Leave it to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to bring a healthy dose of realism to the table as he prepares for the 2013-14 campaign.
After a successful offseason that saw the team reel in Dwight Howard without losing any of the major pieces that pushed the Rockets into the 2013 postseason, it would be understandable if Morey declared his team favorites for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Members of an organization are typically optimistic about their own chances, after all.
But that just isn't Morey's style.
He believes in his team. There's no doubt about that. But he also recognizes that winning a championship is still an uphill battle, as he makes clear in this quote on MaD Radio (relayed by CBS Houston):
I think there are probably at least three teams better than us if not more. Until you’re going into a season felling like you are the top one or two I think it’s, and we haven’t really accomplished anything, I think it’s hard to talk about ‘hey we’re one of the favorites to win the championship.’ But I do think we go in with a chance, where as we haven’t in the last few years.
Morey agreed that the three teams whose names were subsequently tossed out were each better than the Rockets at the moment: the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. But he also suggested that two more teams should be included in that discussion: "I think the Bulls and the Pacers they’re very good as well this year. I am hoping we are in the mix with them, maybe equal quality.”
So, is Morey missing anyone?
In my most recent set of power rankings, I had the Rockets checking in at No. 8. They trailed each of the five teams that the GM mentioned but also found themselves looking up at the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
Still, that puts them firmly in the mix with the rest of the title contenders. It's a sentiment shared by ESPN.com's annual summer forecast, which predicts that Houston finishes at No. 4 in the Western Conference with a 53-29 record.
Harden and Howard together are good enough to win a title. There shouldn't be much doubt about that. Now, it's just a matter of making sure the rest of the roster is ready, as Houston has to figure out its point guard rotation and what it wants to do at power forward.
It's not a bad position to be in going into the season, which Morey surely recognizes.
How many wins will it take him to change his tune and start proclaiming that the Rockets are the new favorites?