At a mediocre 7-11, the Houston Rockets are a far cry from the team that got all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season. But what is wrong with this roster that seemed to have improved on paper? Most of the moves made this offseason made sense. Adding Ty Lawson was supposed to alleviate the load put on James Harden to initiate the offense. The emergence of Clint Capela during the playoffs was supposed to mean that Dwight Howard could stay fresh on the court and reduce the toll taken on his body during the regular season. Bringing back Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley was supposed to make them a deep team that could run opponents out of the gym with relentless pressure and pace on both sides of the ball. But something wasn’t quite right. Recently extended head coach, Kevin McHale was fired after a pedestrian 4-7 start. James Harden has looked uninterested at many points this season. Dwight Howard seems to have regressed offensively barring the occasional highlight play. Ty Lawson has been a non-factor (I’m being nice). What is the problem and how can it be solved?
The most glaring problem is the lack of leadership on that roster (and quite possibly on that staff). Although James Harden is a superstar talent, his leadership traits leave a lot to be desired. His body language tends to look like he’d rather be doing something else. He stuffs the stat sheet, but that is due to the fact that their offense begins and ends with him. Dwight Howard has gotten to the point that we no longer look to him to show leadership capability. They just don’t seem motivated to put in a 48-minute shift night in and night out.
The second problem is that they don’t know what to do with the ghost of Dwight Howard on offense. His post-ups are ineffective. He rarely passes out of them and unless he has a considerable size mismatch, he doesn’t create great looks. Yet he insists on wasting possessions on the low block with robotic post-move after robotic post-move. In the pick and roll, he can only dive to the rim so it gets predictable after a while. Howard’s lack of skill makes it mandatory for him to be a high-effort player. But his attitude makes it hard for anyone to believe that he can be that on a consistent basis.
How can these be fixed? They seem to be personality issues more than anything. First, the Rockets need a coach that can bring out the best in the star players. He needs to be able to develop the likes of Harden and Howard into leaders on the court and in the locker room. They already have high-energy role players that are just looking for who to follow. If the Rockets can become the kind of team that could sacrifice for each other, they could become the title contenders that they were meant to be. But it starts from their leadership.