The Rockets begin their 50th anniversary as an NBA franchise with the season opener this week. The franchise has experienced many highs and lows over the years, including back-to-back championships in ‘94 and ’95.
This Golden Anniversary season begins a year of uncertainty. The Rockets will feature a new head coach in Mike D’Antoni, a new point in James Harden, and a collection of new players. How successful will the team be? Only time will tell.
D’Antoni becomes the13th head coach in the history of the franchise and the fifth since Leslie Alexander took over ownership in 1993. The 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year while at Phoenix, D’Antoni’s teams traditionally have been known for lots of offense and minimal defense.
The Rockets have fortified their team with scorers this off-season. Stretch power forward Ryan Anderson and combo guard Eric Gordon add instant offense. Anderson has averaged 16 points per game for the past five seasons. He has also averaged 37.5% from three point land.
Gordon has averaged 16.6 points, 3.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.06 steals during his eight-year career and can handle either backcourt position.
D’Antoni believes in his team’s ability to put points on the scoreboard.
“I think we should be the best offensive team in the league and if we can do that with good defense, we’re going to be a tough out. I expect us to be really good,” D’Antoni opined.
D’Antoni could be correct, but he certainly didn’t get any help from the NBA schedule makers. The Rockets play seven of their first 10 games of the season on the road. This includes two games against Dallas and San Antonio and a visit to Cleveland to face LeBron and the world champion Cavaliers.
Last season Kevin McHale was fired after 11 games. D’Antoni won’t be fired, but as a new coach you’d like to get off to a fast start.
“What concerns me is the fact that everybody would like to have a great start,” Coach D’Antoni said. “We have a hard start, but I think our character and our culture and guys know that we’re going to hang in there no matter what. If we get off to a slow start, we don’t want to, we don’t anticipate that, but we will deal with whatever we have to deal with. We got a hard schedule so we have to be ready and I think we are.”
With a collection of new players including center NeNe Hilario, forward Kyle Wiltjer, point guard Tyler Ennis and forward P. J. Hairston chemistry can be an issue.
Newcomer Ryan Anderson reports that so far all has gone well with chemistry. Of course when you’ve got a superstar like James Harden, it makes coming together easy.
“We’ve got a great group that really understands each other; understands our strengths and weaknesses. Obviously it’s built around James.”
Of course, the success or failure of the Rockets season will depend on their best player, All-Star James Harden.
With all the changes on and off the court, “The Beard” is pleased with the team’s direction. We’re moving in the right direction on both ends of the court. We’ve got a really good nucleus from top to bottom.”
Under D’Antoni, Harden will see more time at the point guard position. A facilitator role that he embraces.
“The playmaker is the point guard. My job is to go out and create. My teammates trust me to make the right decisions,” Harden explained. “We have a lot of guys who can create and knock down shots. Guys will get a lot of open looks to knock down shots. We’re a versatile team. We’ve got guys who can play different positions. We have a lot of shooters. The floor will be spread. Guys get into the lane and create, finishing for themselves or corners where they can spot 3’s. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing for the Rockets this year.”
With an assorted collection of offensive stars and a new coach known for running a potent offensive attack, the Rockets should be exciting. If they can stay healthy and play defense they should be an interesting team to watch.