As Rahat splendidly wrote in his last two articles, the Rockets are officially moving on, sans Dwight Howard, with a younger than young nucleus of players who boast little to no playing experience. Now that Howard isn’t a distraction, we can officially begin to sketch a skeletal outline of the team’s immediate future.
There’s an almost certain chance the 2012-13 Rockets won’t looking anything like the 2013-14 version, so predicting things has inherent difficulties, and unless every one of these rookies pans out and Daryl Morey chooses to hold steady instead of selling high (the latter scenario being the more likely one, being that we know he’s dangerously obsessed with acquiring a superstar), labeling anything a youth movement could be shortsighted.
All that being said, here’s a look at what we know the Rockets have, and a few possibilities that could materialize over the next few years.
1) Starting Point guard: Jeremy Lin. The point guard of the present and future is here, and as both an on and off the court entity, he’s pretty freaking exciting. To sum up what he means to Houston: People will be interested in the team (as evidenced by the team’s prime time Christmas night feature), and his offensive style is both exciting and endearing—Lin is basically a superstar whose only weakness is a lack of basketball ability. Is he better than Kyle Lowry? Not today, but we’ll see how he does with a full offseason to train and prepare, knowing he’s the day one starting point guard for an NBA team.
2) Starting Center: Omer Asik. Asik has never been a full-time starter in the NBA, but when he took the court in Chicago he was one of the best defensive players in basketball. Whether or not he can sustain that play to a steady enough degree will be pretty important, but I expect him to. There might be some drop off, but the consistently he displayed shows a guy who generally knows what he’s doing. Offensively he’s a work in progress, but the expectations on that side aren’t high or nearly as necessary.
3) Sturdy Glue: Chandler Parsons. Parsons spent his rookie season earning the respect of the game’s best players. He’s spent this summer acting like one of them, casually dominating Summer League contests and assuming a leadership role that he’ll likely resume when the real season starts and the games start to matter. Parsons is due less than $3 million over the next three seasons, with the final two years being non-guaranteed. (By the end of this season, he will have the best valued contracts in the entire league.) Parsons is one of the surest products on the roster, and his style/ceiling reminds me of Gerald Wallace or Andrei Kirilenko. He exceeds whatever’s asked of him, can guard multiple positions, and plays the game with a fluid reckless abandonment some teammates will hopefully find to be contagious.
4) Youth. From where we stand now, the odds that either Royce White, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones, or Donatas Motiejunas matures from metaphysical symbol of hope to empirically legitimate basketball player are pretty good. If more than one can contribute on a nightly basis, the Rockets will be in very good shape, but expect this upcoming season to be one of growing pains and a battle for playing time as additional cogs like JaJuan Johnson fight for their fair share of minutes. Looking at Motiejunas and White in particular, their skill sets are rarities, giving the Rockets an incredible advantage should they max their talent out.
5) Cap space/trade flexibility. According to Storytellerscontracts.com, in 2013-14 the Rockets have just $29.79 million tied up in 13 players, with eight of them holding either non-guaranteed contracts or team options. This is unbelievable news for a team that’s looking to get better in a hurry. The free agency class next summer is a very, very talented one, and where we stand right now there won’t be too many teams able to compete with the cap space Houston will hold. Not saying they have an inside track, but I’d expect the Rockets to target a slew of players, including: Chris Paul, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Steph Curry, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard (gulp), and Josh Smith.
6) Lottey picks. The chances of Houston failing miserably next season are pretty good, giving them a fair chance at landing a top 10 pick in the 2013 draft. After that you factor in the lottery pick Toronto gave up in exchange for Kyle Lowry, and it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that the Rockets will have two top 10 picks (Jonas Valanciunas didn’t look too hot in London). They could either be this year’s version of Portland (another team with two top 10 picks in the 2012 draft), or, if they’re lucky, New Orleans 2.0. The Hornets walked away with two of their three foundational pieces for the next five years, in Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. It’s too early to speculate on how good 2013 draft class prospects will be, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any sexy names. Shabazz Muhammad, Rudy Gobert, Cody Zeller, and Nerlens Noel are all projecting to be NBA caliber talents (and by that I mean Draft Express has them going in the top four picks in their 2013 Mock Draft). Lottery picks require a bit of patience, but with the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Celtics, and Heat looking pre-ordained for the upcoming season, the Rockets can stand to wait a year or two.