Breaking Down How Houston Rockets Could Sign-and-Trade for Ramon Sessions

Point guard Jeremy Lin was nothing but professional when discussing his two seasons with the Houston Rockets after the organization traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in a cap-clearing maneuver.

“The writing was kind of on the wall,” Lin told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy. “For me, I just felt like they were heading in a different direction, which is okay and I totally understand it from a business standpoint.”

But in the wake of Lin’s departure, a different kind of writing is now on the wall. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is tasked with restocking his team’s depth after parting ways with Lin and separately dealing center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Signing swingman Trevor Ariza will go a ways toward replacing Chandler Parsons (who signed as a restricted free agent with the Dallas Mavericks), but Houston’s depth remains an area of concern.

Especially at the point guard spot.

With 26-year-old Ish Smith currently the club’s best bet to back up starter Patrick Beverley, it should come as no surprise that Morey and Co. are investigating other options.

Such a move may not make many headlines, but it could certainly yield dividends for a Rockets rotation in desperate need of reinforcements.

Sessions finished the season with the Milwaukee Bucks after playing his first 55 games (and the 2012-13 campaign) with the Charlotte Bobcats—now the Hornets. His playing time swelled to an average of 32.5 minutes in 28 games with the Bucks, translating into 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game.

Through his seven-year career, Sessions has averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 assists while making 43.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.

The 28-year-old’s journey has spanned five different teams and included multiple roles as both a starter and reserve. 

Sessions appear to have the opportunity of a lifetime when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired him via trade in 2012. But after just 23 regular-season games with the franchise and an uninspiring postseason performance, the two sides parted ways that summer when the Nevada product became a free agent.

“It was one of those situations I looked at like, ‘If I do come back what if they trade me?’” Sessions told Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears after signing with Charlotte. “There were talks about getting Deron [Williams]. They always wanted the bigger-named guy. What if I get traded to a team and it’s my contract year?”

The stability in Charlotte was short-lived, however. 

In February, Sessions was dealt along with Jeff Adrien to Milwaukee in exchange for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour.

And his struggle to find a long-term home isn’t over yet.

Perhaps the Rockets are an ideal situation.

As NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman notes, “The Rockets could use a better backup point guard. The market has mostly dried up for Sessions. And the Bucks, who no longer have a place for Sessions, would love to get return for him. There’s definitely a chance for a deal to be reached.”

The difficulty could be a logistical one.

Feldman also points out that, “Milwaukee can’t mindlessly take back an extra player in a trade,” as the organization already has 15 guaranteed contracts (along with non-guaranteed deals belonging to Kendall Marshall and Chris Wright).

Meanwhile, Morey is somewhat limited in terms of what he can offer.

Here’s what we know. James Harden, Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones aren’t going anywhere. At the moment, that’s Houston’s starting lineup, and it’s unlikely to undergo any significant alteration unless there emerges some opportunity to land another big name.

The rest of the Rockets’ roster is a hodgepodge of unproven or otherwise unattractive assets. Even if Sessions isn’t worth much, Milwaukee still needs some incentive to actually participate in a deal.

One solution may be Donatas Motiejunas, a 7-foot Lithuanian entering his third season. The 23-year-old was acquired in the 2011 draft-night trade that also sent point guard Jonny Flynn to Houston and is scheduled to make just $1,483,920 this season.

Motiejunas averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in just 15.4 minutes per game last season, but his big selling point remains upside. 

Having shown some flashes of outside shooting ability, Motiejunas could develop into a legitimate floor-spacing big man. And in today’s NBA, there’s a huge premium on those guys.

For the record, Motiejunas has made just 26.9 percent of his career three-point attempts. He’s still a work in progress.

But he’s also young, and his potential to develop into a consistent contributor just might grab Milwaukee’s attention.

Absent the cap flexibility to sign someone like Sessions outright, Houston may be forced to prematurely pull the plug on its Motiejunas experiment—the closest thing the organization has to an undeveloped long-term project.

