Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Of these Western Conference up-and-comers, who’s more likely to end up the better team in 2014: Golden State or Houston?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Houston. Golden State won two more games than Houston last season but one team added Andre Iguodala and the other added Dwight Howard. I like the Warriors’ talent and what they did with it, but that was with Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry as key rotation players. They’re gone now. Daryl Morey‘s not done with that roster yet, and the Rockets are hungry. Also, I think Howard has a big year in him, bottled up through the nonsense of his last two seasons and uncorked through his new partnership with Hall of Fame big men Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Rockets. Dwight Howard is healthy and feels like he has something to prove after the horrible experience of last season in L.A. That is a very big motivator and, if he stays healthy, gives Houston a significant upgrade at both ends of the court. While the Rockets still lack depth and could use an established power forward (don’t think the Omer Asik experiment at that position will work), Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin now can play an inside out game to go with their high-tempo, bombs-away approach. While I like what the Warriors did a year ago and the addition of Andre Iguodala is a perfect fits, you have to have doubts about Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut avoiding the injuries that keep them out of the lineup for long stretches. That’s the difference.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Good question, but give me Golden State for a couple of reasons. Of course, all Warriors predictions come with an oversize asterisk denoting the suspect ankle durability of Steph Curry and the everything durability of Andrew Bogut. Assuming health, the Dubs are a cohesive and confident group with young, athletic talent at every position. The inclusion of Andre Iguodala should be seamless. They’re entrenched in their system and believe in their coach so this group is poised to take off from the jump and surpass 50 wins for the first time in 20 years. The Rockets, obviously, have loads of potential, but they’re also more or less starting from ground zero with the addition of Dwight Howard. The offense has to adjust from a 3-ball free-for-all to one that runs through Howard. There’s a handful of new players to assign roles and also one possibly disgruntled Omer Asik to appease (starting power forward anyone?). The Rockets will also find a giant target on their back, something I don’t think the lovable Warriors will have to deal with on a nightly basis. Golden State is ready to roll while the Rockets will need some time to figure out exactly who they are.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Golden State. The Rockets will be improved, but the Warriors were already the better team and then improved off that with the addition of Andre Igoudala while losing Carl Landry (predictable departure) and Jarrett Jack. Golden State needs to answer the question of backup point guard by either having Igoudala step into the role or Toney Douglas or Nemanja Nedovic succeed. If that happens, top four in the West is possible. Houston will be in the next tier.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much as I enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play, I think the Rockets will be the better team in 2014. The Rockets inside-out duo of Dwight Howard and James Harden will be as potent a 1-2 punch as there is the Western Conference next season. The Rockets have a solid supporting cast and will need to establish an identity early on, but they’ll have two top 15 players in the league in their first five and that’s hard to bet against. I do think the Warriors will be one of the deepest and most versatile teams in the league next season. Without a low-post presence to balance the work Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and even Harrison Barnes will do, I still have some reservations about the Warriors right now.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m going to go with Golden State, for a couple of reasons: They found the key in the postseason last year (playing small) that made them a better team than they were in the regular season. To this they added Andre Iguodala, a versatile player who is coming from a similarly uptempo system in Denver, which means he should fit right in. They lost Jarrett Jack, but they still have enough quality depth to sustain back-to-backs and injuries. Houston has to figure out how to work Dwight Howard into the post while maintaining the tempo that made them an interesting team last season. Seems like Houston has a tougher road ahead of them than Golden State.
Hanson Guan, NBA.com China: The Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard lifts them rightly into the top ranks and his successful integration would see Rockets become hot favorites for Western Conference champions. The Warriors improved a lot following the arrival of Andre Iguodala, but the absence of a superstar will probably prevent them from going further.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com Greece: I’ll go with the Warriors. There is no reason not to like the modern version of Run-TMC. They run fast and shoot the ball even faster. Last season they had a solid playoff run and managed to gain veteran experience through free agency. Iguodala is a perfect fit for Golden State, as he is tough on defense and deadly on transition. With him the Warriors have one of the most talented starting five in the league, great offensive balance and became more physical. The Rockets, on the other hand, brought a piece that can give them solutions to their defensive problems and create a strong one-two punch (as Harden is a great passer) in an already high-octane offensive line-up. Golden State, though, has the edge, due to their last run in the postseason.