If a team has Dwight Howard and James Harden, they will automatically be contenders. Last offseason, the Rockets were going after Chris Bosh. In the process, they had to free up cap space and lost Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, and Jeremy Lin to other Western Conference teams. Chris Bosh ended up re-signing with the Miami Heat.Then Trevor Ariza signed with Houston from Washington and Corey Brewer was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even though the Rockets looked weaker then a season ago, they were still a top team in the West.
Then the injury bug entered the locker room. Patrick Beverley injured his wrist and Dwight Howard hurt his knee and both were out for months. Luckily, Dwight Howard’s friend Josh Smith got released by the Detroit Pistons and flew to Houston immediately flew to Houston to sign a cheap, Rockets friendly deal. With all the injuries and moving parts in-and-out of the starting lineup, James Harden carried the Rockets back. He averaged 27.4 points per game and was a top three candidate in the MVP race.
The Rockets ended the season as the two seed in the West. They demolished the Mavericks in the first round and beat the Clippers in the second round after being down 3-2 in the series. The injury bug returned for the Western Conference Finals and Dwight Howard got hurt again. The Warriors took over the series and the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs.
In the Omer Asik trade, the Rockets will have the #18 pick in the upcoming draft. In the Jeremy Lin deal, the Lakers received their 2015 first round pick which is #27. The Rockets will look for a point guard and bench wing via draft or free agency. Lets take a look at who could be in Houston next season.
PG Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Standing 6’4″ and 200 pounds, Grant has the size to last in the NBA. Grant plays best with the ball in his hands and brought the ball up on on almost every possession for Notre Dame. He controls the pace of the game and made everyone better on the Irish. That is exactly what the Houston Rockets are looking for. Grant improved his shooting game and with the talent on the Rockets he will get open shots. If he is on the board at #18, he will be a Houston Rocket.
PG Delon Wright, Utah
Delon Wright is a tall point guard with a great feel for the game. Wright plays patient and was always at the right spot at the right time. He can impact every aspect of the game which is why he received the Bob Cousy award as the nations best point guard. His transition game is great and his great decision making makes his transition game deadly. He needs to add some weight because he only weighs 185 pounds. If Grant is off the board, Wright will be the Rockets backup plan.
PG Tyus Jones, Duke
Tyus Jones has great vision and feel for the game. He is a pass first point guard who is a great decision maker. The Rockets struggle in the big games against the NBA’s best and that is when Jones plays his best. Jones led the Duke Blue Devils to a NCAA National Championship and was the most underrated player on the roster. He knows how to feed the post and Dwight Howard would who he would be feeding to. Jones isn’t the quickest but his IQ makes up for it. The Rockets can’t go wrong with any of the drafts point guards.
PG Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks
The Rajon Rondo project with the Dallas Mavericks was a disaster so he will be on the open market. He is a true point guard who controls the pace of the game and doesn’t shoot the ball. That is why he is a perfect fit in Houston. Everyone can shoot and no one knows how to control the game. James Harden wants the Rockets to acquire a playmaker this offseason. Rondo has attitude problems but his playing style will respond well to the rest of the Rockets. Rondo needs to prove to the rest of the NBA he still is a top-10 point guard, and Houston’s talent could put him back on that status.
PF Josh Smith, Houston Rockets
John Smith is known to be a troubled player but found success on the Houston Rockets. He played next to Dwight Howard in high school and anyone can play well next to James Harden. Smith averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds per game when on the Rockets which is his worst numbers since the 2005-2006 season when he was on the Atlanta Hawks. With his numbers being low, his contract will be significantly less then the massive contract he signed with the Pistons. Smith is also friends with Rajon Rondo and could act as a recruiter.
SG Iman Shumpert, Cleveland Cavaliers
Iman Shumpert has been his best when he has been a rotational winger playing with stars. He has found success next to Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, so playing next to Harden wouldn’t be a tough adjustment. Shumpert can shoot and is known as a lockdown defender. He would improve the defense which gave up over 100 points per game. Corey Brewer has a player option on his contract and there has been no news on a potential decision. Whether Brewer opts in or not, I see Shumpert as a smart signing.
The Rockets are so close to having the team to win an NBA Championship. I looked at the player stats, and 8 Rockets players ended the season averaging 10 or more points per game. They need a playmaking point guard. After Patrick Beverley went down, James Harden brought the ball up and put him out of position. If they get an assist machine, they will be a top team in the West. They need to take the pressure off of James Harden and find a way stay healthy. If the Rockets can find a way to get Dwight Howard of old, the Rockets will be the best team in the NBA.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com