Formidable as Houston’s starting lineup may be, this is a team that needs a reliable presence in its second unit—and all the more so in the backcourt. Besides Smith, the Rockets’ other options to back up Beverley currently include second-round pick Nick Johnson and the still untested Isaiah Canaan, who’s entering his second season.

Sessions is precisely the kind of veteran who could stabilize the Rockets rotation and provide insurance behind Beverley, who was limited by injury to just 56 games a season ago.

Harden made a few headlines in July saying, per The Philippine Star‘s Joaquin Henson that, “Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team.”

But without the right role players, this team is anything but complete.

Sessions could quietly become a significant step toward changing that.

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Houston Rockets’ Personnel Is Ready to Improve Defense

The Houston Rockets need to be better defenders, and they know it. Superstar and team leader James Harden has begun to lead the charge toward improvement after a year spent getting humiliated by Internet video montages of his lax coverage.

Harden has focused on his defense with Team USA this summer. This, from Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops, is especially telling:

I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away… But now I am being told Harden is getting it done on [defense], which has always been the major complaint about his game.

Harden looks almost like a different player this summer. While his offensive production is still made up of the same herky-jerky trickery and repeat trips to the free-throw line, Harden has also been a dependable perimeter stopper for the Americans. It’s clear that despite his irrational claim to ESPN’s Scoop Jackson of being the best all-around player in basketball, Harden has heard the haters and gained awareness of his weaknesses.

And thankfully for Harden and Rockets fans, he also got some help this summer. Trevor Ariza arriving as Chandler Parsons’ replacement at small forward means one of last season’s stingiest wing defenders joins the team’s ranks.

Ariza’s 1.03 defensive real plus-minus easily surpasses Parsons’ 0.59 mark. He’s a shrewder, more seasoned player and has experience as a defensive specialist not just with last year’s Washington Wizards, but also as an NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ariza and a steelier Harden could go a long way in reducing Dwight Howard’s exorbitant recovery defense responsibilities in 2014-15, but perhaps a paradigm shift in Houston would take them even further. Coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey have encouraged an analytics-friendly, fast-breaking style over the past few Rockets campaigns, but it’s not exactly clear that such an approach behooves their roster at this point.

A more methodical, measured Rockets attack could be the greatest agent of positive change for Houston. Howard is at his best as the anchor of a set half-court defense, and slower paces always favor such arrangements. Scaling back their feverish 100.6 possessions-per-game speed (easily the highest among playoff teams in 2013-14) would also help younger, lesser defenders like Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas find their spots.

Morey and his front office flirted with the idea of hiring Lionel Hollins as McHale’s top assistant this June. Although Hollins ended up inking with the Brooklyn Nets as their new head coach, the Rockets’ pursuit of him was, possibly, a signal that the team is looking to change its ways. The defensive-minded Hollins, whose Memphis Grizzlies teams were always among the league’s slowest, surely would have taken Houston’s X’s and O’s in a different direction.

Maybe chasing Hollins was, alternately, simply a gesture made to let McHale and his troops know what they need to work on.

Some were surprised that McHale kept his job after a sour first-round postseason exit, despite holding home-court advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers. Houston has given McHale more time to get his defense in order, but it’s clear that he has goals to meet if he wants to stay on for too much longer.

The same goes for the Rockets’ roster. Morey is a GM who’s unafraid to make big moves, and if he senses this core is flawed, he won’t hold on to it out of sentiment. Just like he let locker room leader Parsons walk this summer, Morey would ship off other Rockets without flinching if he didn’t see them as relevant to the team’s title hopes. Because defense, inarguably, is essential in pursuing that goal.

 

Advanced statistics courtesy of ESPN.

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5 Reasons Why Houston Rockets Could Surpass Expectations Next Year

A painful first-round exit turned into an even worse offseason, but it’s not time to panic just yet for the Houston Rockets. After striking out in free agency and losing Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in the process, the experts don’t have much faith in the Rockets. But I still do, and I am going to give you five reasons why you should too.

