Houston Rockets – 41-41
Key Additions: Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni, Eric Gordon (Four years, $53 million), Ryan Anderson (Four years $80 million), Chinanu Onuaku (No. 37 Draft Pick), Nene Hilario (One year, 2.9 million), Pablo Prigioni (Two years, Veteran’s minimum), Zhou Qi (No. 43 Draft Pick)
Departures: Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Jason Terry
For the 2015-2016 Houston Rockets, it was a season to forget. If you looked in the standings to see them finish eighth in a strong Western Conference with a 41-41 record, you would think it was a big step back for the team, but nothing horrible. Well, that record doesn’t justify what their season truly was. They were a disaster both on and off the court and always seemed to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons. The 2014-2015 season looked promising for this team. They finished second in the conference, but ended up falling short in the Western Conference finals to the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. This year they limped into the playoffs and were bounced in the first round yet again by the Warriors in five games.
The season got off to a surprising start with the firing of head coach Kevin McHale after just 11 games. His replacement, J.B. Bickerstaff, finished off the season going 37-34. Bickerstaff was thrown into what looked like was a throw away season early on and was there to just help the team finish up the season and move onto next year. Not only did this team look like a disaster on the court, but they had their fair share of off the court issues. As if Dwight Howard couldn’t be anymore of a chemistry killer, both him and James Harden tried to have one an other traded before the deadline. You could see all season that the two could not play together. Endless looks of confusion and frustration were evident during every game. The miscommunication from the two Houston stars caused the team to look sloppy throughout the season.
Besides Harden’s lack of defensive play and Dwight giving up early in the game if he didn’t receive enough touches, the team actually seemed to try to put up a fight and keep the energy high during the duration of this forgetful season. Players like Patrick Beverly, Tevor Ariza and Corey Brewer seemed to still treat the season like they had the expectation of a deep playoff run. Unfortunately their play didn’t match their energy and their playoff run ended very early. Getting to the playoffs and just barley beating out the Jazz was an upside that they can use to jump start the D’Antoni era.
The Rockets have some pieces that new head coach Mike D’Antoni can work with. This team still has one of the top scorers in the league and a high scoring offense that finished fourth in the league last season. We all remember those days in Phoenix when he had them averaging just under 110ppg for four straight seasons. This roster can continue to be one of the top scoring teams this season. With the departure of Howard, it will give them a chance to replace him with a more improved shooter down low, which will also help Harden offensively. It gets over looked that he is a very good passer. When Howard was on the floor, it was one less person to pass to. Having someone who can shoot with a little more range down low can help spread the floor and let Harden make smarter decisions in his new role as the starting point guard.
The offense in Houston shouldn’t be an issue, but the defense is a real problem. This team finished 25th in the league last season, allowing 106.5 ppg. Brining in an offensive-minded head coach isn’t the best way to fix that. At this point, the Rockets are built to run the score up and hope that their opponent can’t keep up with them as opposed to getting stops. But when your team finishes in the bottom part of the league in defense, there really is almost no where but up, right?
This season the high-powered offense in Houston will lead them back into the playoffs. Harden is going to have an incredible season and once again be back in the MVP talks, especially with the way he will thrive in the new offense and be able to have the ball in his hands all the time. Swapping out Dwight Howard for Ryan Anderson will have more of an impact than people might think. Clint Capella can smooth over the loss of Howard in the paint, but the ability of Anderson to stretch the floor and give Harden another three-point shooter to move the ball to after his drives should open up the offense even more. This team won’t be a title contender or even fight for a top seed in the West, but you can imagine this team will be fighting their way into the bottom tier of the Western Conference playoffs.