Can the Houston Rockets become title contenders again?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

After flaming out in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Houston Rockets are gearing up for another run at the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The Houston Rockets have the stench of a franchise in the decline. It wasn’t long ago that they stormed to a league-best 65 wins and pushed the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty to seven games in the Western Conference finals.

From that point on they’ve seen a steady drop in their on-court production; winning 53 games in 2018-19 and then 44 games in 2019-20. However, that sells the Rockets short over their recent run.

The Rockets have been ousted in the playoffs by the eventual Western Conference champion each of the past three seasons and by the eventual NBA champion three of the past five seasons. Championships are the measure of a franchise, and while the Rockets have come up short they’ve remained in the conversation.

The beauty of each new season is that the despair that envelopes the 29 non-champions is shattered by the all-encompassing hope that a 0-0 record inspires. The Rockets’ recent disappointments aside they still remain a talented team with a legitimate MVP in James Harden.

Harden stands at the center of the Rockets’ recent successes and failures. The one-man offense has powered the Rockets to the cusp of the finals and any absence would see the Rockets come crashing down to Earth.

After coming up short time and time again, James Harden wants a championship. His request to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets shows his desire to play for a sure-fire contender, not just a playoff team.

This entire Rockets’ season will be fixated on Harden. With each losing streak, the noise will grow louder about a move away and every win will inspire confidence that Harden will tie his future to the city of Houston.

The Rockets will be in the mix all season but that’s not what is going to keep Harden around. The question on everyone’s mind, especially James Harden’s, is how good will the Rockets be this year?

Next: How good were they last season?