The Western Conference is never a walk in the park. The past few years, there have been at least nine or 10 legitimate playoff teams in the West. There is plenty of competition within the conference, which makes regaining home-court advantage a difficult task for Houston.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers all finished ahead of Houston last season and are poised to do the same once again in 2015. Then you have other teams clawing at the Rockets for the final spot in the top four, such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, etc.

ESPN has the Rockets finishing eighth, behind all of those teams, albeit the fourth seed and eighth seed are separated by just two games. It’s crowded out West, but Houston can hang with the best of them. Here are five reasons, ranked in order of significance, why the Rockets will be a top-4 team once again.

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Everything You Need to Know About Houston Rockets’ Kostas Papanikolaou

The Houston Rockets will have a different look entering the 2014-15 NBA season, and while the acquisition of Kostas Papanikolaou won’t move the needle much for casual admirers, fans in Clutch City should know a few things about one of their newest acquisitions. 

At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is about to make the transition from Europe to the NBA. As he stated in a written statement following the signing of his new contract (h/t Aris Barkas of EuroHoops.net), “A new page opens [upon] me and the biggest challenge of my [career] awaits.”

So who is this youngster who’s embarking upon the biggest challenge of his career? As B/R’s Dave Leonardis put it, he’s the newest “international man of mystery.”

There’s a lot to learn about Papanikolaou, but one thing we know is that he’s been a winner up to this point in his career. That’s a mentality Houston needs, and it’s one that will behoove all parties involved during the 2014-15 campaign.

 

Championship Background

At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is hardly a household name for NBA fans. His accolades, however, are impressive considering his age.

At this point in his professional career, Papanikolaou is a two-time Euroleague champion. He’s also a Greek League champion and a Spanish League champion from 2012 and 2014, respectively.

On top of the team success he’s achieved, he was the MVP of the 2009 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship, the MVP of the Greek Youth All-Star Game the same year and the Euroleague Rising Star of 2013.

Will all this success translate across the pond in the NBA? Not necessarily. The professional game is played at a different level here than it is there, but all that said, the prospect brings a versatile skill set to the table, and his on-court abilities are noteworthy entering his rookie season.

 

What He Brings To The Rockets

Papanikolaou was drafted in 2012 by the New York Knicks. He was selected as a draft-and-stash prospect who ultimately stayed with Greek heavyweight Olympiakos, and he was eventually traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the deal that sent Raymond Felton to the Big Apple.

From there, all while Papanikolaou was still overseas, the Rockets acquired his rights while trading away Thomas Robinson to make room for Dwight Howard. Then on Aug. 8, Houston finally signed him to a two-year deal, as reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

Set to play his first game in the NBA this fall, Papanikolaou brings both size and versatility to the roster. At 6’8″ (or 6’9″ depending where you look), he has the potential to play as either a 3 or stretch-4 at this level. 

According to DraftExpress.com, he shot 36.1 percent from deep this past season in the Euroleague, and while he only averaged 6.9 points per contest, his minutes were limited to 25.0 per game and he shot an efficient 60.4 percent from two-point range.

Papanikolaou doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he appears to have a great motor. As he said in his written statement (from above), “I know that in order to justify my presence i have to work two and three times as hard as i did [until] now, but this isn’t something that scares me.”

He’s more of a 3 at this point, but he doesn’t appear intimidated by contact, offering hope he can play down low on occasion. He’ll have to adjust defensively to the NBA game, but his work ethic and already-impressive defensive attributes should give fans hope he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor sooner rather than later.

 

Expectations

At this juncture, it’s safe to say Papanikolaou won’t exude stardom as the Rockets make a run at playoff success in 2015. That said, there’s at least a glimmer of hope he can soften the blow of Chandler Parsons’ offseason departure.

