Rockets on the Right Path With or Without Dwight Howard, But Landing Him Would Be Huge
In three straight drafts, the former Seattle Sonics and eventual Oklahoma City Thunder completely altered the trajectory of their franchise and became the envy of the entire NBA, save perhaps Miami. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, taken in three consecutive NBA drafts, became the core of a team that would go to the NBA Finals last year and fall an injury to Westbrook short this year of advancing deeper into the playoffs. Tack on Serge Ibaka. taken in 2008 with Westbrook, and Thabo Sefolosha in 2006, and that's a pretty formidable lineup. Harden, of course, was dealt to the Rockets last year as a cap-space clearing move, but the Thunder still won 60 games and finished at the top of the conference.
Photo by Howcheng via Wikipedia
As the NBA Finals showcase two very different franchises built in decidedly different ways, it is worth noting that the key for both -- and for OKC -- is the success of their best players. This is not news to anyone who follows the NBA. This is a league driven by stars. Looking over the winners of titles the past 30 years, it is arguable that with only a couple exceptions, the team with one of the best players in the league at that time was the winning squad. In many cases, he was surrounded by at least one if not two other all-stars.
Kobe and Shaq, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, Jordan and Pippen, Magic, Kareem and Worthy, Bird, McHale and Parrish, LaBron, Wade and Bosh. These are the pairings (and threesomes) that have dominated the game since the '80s. They are the most famous and the most well remembered.
Make no mistake, the Rockets are on the right path now. They have a young nucleus of Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parson, Omer Asik and a crop of power forwards to build around. Just their internal growth as a team and individual improvement will make them better. Harden, as good as he was last year, was still a mediocre defender. The team struggled as a whole defensively when Asik went to the bench. With even modest improvements, there is no reason to think they won't be a significantly better team next year.
But is that enough?