With free agency almost over, every team is close to finalizing its roster for next year. And this is the part of the year when most team’s fans can talk themselves into a scenario where their favorite team wins the championship. Maybe it’s too hard for fans of the Nuggets and 76ers to imagine their team winning the title, but there are several teams that can look like contenders if you squint hard enough.
Before the season actually comes around and spoils everyone’s fun, let’s take our time to embrace optimism and tell you why your team will win the title. We continue with the Houston Rockets.
It really is amazing how little credit the Rockets have gotten for making the Western Conference Finals last season. The team battled injuries to key players in Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas, but still thumped Dallas and came all the way back from 3-1 down to stun the Los Angeles Clippers. And after falling to the Warriors, it seemed likely that the Rockets would enter the next NBA season as one of the handful of title favorites.
That really hasn’t happened. With all the buzz around the Spurs’ moves, the Warriors bringing back basically everybody and the Clippers’ retention of DeAndre Jordan, the Rockets haven’t generated a ton of buzz, even after acquiring an upper echelon point guard in Ty Lawson. But the team has all the components of a championship contender.
James Harden finished second in the MVP voting last year and will continue to be one of the best players in the league. Dwight Howard looked much healthier last season and has at least a few seasons left of being a real difference-maker. The depth will be improved with Motiejunas and Beverley back healthy, even despite losing Josh Smith.
What Houston lacked last season was a legitimate secondary shot creator. If a team could stop Harden from penetrating, the Rockets didn’t have much of a counter.
That all changes with Lawson. There are obviously on- and off-court risks with Lawson, but he brings a dimension to the Rockets that wasn’t there last season. His ability to get into the lane will make it so much more difficult to guard the Rockets next season. If the defense rotates over to Harden, Lawson can get into the lane in a nanosecond.
There are defensive concerns, but those are overblown. The team had the sixth-most efficient defense in the league last season, even with Jason Terry playing the point after Beverley’s injury. Kevin McHale and his staff will find a way to work Lawson into a top defense.
People tend to assume the Rockets needed to improve the team’s defense. But the statistics show the team was much better defensively than offensively last season. Lawson is a huge offensive upgrade and allows the Rockets to bring Beverley off the bench.
Houston made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, and improved. The team is undoubtedly a contender next season, no matter how little publicity it has gotten in the offseason.