West, and he excels at getting into the paint and finishing. With the bevy of shooters around him and Howard there to clean up around the rim, he can be devastating. But there is a school of thought that he'd be more valuable as a scorer off the bench, freeing Patrick Beverley to continue his role as a defensive pest and glue guy for the starting lineup. Maybe McHale will try it if they struggle out of the gates.
Howard was limited to 41 games last season and the Rockets performed just as well without him in the lineup. When he did play, he had his worst season since his rookie year and was barely worth more than a replacement player according to basketball-reference.com. His free-throw shooting continues to limit his offensive worth, and he's still too foul prone for a veteran of his stature. Howard was once again more useful in the postseason, leading everyone in rebounding, but his limited offensive arsenal and propensity for dumb fouls diminishes his overall value.
Jones also missed most of the year but returned for the stretch run and played pretty well while continuing to develop his three-pointer. It didn't go as well for him in the playoffs. There are a few dudes on the bench who can push him and the Rockets also figure to play small quite a bit, so he's never gonna be a big minute guy. Ariza is one of the better "three-and-D" specialists in the league, but he slumped in his second tour-of-duty with the Rockets. It makes sense, if you think about it: Howard was out and Harden is going to save most of his energy for the offensive end, so Ariza had to focus on defense, right? Regardless they drafted his successor in Dekker and he's on a movable contract, so stay tuned.
Your Likely Bench:
G Patrick Beverley
F Donatas Motiejunas
F Corey Brewer
C Clint Capala
G K.J. McDaniels
G Jason Terry
F Sam Dekker
G Marcus Thornton
F Montrezl Harrell
There are some useful pieces here but not anybody you'd trust to get you a bucket in the half-court, so one would think that McHale would stagger Harden and Lawson's minutes, right? Beverley is a tenacious defender and decent catch-and-shoot guy, but his playing style is conducive to injuries. Motiejunas has a better post-up game than Howard and is okay in his own end. He saved their bacon during the regular season but then got hurt and missed practically the whole playoffs. He's dealing with a back injury and still hasn't played. Brewer has carved out a long career for himself despite being a string-bean who can't shoot or dribble. He specialized in transition situations and benefits from playing at a fast pace. Capala got more minutes in the playoffs than he did the regular season and fared well. He'll have a bigger role this season and there's not much drop-off between him and Howard. McDaniels is an athletic guy who had a pulse on the Sixers but didn't get any run for Houston. He's gonna have to work to gain McHale's trust over JET, 38, who was re-signed after a bounce-back season. Thornton's also in the mix here and he was decent for the Celtics last season but flopped in Phoenix.
Dekker is a kid who starred in the NCAA tournament for Wisconsin, showing a wide range of skills and no fear. He can shoot, put it on the floor, finish around the rim and has good length. He was injured during Summer League however and hasn't exactly lit the world on fire during the preseason. Harrell's a banger and a good energy guy who was linked to the Spurs in a couple mock drafts.
Your Coach: Kevin McHale
At this time last year I was spewing hot fire about the Rockets missing the playoffs and McHale being the first coach fired during the season.
McHale really impressed me the way he dealt with Howard's absence and he showed a lot of guts keeping Harden on the bench during that rally against the Clippers. What I really like about him is that he's been open-minded about how the game's evolved, unlike a lot of these "old-school" peers who starred in the 80's. The Rox are in good hands here.
Bottom Line: It's kind of insane that at least two out of the Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Grizzlies and Spurs won't make even the second round of the playoffs. The Clippers, in their typical fashion, have waged a revisionist campaign disrespecting not only the Warriors for not having faced them in the playoffs last season but also the Rockets, who beat them fair and square, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit. With the additions Los Angeles has made (and Kevin Durant returning to the Thunder and obviously LaMarcus Aldridge joining the Spurs) the Rockets have been under the radar somewhat. It should serve to fuel them (no pun intended) all season long, but the semis are probably their ceiling.
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