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.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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