The Houston Rockets had a lot of answers to the big questions surrounding the team after 20 or so games in 2014. Daryl Morey answered with the acquisitions of Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni. The Rockets players and coaches answered with the No. 2 seed, a Southwest Division crown and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
This year's squad has many fewer questions — certainly not as many big questions — as last year's team, which, if you remember, broke camp with Francisco Garcia, Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels, Tarik Black and Joey Dorsey all on the roster. I don't think it's crazy to say that all 14 guys on the Rockets roster are better than all five of the above. Morey done good.
But, despite the stacked roster, there are questions.
Is Dwight Howard really healthy?
He missed half of the regular season last year and when he came back he abstained from back-to-backs. He was dominant in the playoffs, but not as dominant as he had been against the Blazers in 2014. But the Rockets don't have a specific plan for keeping him fresh and healthy throughout the year.
"We'll go and see how Dwight feels," Kevin McHale said at media day. "Managing his workload is something we really want to look at... Eventually it's going to come down to how you feel, how you respond to back-to-backs and practices. Do I have a set thing right now? I think (it depends on) how he feels. We'd like to make sure he plays more games and is more healthy this year because he's a huge part of what we're doing."
McHale sat next to Morey who added in "I know the team doctors are going to be watching how he reacts to training camp. We're going to all work together to make sure we have the right plan going forward."
There's no questioning Howard's importance to the Rockets — even SB Nation's NBA scions Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery think the Rockets have a legit chance at the title, assuming Dwight's health — so it's encouraging that everyone seems focused on preserving him. But the tone surrounding this is all a little disconcerting.
Dwight, a 29-year-old, three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner (that's No. 3 all-time, by the way) is having his health handled the same way the Spurs handled Tim Duncan once he turned 33 or so. Obviously, whatever the Spurs have done with Tim Duncan is something to be emulated with any aging big man, but Dwight is on the right side of 30.
Howard's supposed to be fully healthy, and maybe he is and this is all precautionary. In which case, good. But it seems like the Rockets higher-ups don't actually believe he's fully healthy until they see it over the long haul, which means neither should we.
Who starts at point guard?
This is a question that won't be answered soon. Here's what we know:
- Ty Lawson and Patrick Beverley seem open to whatever lineup Kevin McHale decides on.
- They will play together at times.
- Lawson is better offensively, Beverley is better defensively.
Outside of that, this is a toss-up. And McHale is perfectly happy about that.
"Who's going to start is who deserves to start," he said.
We've gone over this before. Ty Lawson is an obviously superior player, but how he fits with the other players on the roster will determine his place in the starting 5 or as the 6th man. McHale simply confirmed it.
What will the rotation look like?
The Rockets go 14-deep in terms of NBA-quality players (I feel that's a safe assumption for Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker). But no team in the NBA should give 14 guys minutes every night. And McHale doesn't plan for the Rockets to start now.
"I know there's going to be some disappointed guys," he said, "because everybody wants to play and everybody's not going to play, I can promise you that."
McHale says he wants to get to the standard 9- or 10-man rotation eventually. We know Harden, Howard, Ariza, Jones, D-Mo, Beverley, Lawson, Capela and Brewer will all get their minutes. That's nine right there. That's a complete, championship-contending team. But that leaves out Dekker, Harrell, Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton and K.J. McDaniels.
Considering the Rockets just gave him a 3-year, $10 million contract, McDaniels has to be the favorite for those minutes. There's a backup point, two backup bigs but just one backup big in that nine-man group, leaving room for another backup wing. But the NBA is changing.
McHale dropped a little nugget about Sam Dekker playing some small-ball 4. Trevor Ariza talked about bulking up and studying how to guard power forwards. Dekker is 6-9, Ariza is 6-8. McDaniels is only 6-6, and not bulky enough to guard power forwards, even middling ones, for long stretches. It would be a shame, but not a surprise, if K.J. is again the odd man out in the minutes totem pole.