Chomping at the Bit- The Houston Rockets
What ! This guy must be crazy, ranking the Rockets over Oklahoma City and Memphis you say. Well maybe I am, but the Rockets were moving up in the standings even before obtaining center Dwight Howard via free agency. The Rockets were second in scoring and three point shooting and were well ahead of other teams possessing that ever elusive factor known as an identity. In just a year’s time the team has great chemistry resembling ,that of a college team. The players are young, hungry and unselfish but the least mentioned attribute is the collective basketball I.Q. shown by the core group of Hardin, Parsons, Lin and Garcia. How did they get here? Well, Let’s consider…
Team owner Les Alexander is choice. He has shown great judgment and commitment to excellence particularly in selecting general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Kevin McHale.
Let’s for a minute consider what this organization has accomplished in a short period of time. They obtained Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin by offering them extremely,shall I say ambitious contracts. Rockets staff then immediately went to work on Omer turning him into the third best rebounder in the league and one of it’s top defensive centers. During the same year ( I am still trying to figure out what the hell was OKC thinking). the Rockets traded for James Hardin, clearly an all star in the making and to top off that sundae they then convinced Dwight Howard,the leagues best big man to (get this), leave the Los Angeles Lakers and join the Houston Rockets…..whew.
James Hardin is tough, James Hardin can shoot, he can pass, he can drive, he is smart and did I mention that he is tough ? For the first time in his career Dwight Howard has a team best suited to his strengths. This team is tight, Houston is not Hollywood but the organization is first rate. Dwight is fully healthy this year so look for him to have one of his best seasons to date. Chandler Parsons has made incremental progress since joining the league two years ago.
Chandler shoots nearly 49 percent from the field and 0.385 from the three point line. He is a good passer and slasher to the basket. At 6-10″ this mentally tough player will squeeze every last drop out of his potential.
Jeremy Lin is an above average point guard averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 assist. There is room for Jeremy to improve as a play maker and that is where his emphasis should be. he is smart and athletic enough to become an above average floor general on a championship team.
The future is bright for this franchise but a few bumps in the road have to be navigated along the way. First, general manager Daryl Morey must temper his fantasy league tendency to make personnel moves for the sake of making them. He should lean on experienced staff and coaches for help with player projections/potential. Can coach McHale figure out how to play disgruntled center Omer Asik along with Dwight Howard. This is a huge undertaking but if it works it will yield big results.
Guard James Hardin has to shore up what seems to be matador defense and most importantly he must reach a medium with Dwight Howard in terms of team leadership. It may take a season or two but the Rockets could find themselves in the championship mix along with the Spurs, Clippers, Bulls and Pacers.
The Contenders – LA Clippers
Does Donald Sterling still own this team ? Yes, believe it, hell hath frozen over. The Clips are championship contenders. After years of being the understudy in Los Angeles the Clippers have surpassed the Lakers as LA’s best team. With all star guard Chris Paul locked in along with burgeoning forward Blake Griffin the Cllippers now have a nucleus to build around and build they did.
The hiring of championship coach Glenn ( Doc ) Rivers was a master stroke. Rivers hails with the status of being one of the two top coaches in the league. His biggest attribute is his standing as a leader of men. Coach Rivers is a master motivator and operates best when he has world class athletes to work with. One of Rivers immediate projects is helping Clippers center De Andre Jordan reach his considerable potential as a rebounder and shot blocker. Factor in the likes of JJ Redick, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley for the needed support in outside shooting and point guard play. The Clippers appear to be on the right track for at least the next three to four years ( Or the amount of time the championship contention window remains open ). Former coach Vinnie Del Negro deserves credit for player acquisition and for turning the franchise around but in Doc Rivers the Clippers now have a coach who knows exactly what it takes to win a title.
Blake Griffin declared recently that Lob City as an identity for the team was over. He seemed to suggest that the Clippers would now display more substance versus the high flying crowd pleasing attack that has tipified the team’s style for the past season. Now of course Mr. Griffin must realize that for his team to become more substantive then his game must also become more substantive and that means more rebounds and trips to the free throw line. More than any other player Blake Griffin’s growth probably plays as big a part in the Clippers hopes than anything else. All NBA guard Chris Paul now has young and savvy shooters to augment his forays to the hoop. Jared Dudley and JJ Redick are deadeye shooters that understand the sacrifice needed to win and to maintain a positive team culture ( most notably in the locker room). Guard Darren Collision is a solid back up in search of just the right team and back up center/forward Byron Mullens is a credible outside shooter at just under 40 percent.
With a transformation to a more powerful power forward by Blake Griffin and improved defensive play from De Andre Jordan the Clips would be vastly improved because defense is a critical need. But wait, there’s more, with Doc planning to upgrade the offense into one that is more movement oriented look for a departure from that predictable mix of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford taking turns creating off of screen roll. So far everybody is saying all of the right things and team chemistry seems good but, if Chris Paul buys what Doc is selling then the Clippers will indeed become a perennial title contender.