2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Can ‘The Beard’ James Harden Lead The Houston Rockets To The Playoffs?

During the 2015-16 NBA Season, the Houston Rockets went a disappointing 41-41, but were able to snag the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by finishing one game ahead of the 40-42 Utah Jazz. As expected, the Rockets were quickly disposed of in the Western Conference Playoffs by the Golden State Warriors who moved on to the second round via a 4-1 series win.

Despite leading the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals during the 2014-15 season, head coach Kevin McHale was fired on November 18, 2015 following a 4-7 start to the season. Houston general manager Daryl Morey then named J.B. Bickerstaff as the interim head coach and he didn’t have much more success as he posted a 37-34 record to finish out the season.

Following the season, there was a report from Yahoo! Sports that Bickerstaff pulled his name from consideration for the permanent head coaching job as he made the decision that he would rather be an assistant coach in another organization rather than be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

With Bickerstaff’s name out of the running, Morey settled on former Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni to run the show in Houston. For his career, D’Antoni holds a 455-426 record over his 12 years in the NBA.

The Houston Rockets began their coaching search with a wide array of candidates that included former Rockets player Kenny Smith, NBA analyst and former Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, former Rockets assistant coach Chris Finch, Los Angeles Clippers assistant Sam Cassell, former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, University of Texas head coach Shaka Smart, Kansas University head coach Bill Self and D’Antoni.

Houston obviously set its sights high in the coaching search and to end up with D’Antoni is a bit of a letdown. The Rockets finished 25th in the NBA last season as they allowed 106.4 points per game and finished 19th in the league after allowing opponents to shoot 45.9 percent from the field. This team truly needed a defensive head coach, but they settled for the exact opposite.

The other way to solve a poor defensive club that just hired a coach that doesn’t teach defense is to add better defensive players to the roster. Center Dwight Howard, forwards Terrence Jones, Michael Beasley and Josh Smith, and guards Ty Lawson and Jason Terry all moved on via free agency and although the majority of those guys are poor defensive players, but losing Howard could have a profound effect on the defense.

During free agency, the Rockets went out and acquired forwards Ryan Anderson and P.J. Hairston, guard Eric Gordon and center Nene Hilario. Nene may help lessen the blow of Howard’s departure, but the other additions are poor on the defensive end of the court as well.

One decision that D’Antoni has already made is that James Harden will be the team’s starting point guard. Last season, ‘The Beard’ often handled the ball in the Rockets’ half-court sets, but he shared the job with Patrick Beverley. As ESPN reported two weeks ago, D’Antoni is ready to give the full-time job to Harden who is built more like a two-guard.

The move for Harden should increase his assist numbers and give him a chance to make the decisions on the offensive end of the court. Unforunately, that likely will also mean an increase in turnovers for James who averaged a career-high 4.6 turnovers last season.

In the end, the Houston Rockets will undoubtedly be one of the best offensive teams in the NBA and James Harden will likely put up MVP numbers, but this team’s going to be atrocious on the defensive end of the court and that will likely affect their ability to make the playoffs. The Warriors are a lock, as are the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. That only leaves three playoff spots.

The Minnesota Timberwolves should be much improved as should the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies. The Dallas Mavericks lost some important pieces, but they should be in the mix for one of the final playoff spots as well. When I look at those four teams compared to Houston, it’s hard for me to see the Houston Rockets making the playoffs during the 2016-17 season.

[Featured Image by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]