The Houston Rockets spent years toiling the waters of mediocrity before finally landing their big fish. With franchise big man Dwight Howard on the scene to bolster an improving roster built around star guard James Harden, the Rockets are as intriguing a team as any entering the 2013-14 season.
That leads to as many questions as answers, particularly after the turmoil Howard both produced and dealt with over the past two years. Assuming D12 has a healthy back and the right attitude, there's little doubt he could create a devastating one-two punch with Harden, but we'll need to see it unfold on the court first.
Jeremy Lin -- Linsanity is long gone, leaving behind a talented-but-flawed young point guard to find its place in the league. Next to the usage-heavy Harden, it's been a work-in-progress for Lin to recalibrate and polish his game, but the flashes were there during an inconsistent season. Houston was actually a better team with Lin on the bench last season, partially because of the emergence of Patrick Beverley, but games like a 38-point outburst against San Antonio showed Lin's potential.
James Harden -- The first domino in GM Daryl Morey's plan to build a contender, acquiring Harden before the 2012-13 season proved to be a master stroke by the team. While the 24-year-old may be a poor defender at the moment, he's one of the game's special offensive players, an expertly aggressive scorer who pressures defenses and racks up points. Already exceeding the expectations of many people around the league, he could take things to another level by progressing as a two-way player.
Chandler Parsons -- Also known as one of the sport's biggest bargains with a 2013-14 salary of just $926,500, Parsons brings a wide variety of skills to the table. Starting 76 games last season for Houston, he averaged 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, all while shooting a highly efficient 49 percent from the floor. Like Harden, he needs to improve his work on the defensive end, but he has some size and should be competent in time.
Omer Asik -- It's unclear whether the Rockets will actually start Asik next to Howard going forward, but the possibility seems legitimate. And while the team will surely try out a number of different looks with its frontcourt next season, the highly durable Asik -- he's never missed a regular season game in his three NBA seasons -- should get big minutes regardless of how things play out. A fantastic rim protector who led the league in total rebounds last season, Asik will find a role with this team somehow unless he gets traded.
Dwight Howard -- Say what you'd like about the occasionally immature big man, but Howard can be as dominant as arguably anyone in the game. Even last season, when Howard played through back problems on a highly dysfunctional Lakers team, the center was as good as practically anyone at his position. Despite everything that went wrong, he still averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds over 76 games, led the Lakers to the postseason and earned third-team All-NBA honors. We forget what it's like when things are going right sometimes, but Howard's arrival in Houston could potentially change the outlook of the Western Conference.
Patrick Beverley -- As a rookie in 2012-13, Beverley didn't play a huge role for Houston early on, but he emerged late in the season as a contributor. In six playoff games, he averaged 33.3 minutes per game and put up 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists a night.
Terrence Jones -- Of the Rockets' three 2012 first-round picks, Jones is the only one still around. A big, athletic power forward who dominated the D-League last year, he could end up starting if the Asik-Howard pairing struggles from Day 1.
Donatas Motiejunas -- After playing rarely over the first few months of the season, Motiejunas started seeing an increase in burn around late February. Over the final 24 games of the season, he averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds while playing 18.6 minute a night.
Francisco Garcia -- Like Beverley, Garcia didn't play a huge role for Houston in the regular season but saw his minutes increase during the postseason. After playing well during that six-game series, averaging 10.7 points per game while shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc, he was re-signed in the offseason.
Greg Smith -- Another piece of the Rockets' jumbled power forward puzzle, Smith played pretty well in 70 games with the Rockets last season. With per-36 minute averages of 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, he's shown some productivity at this level.
Deep on the bench
Omri Casspi -- Since averaging 10.3 points per game as a rookie three years ago, Casspi has progressively seen his playing time and production wane. After a disastrous year in Cleveland, Casspi looks to get back on track.
Reggie Williams -- During Williams' first two NBA seasons, both with the Warriors, he shot 48 percent from the field, 41 percent from three and 78 percent from the charity stripe. Since then: 42 percent, 31 percent, 64 percent. The Rockets are simply hoping he can regain his shooting touch.
Aaron Brooks -- It was only three years ago tgat Brooks was the Rockets' starting point guard and the NBA's Most Improved Player. He's struggled badly since then and now finds himself back in Houston as a third-stringer.
Ronnie Brewer -- Like Brooks, Brewer was a pretty solid player not too long ago, but the 2012-13 season -- split between New York and OKC -- marks the low point of his career. At 28 years old, he can still bounce back, but things are crowded on the depth chart.
Isaiah Canaan -- The Rockets' second-round pick out of Murray State, Canaan brings a scorer's mentality despite being just 6'0.
Robert Covington -- Signed to a partially-guaranteed deal after going undrafted, Covington could end up in the D-League after starring at Tennessee State.
B.J. Young -- Also signed to a partially-guaranteed contract, the young guard out of Arkansas likely won't make the team.
Robert Henriquez -- Like Covington, Henriquez was signed this offseason after going undrafted. He could also end up in Rio Grande.
Kevin McHale -- He has a 118-124 record in his three-plus years of coaching, but McHale commands respect from people around the league. A longtime executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves before moving to the sideline permanently in 2009 (he served an interim coaching role prior), he's a shrewd basketball mind and a willing teacher. Since taking over the Rockets before the 2011-12 season, he's led the team to a 79-69 record, and that winning percentage should only improve with a more talented roster this season.