Championship Aspirations

5 reasons why the Houston Rockets can win the NBA Title

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


The drama the NBA off season brings us every year leads fans to newfound optimism; some with a demented expectation because of fandom, others justified.

When the final buzzer sounded crowning the Toronto Raptors the NBA Champions, a few players such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were now being painted to different teams, while others like Kawhi Leonard had the keys to how things would play out in free agency and where the dominoes would fall.

After the blocks fell and the dust settled, the Houston Rockets jumped in the chaos and made a move that will change the direction of this franchise for the foreseeable future. The Rocket's acquisition of Russell Westbrook while being able to unload an aging Chris Paul and keeping most of their roster intact puts Daryl Morey's experiment as a top 5 contender.
Now we look for answers that can only be found once we see this team hits the court, Thursday brings us the first opportunity to take that look.


Here are 5 Reasons why the Houston Rockets can win the NBA Title.

1) The Obvious- Russell Westbrook joining the team

  • MVP- Check
  • 8x time All-Star-Check
  • 2x All-Star Game MVP-Check
  • 8x All-NBA selection-Check
  • 2× NBA scoring champion-Check
  • 2x NBA assists leader-Check

When you add a player with this type of resume, it automatically leads you to believe the roster is improved. The mystery now remains how can coach Mike D'Antoni make the puzzle fit. The familiarity of the two superstars going back to growing up and then playing at OKC and with team USA could lead to on-court success. The roster undoubtedly improved on paper, now housing two bonafide talents that finished top 10 in MVP voting in each of the past five seasons, and both placed in the top-five in the same season three times over that span.

2) Trust

Over the years rumors have come out about other NBA players aspiring to play with James Harden and whether it was becoming a problem with his style of play. Bringing in someone Harden has a close relationship with and someone the beard pressed for will do wonders for the locker room this season. We think back at the rumors of a feud between Chris Paul and James Harden during the playoffs last year, is that something you want to worry about coming into this season? Now I use the word rumor, because thats all it was, nothing was ever confirmed, but where there is smoke, there is fire.


Trust is essential here as we saw players like Austin Rivers and Clint Capela come out and back the Rockets statements saying things weren't true and how much they trust in Harden's game and style of play. Was the quarrel between Paul and Harden over the way the superstar played in closing quarters and in big moments in playoff games? That's something Harden has been noted for time after time. We all know that even the best of friends can argue, so how will this all play out in late-game situations or when the team struggles? The question going into this season is can Westbrook bring the best out of Harden in situations where some say he's checked out in the past.

3) Change of Pace

Last season the Rockets finished the regular season 27th in pace (98.39). During the playoffs, they were 10th (97.26) playing at an even slower pace. Rostering two players like Paul and Harden that slow the game down can sometimes work against you in situations or matchups where you need to speed up the game. Russell Westbrook plays a completely different game and when on the court the Thunder played at a pace of 104.34.

In Westbrook's 2016-17 MVP season, the Thunder were fifth in pace leading him to his career-high in PPG at 31.6. The downfall is it also was his career-high in turnovers per game at 5.4. The following season his points dipped to 25.4 PPG, as did the Thunder's pace, finishing 20th. Last season Westbrook's team once again moved into the top 10 in pace (9th) but he had his lowest points per game output since 2013-2014.

I see a change of pace as a good thing that the Rockets will perfect as the season progresses. At times last season the offense seemed stagnant, this will give Houston the ability to attack in a different fashion. Over the years we've seen plenty of Westbrook's ability to rebound turn and get up court resulting in fast break points and open shots.

4) Experience

When looking at this Rockets team you see a ton of experience and that will be focal to keeping this team improving.


Russell Westbrook-12th season

Eric Gordon-12th season

James Harden-11th season

PJ Tucker-9th season

Austin Rivers-8th Season

Clint Capela-6th season

Honorable mention- Nene-18th (although now on the court much, mentally in a locker room he helps not to mention the practice he gives the younger guys)


Notably, Houston went out and added a few more players who will add to the team's overall experience

Tyson Chandler-19th season

Thabo Sefolosha-14th season

Ryan Anderson-12th season (He's back)

Ben McLemore-7th season


Houston enters the season with the most experience with an average of 8.9 years. There is one issue with this as it also makes the Rockets the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 29.7. The time is now for a team with a small window to experiment.

5) A New NBA era

We all know how much the Warriors have dominated the league the last couple of seasons, even without winning the Championship last year. But the powerhouse that was built in Golden State looks to be vulnerable with the departure of key players and a Klay Thompson injury that will put the weight on the shoulders of Steph Curry. Can he carry it? He has before but the shift of powers in the Western Conference points me to believe this will be a down season for the Warriors with Curry being less than 100% healthy over the past few seasons. One injury that causes Curry to miss extended time would plummet the Warriors season. Head Coach Steve Kerr said publicly this week that he didn't think Klay Thompson would be back this season, with that said if the team is struggling why would they risk it.


