NBA PM: The Rockets’ Honeymooning Period
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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We’re at the point of the offseason where every team is optimistic and thinks that they can either meet or exceed expectations. However, there may not be any team – other than the Brooklyn Nets – whose offseason improvements justify feeling that way more than the Houston Rockets.
The atmosphere surrounding the Rockets right now is as electric as it’s ever been, even dating back to Hakeem Olajuwon’s prime years. The drastic improvements the team made last year while ending a three-year long playoff drought coupled with the addition of All-Star center and defensive stalwart Dwight Howard has the city and team talking championship.
It’s rightfully so too, as this Rockets team undoubtedly has the potential to develop into a championship contender. And, there’s a certain amount of celebrating that should occur with the roster Daryl Morey and his staff, much of which got plucked away by other teams later in the summer, put together. To compare where they are now to a year ago when Kevin Martin was their best player going into training camp, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come along. It took a series of calculated risks that could have ruined the master plan completely, but it all worked out in the Rockets favor and now they have one of the best teams in the West on paper.
However, the Rockets have been in this position recently, only to see the end results come up far short of expectations. It wasn’t but a few years ago that there was a similar type of excitement over the combination of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, a promising duo that rarely saw the floor together because of injuries.
That’s why the Rockets’ optimism should be classified as cautious, because while there is a great feeling that extends from the front office to their rapidly-expanding fan base, they know the toughest tests are ahead.
“All that enthusiasm and optimism goes right out the window the first game,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. “You have to go out and play basketball. It’s a long season, I guarantee you we’ll have parts of the season where we struggle. I’ve never been around a team that didn’t struggle at points throughout the season just because there’s that odd time in the season where three or four of your top guys all start playing bad at the same time, guys aren’t making shots, decision making, you’re looking at three guys like why the hell would you throw that pass? I’ve done it as a player, you go through periods, but I’m excited about all the optimism, knowing there’s a reality to it with the grind of the season and all that. I think they believe that together they’ll find a way to get it done. I think belief in each other is a huge thing. When you believe you can get it done, usually good things happen.”
The most attractive thing about this Rockets team is not its star power, but its youth. Only two players, Marcus Camby and Francisco Garcia, are over the age of 30. The core of Howard (27), Harden (24), Lin (25) and Parsons (24) are still young by NBA standards, giving this team what looks to be one of the widest championship windows of any team in the league right now. The Rockets are truly built for the present and future, but they still don’t want to waste any time.
“Having been in the league a long time, we’re focused on winning now,” Morey said. “Everything is about all in right now. We know firsthand in Houston, we had Yao and Tracy both very young. It looked like that run was going to be a long time, your chances to be very good in this league are special and when you have them you’ve gotta focus 100 percent on getting as far as possible. Our young guys need to step up, we’re not all the way there, we’re not a finished team to coach’s point he’s going to be experiencing with different ways to make this work. We’re not a finished product, we’re focused on being great come mid-April, that’s our focus. We need to get ourselves homecourt in the first round, that’s huge for having an advantage and make sure we’re home come Mid-april with guys stepping up or whatever is needed.”
One major difference between McGrady and Yao and Harden and Howard is that Harden and Howard have far more playoff experience than the former. Both know what it takes to get to the Finals and the feeling that comes with falling just short of accomplishing the ultimate goal. They plan on not only sharing what they know with their teammates who haven’t been through it before, but also teaching each other a bit as well.
“The main thing you have to do is just stay away from it as much as possible,” Howard said of the general distractions that surface. “You can’t take the good, the bad or the ugly. You just have to do the same thing on a daily basis, come in and get your work and go about your business. If you get caught up in the good bad and ugly it messes you up as a person and a player. I think some of that happened to me last year, I allowed the bad stuff that happened to really sit in my head, push myself away from people in different situations. That’s not who I am, you have to stay away from all that negativity or whatever it may be and focus on the task at hand.”
“We’re goofy, we have fun,” Harden added. “But we like to work. That’s the most important thing is just working. We’re not going to be all strict, we’re young, we have to have fun. This is our job, we have to make the fans happy as well but when it’s time to be serious and win, we’ll be focused.
“We’re both leading. He has the experience to where he can talk and be a leader on and off the court. I’m young as well too, I’m still learning, he’ll teach me some things I don’t know and I’ll teach him some things he doesn’t know. That’s the kind of partnership and friendship we’re going to have in order to be successful. It’s my job to make it work. It goes both ways. If I’m messing up and I’m not doing something right, if I’m being lazy he should let me know. He will let me know. It’s vice versa. That’s the kind of teammate and friendship we’re going to have and that’s the only way you can be successful is if you’re 100 percent with each other.”
The Rockets will get their first chance to play together this upcoming Saturday when they face the New Orleans Pelicans. They’ve enjoyed all the talk about how great they can be this summer, but they know the honeymooning period is now over and it’s time to go take what looks great on paper and translate it to the hardwood.
More Training Camp Additions Announced: With most of the league officially kicking off training camp today, there were a lot of last-minute additions announced throughout the league. Here’s a quick recap of the activity:
- The Boston Celtics signed DeShawn Sims, Damen Bell-Holter, Chris Babb and Kammron Taylor.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Jermaine Tyalor, Kenny Kadji, Henry Sims, DeSagana Diop and Elliot Williams.
- The Nets signed Mark Jaric.
- The Spurs signed Corey Maggette, Sam Young, Marcus Cousin, Courtney Fells, Micky Kabongo and Dan Nwaelele.
- The Clippers signed Lou Amundson, Mustapaha Farrakhan and JaMychal Green.