The team had a great offseason, acquiring Dwight Howard and several other capable players in its efforts to build a contending roster. The Rockets have high expectations this year, but there are still some uncertainties that must be addressed.
Who will start at power forward? Which new guys will make the team? Will Howard and Omer Asik get along? Here are some big mysteries the Rockets must solve before the season begins.
The Power Forward Debate
The Rockets starting lineup seems to be finalized except for the power forward position. The 4 spot is a glaring weakness in an otherwise solid starting five.
There are three guys in the running for the last starting slot. Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas both saw some time in that role last season, and sophomore Terrence Jones also has played well enough to put himself in the mix.
Smith started last season as the backup center behind Asik, but the Rockets found him useful at the 4 for defensive and rebounding purposes. His playing time was sporadic, but for the most part he did a sufficient job as a starter when given the opportunity. In his 10 starts, he compiled 8.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Motiejunas also got a handful of chances to strut his stuff with the first unit. He is a talented scorer around the basket with a variety of moves in the low post that he used overseas. In his 14 starts, he averaged 9.3 points per game, and shot 31.3 percent from three-point range. His offense is a plus, but his defense is fairly nonexistent. If Motiejunas wants to earn the starting job, he will have to take tremendous strides on that side of the ball and prove it in camp.
As a rookie, Jones did not get a ton of minutes early on in the year. As the season progressed, however, he began to see the floor on a more frequent basis. After a quiet first half of the season, Jones averaged 8.8 points and 5.9 boards per game after the All-Star break. When given the opportunity, Jones showed his athleticism and drive that made him such a touted prospect at Kentucky. If he arrives to camp focused, Jones can come out of nowhere and win this job.
It's hard to say who the favorite is to land the spot heading into training camp, but hopefully after camp there will be a clear answer. As of now, the position is completely up for grabs.
The Howard and Asik Situation
Last season as the starting center, Omer Asik proved that he is a deserving starter in the NBA. He averaged a double-double last season, posting 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, the latter good for third in the league.
It just so happens that the Rockets were able to land the best center in the NBA during free agency: Dwight Howard. Asik has expressed his discontent with the move, requesting a trade from GM Daryl Morey. According to Morey, however, Asik isn't going anywhere, at least for the time being.
There have been rumors, according to Brett Pollakoff at NBC Sports, of the Rockets experimenting with Howard playing power forward. Howard and Asik could play together, and this could also resolve the question mark at the 4 spot.
In theory, it makes sense to play Howard and Asik together in order to put your best players forward, and the Rockets should definitely try it out. However, in practice, to have Howard play a position he isn't naturally accustomed to may not be the best solution.
If it works out, great. If not, then the Rockets must make a difficult decision. Can Asik accept a role coming off the bench like he did in Chicago with Joakim Noah and the Bulls? Or should Houston throw Asik in the water as trade bait and see what they can fish out?
This decision doesn't need to be made just yet, but it will be hanging over the Rockets all season long until something is decided.
Too Much Talent?
Over the summer, the Rockets brought in a large handful of additions. In an attempt to build a championship roster, Morey has added several role players to the team.
The Rockets coaching staff will have to decide each player's niche in the rotation, because there are too many players to fit on the team. There are 19 players under contract for training camp, but only 12 of them will be designated as active once the season starts.
On the current roster, Houston has 15 players who were active at some point last season either with the Rockets or another team, listed below.
James Harden (Rockets)
Jeremy Lin (Rockets)
Chandler Parsons (Rockets)
Omer Asik (Rockets)
Patrick Beverley (Rockets)
Greg Smith (Rockets)
Donatas Motiejunas (Rockets)
Terrence Jones (Rockets)
Francisco Garcia (Rockets/Kings)
Aaron Brooks (Rockets/Kings)
Dwight Howard (Lakers)
Ronnie Brewer (Knicks/Thunder)
Reggie Williams (Bobcats)
Omri Casspi (Cavaliers)
Marcus Camby (Knicks)
Not all of these players can make the team, but the question is who gets left behind? It wouldn't make a lot of sense for Morey to go out and sign players if they weren't going to make the team, unless there was an unusual circumstance. We will probably know more about who won't make the cut once training camp begins.
Where Does Jeremy Lin Fit in?
Jeremy Lin's career has been an emotional roller coaster ride. He went from sleeping on a teammate's couch to the top of the world in New York City. After the Rockets brought in Lin to be the face of the franchise, they got James Harden instead at the last minute.
So what's next for Jeremy?
Lin had a good year last season with Houston, averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. His season was overshadowed with a disappointing showing in the playoffs, though. Lin suffered a chest injury that limited his minutes and his capabilities.
In his four playoff games, Lin averaged only 4 points and 2 assists. He missed the other two Rockets playoff games. While Lin was on the sideline, backup point guard Patrick Beverley rose to the occasion.
The Rockets now have high expectations after signing Dwight Howard over the summer. Lin has a lot to prove if he wants to be a key contributor in the Rockets' run this season. Lin will begin the year as the starting point guard, but he has some solid competition and a short leash.
The best way to utilize Lin would be to start him, but allocate most of his minutes with the second unit. Both Lin and Harden like to operate with the ball in their hands, which obviously can't happen if they're both on the court. If Lin gets a chance to run the pick-and-roll while Harden rests, he will be able to be as productive as he was in New York.
This offseason has been less than ideal for Lin. After Howard was signed, Lin was left out of all the team-organized activities to welcome the big man. Then, there were trade rumors buzzing around about Lin and Asik leaving Houston.
Hopefully, once training camp begins, everyone will forget about those rumors and the team can start focusing on basketball. Overall, I think Lin will have a great season with the Rockets once he finds his identity.