All Systems Go: The Rockets Are Young, Focused and Ready to Compete

Fun-loving, but hyper-competitive on the court, the Rockets are ready to deliver a new age in Houston basketball. Fans are ready for that, too.

Questions answered, Howard bounded toward the door and teammate Harden, who was about to take his turn behind the mike. "Moses!" Howard shouted, using yet another of his ever-expanding array of nicknames. "The leader of the Red Nation is going to part the Red Sea."

Twenty years ago this month, another Rockets team began its journey toward the NBA promised land. The venue may have changed. The buzz around the team and the city may have ramped up. But the quest is exactly the same. If the Rockets want this season to end with fans dancing in the streets as they did in 1994, they will need every bit of that chemistry and every ounce of talent they can squeeze from the roster.

Five Questions

Surrounded by players he really likes, Howard is all smiles in his Rockets uniform.
Photos by Jeff Balke
Surrounded by players he really likes, Howard is all smiles in his Rockets uniform.
Dwight Howard laughs it up during a commercial promo shoot on Rockets Media Day.
Photos by Jeff Balke
Dwight Howard laughs it up during a commercial promo shoot on Rockets Media Day.

Who will start at point guard?

When a team claims to have two guys who could start at a position, that doesn't usually mean it has two All-Star-caliber players at the spot, but rather two guys of relatively equal but average ability. The Rockets have had this problem before, most recently with Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks, then with Lowry and Goran Dragic.

Both Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley bring unique skills to the floor. Lin is an excellent distributor and perhaps one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA, but his shooting has been spotty and he can be a defensive liability. Beverley is an outstanding defender with a high motor, but is he capable of running the offense? Because they are both so inexperienced, it's conceivable one could eventually beat out the other simply through development as a player, but how do McHale and company handle it this season?

Lin is likely to start with Beverley as the team's defensive stopper off the bench, but one solution may be to use both of them at the same time. McHale likes the smaller lineups at times to create mismatches, so don't be surprised if they both get plenty of minutes this year.

Will Asik be a Rocket by the end of the season?

When the Rockets signed Howard, it was reported that Asik was unhappy at once again being relegated to a backup role. Asik rightfully earned starter's minutes last season, particularly on the defensive end. In fact, when Asik was not on the floor last year, the Rockets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. With him, they were middle of the pack.

The team has adamantly denied it has plans to trade Asik and even wants to put him on the floor with Howard for stretches this season. Despite Howard's ability to guard power forwards, both guys prefer to play in the lane, and neither is taking a jump shot outside of about eight feet. Having Asik come off the bench would give the Rockets the luxury of a constant defensive presence in the post, but his greatest strength might be in his trade value. At this point, it would be more of a surprise if Asik is still a Rocket by the end of the season than if he isn't.

Is the Rockets' future power forward currently on the roster?

One year ago, the Rockets had a glut of mostly undersize power forwards filling a chunk of roster space. By the beginning of this preseason, they were essentially down to two in Donatas Motiejunas and Jones. Motiejunas would appear to be everything the Rockets want in a power forward. He's tall, he's a good rebounder, he plays with intensity and he's a solid shooter from distance. But he has struggled with consistency and can be a defensive liability.

Jones is the more typical NBA power forward. He's got a lively, athletic body and is big enough to muscle guys on the block. He is developing a three-point shot that's still inconsistent, but he shows some promise in that area. Despite his size and athleticism, Jones is a shaky defender who often finds himself out of position on that end of the floor.

A case could be made for keeping them both and continuing to develop them — Howard called Jones the most intriguing player he worked with in the off-season on the roster — but Morey has said he wants veteran players to complement his core stars, approaching trades with a win-now mentality. As good as either "D-Mo" or Jones might eventually be, the ­Rockets may not be able to wait.

Will anyone without Comcast be able to watch the Rockets this year?

Since its inception, Comcast SportsNet Houston could be described in two ways: as a great local sports channel with high production value and as invisible to 60 percent of the viewing public. At the heart of the problem was the per-subscriber asking price of the network. Carriers like AT&T U-verse, DirecTV and Dish Network believe it to be too high, and, as a result, the channel has not been available to huge numbers of people in the Houston market. But that might not be a completely fair assessment.

Since CSN filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers in court in early October, it has come to light that the impasse is due mainly to Astros owner Jim Crane, as we first reported last spring. The Astros own 46.384 percent of the network and the Rockets 30.923 percent, with the remainder owned by NBC Universal/Comcast. The four representatives of the three parties — two from NBC Universal/Comcast and one each from the Rockets and Astros — must agree unanimously on carriage decisions. Court filings indicate that three of the four are ready to sign off on agreements to get the channel on all the major providers. Crane is the lone holdout.

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The NBA is still mostly a crapshoot.  Injuries, interpersonal fueds, etc can derail even the most talented team.

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