As ESPN’s Marc Stein put it, “The 6-foot-9 small forward has won the Euroleague championship twice already in his young career and appeared destined to continue playing in Spain this season until the Rockets, after losing Parsons in free agency to the Mavericks, decided to increase their offer.

Don’t expect greatness on Day 1, but with the kind of money Papanikolaou will be making in 2014-15 ($4.8 million guaranteed, according to Wojnarowski), he’ll certainly have a shot to earn his minutes. A modest role to start the year should be expected, but if he can step in and avoid mistakes while spreading the floor, he could make a name for himself on a roster full of unproven role players.

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Houston Rockets’ Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason

It was an unfortunate offseason for the Houston Rockets, who missed out on their top free-agent targets and lost some key role players. But all things considered, the Rockets are still in decent shape out West.

The dynamic duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard is still running the show in H-Town. The supporting cast will look a little different this season, but it’s not all bad for the Rockets.

Houston lost some big names such as Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik but also picked up plenty of talent through free agency and the draft. The biggest signing was Trevor Ariza, but the Rockets also will be welcoming new faces such as Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith and more.

With several departures as well as some intriguing arrivals, many of the players on Houston’s roster will have ample opportunities to break out this year. People could be surprised by the performances of some little-known bench players all season long.

The schedule is out, and the Rockets now know their path en route to hopefully a third straight playoff appearance. But before we head off to L.A. for opening night against the Lakers, let’s take a look back at the biggest winners and losers of the offseason for Houston.

The winners are the people (or things) that have benefited from the Rockets’ offseason, while the losers, not so much.

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Lakers to Play Howard’s Rockets on Opening Night, Gasol’s Bulls on Christmas

LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have distinctly different legacies in Los Angeles, but these days they share a link: They’re moving on in life as former Lakers, having left Kobe Bryant behind.

And in the established and admittedly irresistible tradition of NBA scheduling with a vengeful accent on the not-so-dearly departed, Bryant will be going up against Howard on opening night and against Gasol on Christmas Day in two of the Lakers’ and the league’s highest-profile games of the 2014-15 season.

Although the schedule won’t be officially announced until NBA TV unveils it at 3 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, the Lakers are set to face Howard and the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Oct. 28 and visit Gasol and the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 25, according to league sources. The games will mark the first times Bryant plays against Howard and Gasol as former teammates.

As an added boost to the old revenge angle, Lakers Jeremy Lin (former Rocket) and Carlos Boozer (former Bull) can circle those same dates on the calendar. Even better!

The Dwight-less Lakers were relevant last year, too, playing (and beating) the Clippers as part of the NBA’s TNT opening night showcase. With Bryant plotting his return, it’s logical that the league thinks enough of the Lakers to feature them again on the opening Tuesday night broadcast.

But it’s a testament to how much the Lakers’ past remains prominent in their future when the NBA makes Bryant’s first game back from Achilles and knee injuries last season against the guy who deserted him while he was down.

No matter how much diehard Lakers fans are ready to embrace Julius Randle and Byron Scott and savor whatever small victories they earn along the rebuilding road, the reality is that the Lakers’ 2012-13 car wreck was massive enough for rubbernecking still to be taking place years later.

Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Steve Nash were supposed to make magic as Lakers, but they so didn’t. And just as we don’t want to forget underdogs who rise to stunning success, we don’t want to let favorites forget their epic fails.

Bryant’s injuries meant he didn’t play against the Rockets last season, which was Howard’s first after snubbing the Lakers’ “Stay” ad campaign to move to Houston. Now Gasol, whom Bryant has said he considers “a brother,” has left the Lakers via free agency in hopes of winning his first NBA title without Bryant in Chicago.

We could argue for more years to come on which was truly the first domino in the Lakers’ 2012-13 mess. Nash suffering what would be a career-threatening injury in just his second game as a Laker certainly tilted the court immediately into an uphill battle.

But would Nash have even been effective in Mike Brown’s undefined offense (or Phil Jackson’s triangle offense)? Would Gasol have ever been effective at forward in Mike D’Antoni’s spread-floor offense? Did the team ever have any real chance on defense or at greatness with Howard never buying in to being a Laker?

