Amidst the hoopla of "Johnny Football, Part Two" and the carnage of the box set of back breaking turnovers that Matt Schaub is assembling, the Rockets quietly opened training camp this week with arguably their best assembly of talent since the mid 90's.
Indeed, a new age of Rockets basketball begins at the end of the month, and it's head coach Kevin McHale's job to ensure that the investment the team has made in blood, sweat, tears, time and money to latch onto two of the league's top 10 to 15 players is sound and cohesive.
This time a year ago, McHale's job was to somehow find a way to make a team built around Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (along with holdover Chandler Parsons) watchable and worth the big money that season ticket holders pay.
Amazing how things can change in one year, and that swing in perception for the Rockets and other teams bears itself out in the season win total numbers released by sports books yesterday (specifically @LVSportsbook, with a hat tip to R.J. Bell, founder of pregame.com).
Here are those numbers with a few of my random thoughts on some of the teams:
TEAM, posted '13-'14 win total ('12-'13 preseason posted total, +/- diff in totals)
MIAMI HEAT, 60 wins (60.5, -0.5) Everyone who I've asked to play the "guess the total" game with the Miami Heat forecasts them for at least 5 or 6 more wins than this. Last season, they won 66 games, but you have to remember that was on the strength of an improbable 27 game winning streak that probably had this team playing at max effort with no resting of starters for about 12-13 games more than normal. My guess is Vegas gets a ton of action on the OVER here, and anytime Vegas gets a ton of action on anything...well, you know.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, 57 wins (49.5, +7.5) 56 win team last season, but they were crazy hot early and then tailed off, both during the regular season and in a first round bowing out of the playoffs. A lot of stock being placed in Doc Rivers to have this team as the number two win total in the league.
CHICAGO BULLS, 56.5 wins (47.5, +9) A 45 win team last year playing a season of Thibodeau Ugly-Ball without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are now thought to be the main competition to the Heat in the East with Rose. Rose is playing, right?
SAN ANTONIO SPURS, 55.5 wins (54.5, +1) Death, taxes, and the Spurs winning 50-something games.
HOUSTON ROCKETS, 54.5 wins (31.5 , +23) If Dwight Howard is fully healthy (point of disclosure, he had a sore foot this week, for what it's worth) and the parts mesh together with what will undoubtedly be a different style of play, I think the Rockets go at least four or five wins over this number, due in large part to the fact that they will have a legit center on the defensive end of the floor (or two) every minute of every game, in theory. The Howard/Asik center rotation will make this team a top five defensive team in the league.
INDIANA PACERS, 53.5 (51.5, +2) BROOKLYN NETS, 52.5 wins (44.5, +8) Team won 49 games last season, so in terms of WINS the forecasted increase of adding tens of millions in salary with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is around three additional wins. Okie dokie.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER, 50.5 wins (60.5, -10) For a team thought to be the "next big thing" two years ago, 50.5 is a pretty yawn-inducing win total, and that along with Russell Westbrook's surgery this week that will keep him out 4-6 weeks underscore the disaster that the James Harden trade was for this team.
NEW YORK KNICKS, 49.5 wins (46.5, +3) GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 49.5 wins (35.5, +14) Buyer beware in placing too much stock in Golden State's beating a beatable Denver team in the playoffs and overestimating exactly what Andre Iguodala has left in the tank.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, 49 wins (48.5, +0.5) DENVER NUGGETS, 47 wins (49.5, -2.5) The Rockets will need to replace somebody in the conference's upper echelon, and Denver is the safest bet. Truth be told, if you feel like Minnesota is ready to make a move into playoff contention or the Mavs have a playoff burst in them, here's your team to be replaced, the Nuggets.
DALLAS MAVERICKS, 44 wins (44.5, -0.5) WASHINGTON WIZARDS, 42.5 wins (27.5, +15) Lots of room cleared out in the "back end of the playoff" section of the Eastern Conference standings with Boston and Philly positioning themselves for the basketball equivalent of "winter is coming" in those cities. Most likely candidates to replace those teams are the Wizards, and the...
DETROIT PISTONS, 41 wins (32.5, +8.5) ....and the....
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, 41 wins (31.5, +9)
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, 41 wins (39.5, +1.5) NEW ORLEANS PELICANS, 40 wins (26.5, +14) Jrue Holiday! Jrue Holiday! Jrue Holiday!!!
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ATLANTA HAWKS, 40 wins (42.5, -2.5) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS, 38.5 wins (34.5, +4) TORONTO RAPTORS, 36.5 wins (32.5, +4) LOS ANGELES LAKERS, 33.5 wins (58.5, -25) That the Lakers are being forecasted at the back end of the "purgatory crew" shows how drastically flawed their post-Dwight strategy is. Shut Kobe down for a year, strip the remainder down to the core, and make your run at Andrew Wiggins. if it doesn't work, you're no worse off than you were before. I know the argument about Laker season ticket holders and trying to give them their money's worth. If you do the "sit Kobe, tank hard" plan, you're doing that...in years 2014 and beyond. Let's face it, they're gonna hate this year's product either way.
SACRAMENTO KINGS, 31.5 wins (29.5, +2) MILWAUKEE BUCKS, 28.5 wins (36.5, -8) UTAH JAZZ, 27.5 wins (42.5, -15) BOSTON CELTICS, 27.5 wins (51.5, -24) This season has to be the lowest combined forecasted win total for the Lakers and the Celtics in league history. Has to be. I need to get R.J. Bell on this, stat!
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS, 27.5 wins (19.5, +8) ORLANDO MAGIC, 24.5 wins (23.5, +1) PHOENIX SUNS, 21.5 wins (33.5, -12) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS, 16.5 wins (47.5, -31) Would it surprise anybody if new Philly general manager decided to rent a flat in Lawrence, KS for the entire upcoming college basketball season?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.