GM: Daryl Morey
Head coach: Mike D’Antoni
2016-17 record: 55-37 (3rd in the Western Conference)
2016-17 result: Lost 4-2 in the second round
Key departures: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams
Key acquisitions: Chris Paul, PJ Tucker
The James Harden at point guard experiment was a success in 2016-17, with him leading the league in assists (11.2), while also somehow setting a new career-high with 29.1 points a game. But by the time the playoffs came around, it was clear that he was out of gas and needed help if the Rockets were going to maximize his potential.
With that in mind, Houston made one of the off-season’s biggest moves by trading for Chris Paul. As Daryl Morey put it: “It’s a weapons race in the NBA.”
Paul is without a doubt the best quintessential point guard of his generation, averaging 9.9 assists throughout his career, which is the highest mark of all active players. But at 32 years old, without a Conference Finals appearance under his belt, he’ll have a chance to play alongside a player who’s finished second in MVP voting in two of the past three seasons. Both are best with the ball in their hands, but with Paul only having one year left on his deal the pair have been building up their chemistry over the summer.
The newly formed backcourt should help make up for each other’s flaws. After an all-defensive first-team nod in 2016-17, Paul can help cover for Harden’s shortcomings on that side of the ball. On the other hand, Harden should continue to take over the majority of the Rockets’ scoring responsibilities, something Paul has, at times, seemed hesitant to do over the course of his career.
Along with adding the nine-time all-star, they signed some solid wing players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker. The Rockets also have a new majority owner in Tilman Fertitta, which is notable because the last time they changed ownership was ahead of the 1993-94 season, a year in which the Rockets won their first championship. Heading into 2017-18 Rockets fans are praying for a similar success story.
Potential Breakout Player
Chris Paul was able to help turn the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan into a first-team All-NBA member, so don’t be surprised when he aids Clint Capela to a breakout campaign in 2017-18.
The six-foot-10 centre had seven games with at least 20 points last season, and after the Rockets led the league in three-point attempts in 2016-17 the entire paint should continue to belong to Capela. Since entering the league in 2014 his potential has been clear, averaging a double-double with at least 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes in each of his three seasons.
The Switzerland native should only continue to thrive alongside Paul, who’ll be able to find him for easy lobs near the rim if he continues to convert on 64.3 per cent of his attempts like he did in 2016-17.
What a successful 2017-18 would look like
For Chris Paul, a successful year would see him making his first Conference Finals.
The Rockets have enough firepower to compete with the league’s best, but they’ll need to find their groove throughout the season if they want to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors. For their part, Houston appears to be in a “championship or bust” mentality.
The weapons race Daryl Morey was referring to includes two other teams in the West in particular: the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets will have their hands full with players like Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
And then there are the San Antonio Spurs, who added wing depth in Rudy Gay this season to go alongside Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Tasked with containing the other’s teams elite players will be their two latest additions on the wing in P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, who will join Trevor Ariza as formidable defensive specialists. With their length and grit, they’ll have have to clamp down on the other team’s star power if Houston will achieve their goals this season.