Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Houston Rockets Face One Big Question

| by Alex Groberman

The Houston Rockets can contend for an NBA championship this year. Whereas last season management and fans may have been satisfied with simply making the postseason and presenting a formidable challenge to an injury-plagued Oklahoma City Thunder team, the same won’t hold true in 2013-14. Anything short of a Western Conference finals appearance will be deemed a complete and total failure, regardless of circumstances.

Like every playoff team who adds a superstar, the Rockets’ title hopes basically hinge on one question: How much are guys willing to sacrifice?

Bringing in someone like Dwight Howard isn’t the same thing as the Miami Heat adding Ray Allen or Shane Battier. It’s not just something that bolsters an already impressive team, it’s something that requires adjustments from everyone.

Last year, when Daryl Morey traded for James Harden, Jeremy Lin was forced to sacrifice a lot of himself and the way he plays basketball in order to make it work. The end result was effusive praise for Harden, and a whole lot of criticism for Lin. Nobody cared that Lin was forced himself to play completely outside his comfort zone by allowing Harden to dominate the ball and have one of the highest usage rates in the NBA. All that mattered was the final product.

The same will be true this season. Harden has never played with a dominant big man. If he thinks that he can continue to dominate the rock and let Howard contribute rebounds/defense to the Rockets, he should ask Kobe Bryant how that worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard will want touches. Harden, who had more touches than anyone on the Rockets roster last year, will have to give up a lot of his own.

Along the same lines, Lin will have to make adjustments too. Much in the way Harden took a lot of shots and ball handing opportunities away from him, Howard’s desire to be among the league’s leaders in scoring will cost Lin as well.

Lin, for his part, seems to understand that. During a recent interview, he indicated that he had been working on certain parts of his game that don’t involve ball-handling and running the offense.

"I've tried to get better from a defensive standpoint and I've also worked on my jump shot and my left hand, so hopefully you'll see some of those things translate into games," he said.

"I think there's more pressure in the sense that more people will be focused on the Rockets this season. But from a personal standpoint, there will be a lot less pressure. I feel like I have more freedom to just be myself."

Lin and Harden are both going to need to make some big adjustments this year. Their ability to do so successfully will ultimately determine whether the Rockets legitimately contend for a title this year or not.