According to Vegas here are the top 5 favorites

Los Angeles Clippers 7/2

Los Angeles Lakers 4/1

Milwaukee Bucks 6-1

Philadelphia 76ers 8/1

Houston Rockets 8/1


The interesting thing here is how will these top teams deal with load management becoming somewhat of a ritual in the NBA?We know the Lakers will use it plenty with LeBron James, how many games with managing time and injuries will Anthony Davis be good for?In the last 3 years, Davis and James have missed a combined 75 games, and yes last season was somewhat of an outlier as the future of both players and their franchises had a lot to do with the games played but Davis has never played an 82 game season in his previous 7 years. LeBron had his eyes already set on this season, risking further injuries would have been pointless.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are another tandem the are known to miss games and as no surprise, we enter the season with George recovering from an injury. Last year Leonard only played 60 games and I look for the load management to continue as that was a big factor in him signing with LA.

Joel Embiid another Superstar on a top 5 contender that misses extended amounts of time often and is used with precaution at times during the season. In his first three seasons, Embiid has played 31, 63 and 64 games. That's not something that can be relied upon.

Now let's look at the Houston duo

Harden's games played last 4 seasons

82

81

72

78

Westbrook

80

81

80

73

Being on the court together will be essential in getting in-game adjustments right and will be crucial for seeding. Of the Western Conference favorites, I look for the Rockets to get the most on-court time out of their star players. Seeding and getting home court in an extremely competitive conference will be key for Houston's title aspirations.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images


The Rockets have squandered plenty of opportunities to win championships this past decade. They have had three teams that were worthy of a championship. Those three teams were star studded but what happened?

Those three teams were the 2008-2009, 2017-2018, 2018-2019 Rockets. Three capable teams to win a championship.

The 2008-2009 Rockets had a lot of potential on the court. They had Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Rafer Alston, and Shane Battier. The key role players for the team were Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Luther Head, Von Wafer, and Dikembe Mutombo. Even though the Rockets finished in fifth place that year, the Western Conference was tough. They were one spot out of third and fourth place in the conference. Two dramatic injuries that hurt the Rockets were McGrady and Yao. McGrady went down earlier that season. This caused the Rockets to lose creativity at the guard position. McGrady always struggled with injuries in his Rocket's tenure. Yao suffered an injury during semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers. That was a huge loss because the Rockets lost a superstar, presence inside the paint, and their best player. Other players like Artest, Wafer, Brooks, and Landry had stepped up their play against the Lakers. It just was not enough against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.


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The Rockets had a legitimate chance to win a title that year. They matched up well against the Lakers in 2009 without injuries. Having T-Mac and Yao together would have been lethal. Including having Artest and Battier who were great defenders. The role players that stepped up in the playoffs were unexpected. They were still able to take the Lakers seven games. Just imagine if the Rockets had Yao and T-Mac during the playoffs.

The next team that had a great opportunity was the 2017-2018 Rockets. This team consisted of James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela. That year the Rockets went 65-17, which was first in the Western Conference. This team lead the league in three-point attempts, 13th in the three-point percentage, and number two points. Harden and Paul looked impressive together. Individuals were worried about the combination before the season started; Bringing Paul to Houston allowed Harden to get more rest. The Rockets struggled defensively in the beginning of the season despite winning games. Even though the Rockets could score a lot, they needed to defend. The assistant coach, Jeff Bzdelik, found defensive schemes so the Rockets could perform better. This teams favorite thing to do was to attempt three-point shots every game. They were electric and fun to watch against the Golden St Warriors. At the end of the season Harden won the 2017-2018 MVP.


Rockets Chris Paul , James Harden, Clint Capela Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images


The Rockets were troubled because of Paul's injury, and the 22 missed three-point attempts in game seven. When Paul went down in game six, the Rockets were in disarray for game seven. Fans in Houston will always have the "What if" factor when it comes to game seven. This was another blown opportunity for the Rocket's franchise. That Western Conference Finals lost was very hurtful to the team and city.

The very last team that had an opportunity was the 2018-2019 Rockets. This team started off very slowly in the beginning of the season. It was very questionable because of Carmelo Anthony and the struggles on defense. During their 11-14 start, the Rockets released Anthony and Paul was dealing with another injury. While Paul was out, Harden was able to rally the Rockets during tough games. This was able to keep the Rockets alive in the Western Conference while Paul was out. Harden also reminded the league why he was the 2017-2018 MVP that season. Other players who helped the Rockets out that season was Danuel House and Austin Rivers. They were very helpful coming off the bench.

Fast forwarding to semifinals of the playoffs, the Rockets went against the Golden St. Warriors again. In game five, Kevin Durant suffered a leg injury that kept him sidelined throughout the rest of the series. Surprisingly, the Rockets could not take advantage of Durant's injuries in both games, as they lost to the Warriors again in the playoffs. It was a confusing time for fans on why the Rockets lost. They were supposed to jump on the opportunity when Durant went down. The communication between Paul and Harden was off as well, frustrating the thousands of fans watching.

Hopefully one day the Rockets pull it together.

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