As intriguing as those questions remain, the guy who is being scheduled to play those mind games on opening night and Christmas Day most assuredly has already left them behind.

Bryant has been known to hold a grudge, but his modus operandi is just as certainly not to wallow. He is all about going onto the next thing he can control, and right now that’s his body, mindset and whatever ways—individual and team—he can continue his pursuit of excellence.

If the Lakers are to have a successful season, that’s the theme that is going to have to pervade: forward progress.

Bryant will need to be healthy and strong enough to make his comeback a singular story of inspiration that transcends whether the guy he’s scoring over is evil Dwight or good Pau. Scott, Lin, Nash and Boozer will all have to be rowing meaningfully in that same boat toward individual redemption, and guys such as Randle, Jordan Hill, Nick Young, Ed Davis, Ryan Kelly, Xavier Henry and Robert Sacre will all have to step up for a lot of look-what-I-can-do nights.

If not, then it’s going to be a long season in which the most meaningful storylines are indeed about the opponents and the past.

The only good news on that front is that Gasol, even with his clear decline, is a lot more likely than Howard to be the one winning the post-Lakers title this season.

The Rockets were weakened by Chris Bosh not coming and by Chandler Parsons going, while it’s nearly impossible to find anyone with the Lakers who begrudges Gasol future success. Given the obvious defensive deficiencies on LeBron James’ new Cleveland team, Gasol has an excellent chance at following Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau into another immediate NBA Finals.

Yes, there are those with the Lakers who were disappointed by Gasol’s level of aggressiveness and commitment to earn the massive contract extension Jerry Buss gave him. But if the Lakers are OK with having to visit anyone on Christmas, it’s Gasol.

The Lakers haven’t had to hit the holiday road often. They’ve played on Christmas every year since 1999, and the only times in that 15-year span they’ve had to load up their sleigh and leave Staples were in 2005 and 2006 to play at Miami.

Those games followed the original Kobe-Shaq Christmas Ice Show at Staples in ’04, and that three-game Christmas series after their breakup just goes to show how the NBA tries to help out: by giving families at home for the holidays the chance to bond together while watching people on TV not get along!

Although Gasol did choose to leave the Lakers, it’s different in this case. Christmas might pit brother against brother, but you know Kobe and Pau will have a heck of a hug right after.

What Bryant will have to prove that night and every other is that the Lakers’ season isn’t about the guys they no longer have.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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Is Dwight Howard Ready to Put the Houston Rockets on His Back?

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard hasn’t shied away from putting a target on his back, but for the Rockets to have any substantial success in the 2014-15 season, he’ll have to put the team on his back a well.

Although there were serious questions leading into last year about whether Howard would ever be the same physically or if he was in the midst of a steep decline, a lot of those were put to bed.

Howard recovered nicely from back surgery, and he used the 2013-14 season to slowly climb back to be the player we grew accustomed to seeing during his time with the Orlando Magic.

Although the Rockets ultimately fell in the first round to a Portland Trail Blazers squad, Howard finished the season with an exclamation mark. Over the course of the six-game series, Howard averaged a whopping 26 points, 13.7 boards, 2.8 blocks and a career-high playoff PER of 27.2.

Even though that performance was overshadowed by those of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Howard’s effort quieted most doubters and established that he was back. Maybe he wasn’t at prime form defensively, but offensively he was as good as ever.

Perhaps some of that confidence gained during the postseason bled over into the offseason.

After the Rockets whiffed on Chris Bosh and lost Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in the process, Howard didn’t seem to be bothered much. Here’s what he told the Associated Press, via ESPN, following the departure of Parsons:

‘It won’t affect us at all,’ Howard said Friday of Parsons signing a three-year, $45-million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. …

‘We have myself and James,’ Howard said. ‘We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.’

