Times flies. And things change. The Houston Rockets are Exhibit A.
One year ago, the Houston Rockets headed into training camp seemingly empty-handed after a summer spent chasing Dwight Howard via a trade with Orlando.
Gone were Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, Samuel Dalembert, Courtney Lee and countless others, and in were the unproven Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. It was a seemingly disappointing offseason, but just before the season was set to start, GM Daryl Morey changed all of that, trading Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and multiple draft picks for Oklahoma City sixth man James Harden.
Now, Harden has transformed into one of the league’s premier scorers, and the young cast around him has attracted Howard, the mercurial superstar who spurned the Rockets a year earlier.
There is finally a lot of excitement in the air, and it’s perfectly justified. After losing Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to injury just a few years ago, Morey has quickly rebuilt the Rockets into a contender.
Coach Kevin McHale’s team will be on national TV more than 20 times this season, and everyone across the country wants to know how all of these pieces will fit together. Let’s look at a number of the storylines they are facing.
1. What are the Rockets going to do at the power forward spot? When the Rockets signed Howard in early July, the early word out of Houston was that Morey would look to move Asik for a legitimate power forward. Josh Smith, Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova were all mentioned as targets, but such talk has slowly ground to a halt. As a result, the Rockets are likely going to come to training camp with a big question mark at power forward.
The two traditional fours on the roster, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, fit best alongside Howard because of their ability to stretch the floor. But both were hot and cold in their rookie stints. Motiejunas was pressed into starting duty after the trade of Patrick Patterson, and Jones got late season minutes, but both were out of the rotation come playoff time.
With that in mind, what will McHale do with that spot? Will he opt to play Motiejunas and put four shooters around Howard? or will he risk destroying his spacing with an unconventional lineup of Asik and Howard in the frontcourt?
2. Can Jeremy Lin continue his improvement from last season? It was truly a shame that Lin got hurt in the playoffs against the Thunder, because the injury overshadowed an excellent second half where he improved dramatically in nearly every facet of his game.
Coming off knee surgery, Lin’s start to the season was disastrous, with a November in which he shot 37 percent from the floor and averaged just 10.2 points and 6.4 assists. But as his knee got stronger, so did his performances.
After the All-Star break, Lin shot nearly 46 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point distance, and cut his turnovers while boosting his shooting. He led the Rockets down the stretch as Harden desperately needed another guard to help carry the load.
Just like Asik, Lin has seen his fair share of trade rumors this summer as some speculate the Rockets would prefer the scrappy Patrick Beverley. As of now, Lin will stay. If Lin can perform this season the way he did in the second half of last season, you can discard those rumors in a hurry. He will be here to stay.