By signing Jeremy Lin over the summer and landing James Harden in a controversial trade with Oklahoma City this past weekend, the Houston Rockets were involved in two of the biggest moves of the NBA off-season. Yet somehow, the Rockets as a basketball team have stayed relatively out of the national spotlight.
After it was official that Lin would no longer be playing in New York, most of the attention shifted to the failures of Lin’s relationship with James Dolan and Carmelo Anthony rather than his potential to succeed in Houston. Most fans were more concerned with what went wrong, rather than wondering what happens next.
A similar situation happened following the Harden trade only a few days ago. Countless writers, fans and media flocked to the story of Harden’s demand for more money, Sam Presti’s decision to break up the big three in Oklahoma City, and whether or not the Thunder were still legitimate title contenders.
While this attention to New York and Oklahoma City is warranted due to the gargantuan fan base of the Knicks, and the fact that Oklahoma City was in the NBA finals last June, it is truly amazing how forgotten the Houston Rockets have been.
While the Rockets may still be years away from contending for a title, the drama that will unfold in Houston over the next few months may be as fascinating as any city in the NBA. People often forget that the Rockets were 34-32 last year and only two games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Despite losing key members of that team such as Luis Scola and Goran Dragic, the Rockets now have a backcourt comprised of Jeremy Lin and James Harden, two of the most dynamic young players in the entire league.
However, it’s not the possibility of the Rockets competing for a playoff berth that makes them the most fascinating team in the NBA, but the storylines that surround them. No other team has more potential for excitement with nearly the amount of risk as the Rockets, as both Lin and Harden come with many question marks.
Last winter, Jeremy Lin exploded into the basketball limelight, captivating audiences across the globe in a magical streak of seven wins. Lin’s explosive play in the month of February combined with his Asian-American heritage turned Lin into a phenomenon unlike anything else in sports. Despite this immense popularity, there are still many issues surrounding Lin’s actual basketball ability that need to be resolved.
While Lin did average 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game in 35 contests for the Knicks last season, he has never played a full season in the NBA and has suffered from horrible turnover problems in the past. In 2012-13, the Rockets will depend on Lin to run their offense for the entire season and much of the team’s success will rely on Lin’s ability to stay healthy and effective over a long period of time.
Whether or not Lin can handle this role should be one of the major stories in all of the NBA this season.
For James Harden, the question marks center on his transition from role player to superstar. Harden flourished in Oklahoma City over the past three seasons coming off the bench and acting as a spark while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook rested. In Houston, Harden will be asked to do much more than that as the team needs him to be the go-to-guy. Instead of playing against team’s second- and third-string defenses, Harden will now be the primary player that other teams prepare for days in advance.
In Oklahoma City, Harden was renowned for the efficiency of his offensive play as he shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range in 2011-12. In expanded minutes this season, it will be interesting to see if Harden can keep up this efficiency and embrace becoming the focal point of the Rockets.
To go on top of all these questions surrounding their individual games, are the questions about whether or not the two can mesh. Lin and Harden both thrive in situations where they are allowed to drive and penetrate the defense. Even though both players can create their own shot, it remains to be seen whether their abilities can play off one another.
For example, Jeremy Lin has only shot 31 percent from 3-point range over the course of his career. With Harden breaking down the defense, Lin will have a plentiful amount of open opportunities on the perimeter. Will Lin be able to knock down the open shot?
The Houston Rockets may not be anywhere close to the best team in the NBA, but they certainly could be the most intriguing. Yes, the Heat are spectacular to watch every night, but every fan already knows that. Yes, Dwight Howard in Los Angeles is a gigantic storyline by itself, but no matter what unfolds in Los Angeles this winter, the Lakers will most likely be competing for a championship in June. The Knicks and Nets are both interesting, but barring absurd circumstances both will be middle-of-the-pack seeds in the Eastern Conference at the season's end.
With the Houston Rockets nobody really knows. Lin and Harden could argue and fight, leaving the Rockets with a disgruntled core and one of the worst teams in the NBA. Or the two could bond and form one of the most explosive young backcourts in the league that, with help, could be in title contention only a few years from now. The Houston Rockets combination of potential and uncertainty is what makes them unlike any other team in the NBA, and a must follow over the course of the 2012-13 campaign.