While Howard is misguided in his original comment, he’s not far off the mark in his follow up. The onus is on James Harden and himself to carry the roster, as they’re the two highest-paid players and two of the league’s biggest stars.

Although their teammates may not love it, at least Howard and Harden are on the same page there.

Here’s what Harden told Joaquin Henson of the Philippine Star:

‘Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets,’ said Harden. ‘The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.’

Harden and Howard both should have chosen their words more carefully, but it’s clear that they both know what’s ahead of them. 

From Howard’s perspective, you can understand why he feels like losing Parsons might not be too great of a loss. Even though time has passed and a lot has changed (particularly the conference in which Howard plays), in his own mind, he probably remembers carrying an Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals as the lone star.

With that in mind, the prospect of carrying more responsibility might actually be appealing for him. Fewer stars and more role players around him equals more touches, right? It makes sense that Howard’s experiences with Orlando, a team built around him, and the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with too many cooks in the kitchen, would paint his views.

There’s some legitimacy to that. There will be no diffusion of responsibility in Houston next year. The Rockets will go as far as Howard and Harden can carry the team.

At least on that front, Howard’s dominance last year in the postseason is a great sign. While no one expects him to retain that form for a full season, it’s good to know he has that level of play ready in reserve.

The question is whether or not others can step up when Howard inevitably faces double-teams, and if he can get the help defensively that he needs. 

The addition of Trevor Ariza should help in both areas, but the depth of the roster was hurt this offseason. Howard lacks a legitimate backup, and it’s questionable how much Terrence Jones can help him protect the rim as a full-time starting 4. There are holes to be filled.

Here’s Brett Pollakoff at Pro Basketball Talk with his take:

Howard continues to take an unrealistic view about just how much he and Harden can do for the rest of the roster.

A better approach would have been the one taken by Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, who knows the team got worse this offseason, at least on paper. Displaying false bravado in essentially saying, ‘Nah, we’re good’ when losing a player who contributed as much as Parsons without getting anyone to replace him is not only ridiculous, but shows the level of delusion Howard has when it comes to the game of basketball.

As for the Rockets, fans care about winning and getting out of the first round of the playoffs more than they do about acquiring assets like “cap room” and “trade exceptions.” Houston has its two superstars, right Dwight? If that’s enough, then let’s see the team actually win some games in the postseason.

Houston indeed has its two superstars, but it might be foolish to assume it has been maximized up to this point. Howard and Harden have still only played one full season together, and we saw most recently with the Miami Heat that it can take some time and experimentation before a fit can really click.

Both Howard and Harden can easily be better this upcoming year than they were in their first season together, and here’s Bleacher Report’s John Wilmes with a reason why:

Nevertheless, the Rockets still would have been better off with more Harden-Howard action. As good as Howard can be on the block, their offense will breathe more easily if the Rockets can directly engage their two best players in tandem.

Expect to see a hefty dose of this action as they look to make up for the loss of Parsons and also Jeremy Lin, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Whether it’s fair or not, there’s an awful lot of pressure mounted on the shoulders of the big names in Houston.

Harden has to elevate the play of the role players he acknowledged he’s surrounded by. Head coach Kevin McHale has to maximize the talent on the floor. Daryl Morey could stand to make a big acquisition at some point.

Ultimately, though, the fate of the Rockets probably boils down to how great Howard can be. He’s one of the few players in the league that can truly dominate on both ends of the floor, and after Houston’s offseason, it’s clear he’ll be depended on to do just that. 

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Who Will Be the Houston Rockets’ 3rd Scorer Next Season?

A retooled Houston Rockets squad will take the floor with fresh questions in the 2014-15 season, and this is perhaps the most prevalent: Who will be its third scorer?

With Chandler Parsons gone, there will be a productivity hole left open. There’s a blind spot of offensive creation behind the James Harden-Dwight Howard juggernaut and no clear successor to the role.

Houston has a handful of less headline-grabbing names on hand who could be capable of stepping up the task this year.

