To conclude the Southwest, I present to you the unquestionable “winner” of this off-season – the Houston Rockets. Will it all work out? Will they really be that much better? Lets discuss…
Last Season: After pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade for James Harden and signing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the much-improved Rockets were one of the youngest and most entertainment teams in the NBA. Thanks to breakout seasons from James Harden (who didn’t see that one coming?) and Chandler Parsons (who did see that one coming?) Houston finished the season as the eighth seed, facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. While they weren’t able to upset OKC, Harden and Parsons played well, creating a promising foundation for the future.
What they’ve done this off-season: You’ve got to hand it to Cleveland-native GM Daryl Morey – the guy clearly knows what he’s doing in the asset piling/trigger pulling department. In an off-season with relatively few big FA names, Morey managed to again land the biggest fish available. Dwight Howard is the perfect compliment to James Harden – Harden’s ability to run an offense should be an instant catalyst to Howard, who has suffered through a couple sub-par seasons. Throw in the sweet shooting, great defending Parsons and Jeremy Lin, who should rebound after a down year, and the Rockets look like a serious contender. Beyond adding Howard, the Rockets were relatively quiet. They signed Marcus Camby as the backup Center, Omri Casspi as their second-unit SF (watch this one – I bet we see some good production there…) and Reggie Williams to look pretty on the bench. In addition Morey drafted PG Isaiah Canaan signed a few other cheap contracts. While the Rockets improved greatly with the signing of Howard, they neglected to sign a starting PF or trade Asik. Both these plot lines may thicken as the season continues.
How they match up with the Cavs: Amazingly, not overwhelmingly. If Dion can translate some of his physical gifts onto the defensive end, he should be able to somewhat contain Harden, who is undersized for the position. Kyrie clearly wants the Lin battle (keep in mind Lin is a horrible defender) and the lack of power forward means the combo of Tristan and Andy/Bynum should be able to give Dwight fits. We know for certain that Houston will continue to run a fast-paced offense, so Cleveland’s poor perimeter defense will be apparently. That being said, with a good interior D and excellent rebounding, coupled with good ball handlers in Kyrie, Dion, and Jack, I like Cleveland’s odds against Houston more than against most contenders.
The match-up to watch: The clear choice is Bynum vs Howard. At their height they were the obvious best 1-2 centers in the NBA. Both are physical specimens, both are rebound machines, and both are sneaky good inside (and, don’t forget, both badly wanted out of LA!) If they can prove to be healthier than in years past, Dwight vs Andrew could be a fun matchup for years to come.