 

Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza is the popular pick to be the team’s third gun. Not only is he the biggest name brought in via free agency this offseason, but he’s a seasoned veteran with a lot of playoff successincluding a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ariza can shoot, too. At 41 percent, he was more accurate from beyond the arc than Parsons (37 percent) was last season.

Ariza is sure to get his looks with the Rockets, one of the three-friendliest teams in the NBA.

But whether the wingman is asked to create shots for himself is another issue. The more crucial expulsion of his energy will be on the defensive end, where the Rockets were full of holes last season. Ariza’s primary duty will be to prevent Howard from being overtaxed with help-defense work protecting the rim.

Being a top wing defender in the vaunted Western Conference is a ton of work. If the Rockets dole Ariza’s jobs out to him optimally, he’ll be a three-and-D specialist who’s unconcerned with getting his looks.

 

Troy Daniels

The most surprising player of last year’s postseason, Daniels may see his minutes skyrocket this season with Jeremy Lin gone to the Los Angeles Lakers. A sixth-man slot is open, and Daniels’ hot hand could definitely shoot him into it.

Daniels is speedy as a greyhound off the ball, and if he can incorporate cuts toward the rim into his game, he may become an especially nasty scorer.

He’s diminutive and has never played anywhere close to a full season in the NBA, but Daniels’ potential as a potent sixth man is real. The league knows it, too, as RealGM’s Shams Charania reported the Rockets had competition to bring him back for next season this July.

 

Terrence Jones

Remember Terrence Jones? After the Rockets’ failed pursuit of Chris Bosh, one of the game’s very best power forwards, many are forgetting that the University of Kentucky alum is not only a Rocket, but a promising one.

Jones has a nearly-full offensive utility belt. His mid-range shooting is strong, as is his ability to make shots for himself there with his above-average speed for a big man.

He’s also quite deft with his footwork in the post.

Jones will start for the Rockets this year, so he’ll have more of a chance than other players to be the Rockets’ third wheel—essentially by default. He also showed tremendous comfort working in the team’s free-roaming, open-court style, finishing at the rim in quick actions.

 

Donatas Motiejunas

Donatas “D-Mo” Motiejunas is perhaps the unlikeliest candidate of this crew. The Lithuanian center has rare dexterity for a 7-footer, however, and could emerge as a singular offensive force at some point if he finds the right niche.

Next season could be the time for this development.

Without Omer Asik backing up Howard, the Rockets will have to bump Motiejunas up in the lineup and mix and match him with Howard and Jones before they find the right balance.

Motiejunas’ ability to shoot from deep and pass like a guard means Houston will have to bring some new looks to work him in. It’s a nice challenge to have, and if coach Kevin McHale and company can give D-Mo the right role, he just might become their third banana as a scorer.

Nevertheless, all signs currently point to Jones, the talented young power forward entering his third season and most important proving ground yet.

If he isn’t up to the challenge, one of these other Rockets will have to step up.

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NBA: Rockets’ Donatas Motiejunas Interested in Playing for the Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers have a long history of being an attractive destination for NBA players. The combination of a winning tradition, large market, and beautiful weather, among other factors, have always presented a substantial amount of intrigue for an immense amount of the league’s players.
The latest name with a desire to play for the Lakers is far from the premier talent that the team generally pursues. That name is Donatas Motiejunas, the reserve big man for the Houston Rockets.
In an interview with talkbasket.net, Motiejunas answered some questions about his relationship with James Harden and Dwight Howard after he recently made a comment about the star duo not sitting with the rest of the team when they eat. Motiejunas was later asked in the interview where he would like to play if he were to leave the Rockets, and he responded with this:
“Most likely in Los Angeles because there are no serious bigs and I would likely get chances to play. I mean the Lakers, not the Clippers….

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AP Source: Rockets reach terms with Papanikolaou (Yahoo Sports)

HOUSTON (AP) — A person with knowledge of the deal says the Houston Rockets have agreed to terms with Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou.

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