Houston Rockets With Jeremy Lin Must Improve Team Chemistry to Win Championship

Jul 12, 2013 07:14 AM EDT
Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin L and guard James Harden high five late in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets in their NBA basketball game in New York February 22 2013  <br/>REUTERS Adam Hunger
Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (L) and guard James Harden high five late in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets in their NBA basketball game in New York, February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Much of the recent speculations on Jeremy Lin have been on whether he should remain on Houston Rockets or get traded to other team as Dwight Howard signs on to the team. Yet, the most important thing now is for the championship contender to start building the team chemistry to effectively improve their chances of winning the 2013-14 NBA title.

While general manager Daryl Morey told Houston Chronicle last week that they do not intent to trade anybody, Jeremy Lin trade rumors continued to be a subject of national debate between Lin’s fans and doubters on whether he would able to perform at the level of an elite point guard in the league and should remain on the team.

Lin played his first full-season 82 games in 2012-13 with averages of 13.4 points and 6.1 assists. Meanwhile, Lin’s production during crunch times surpassed that of other scoring leaders like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili and Chris both, according to 82games.com.

While he is known for performing well during crunch times, Lin’s ability to develop and lead the team in scoring was hindered by the inconsistent 4th – quarter minutes that he was given to play, said Bleacher Report’s Maxwell Ogden in February. The Rockets defer to James Harden in most plays, forcing Lin, the point guard, to play off the ball and step in to play based off of his weakness. As a result, Lin’s stats were much higher when Harden was on the bench than on the floor.

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“Rockets must either abandon their current pairing of Harden and Lin altogether or commit to developing the tandem,” wrote Ogden, adding that Lin is one of the league’s better dribble penetrators, yet he was forced to become a spot-up shooter.

“Until the Rocket’s coaching staff figures out a way to use Lin on-ball and Harden off of it, the Harvard graduate will continue to struggle. Should balance be created, however, both men can thrive,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Marshall Zeweig, another Bleacher Report columnist, said Lin’s performance last season was “troubling” and doubts the 24-year-old would be able to achieve in the present moment, albeit his inspirational eight-game stretch. He said Lin must be able to adapt much more quickly to the new team scenario and improve his plays in jump shots, three-pointer range, and defense to avoid getting traded.

The seemingly differences in opinions show how intricate the balance is between the coaches’ abilities to put players in plays that maximize their potential and the players’ abilities to perform at their best games consistently.

Importance of Team Chemistry

While players must exhibit continuous improvement, right team chemistry between the coaches and the players and among the teammates is an important factor that determines whether the team will be able to reach championship. Even with a team roster filled with potential hall of famers, disunity and lack of chemistry are roadblocks that hinder any team’s chance to reaching a higher level of performance.

In the example of Los Angeles Lakers, 6-11 Howard did not seem to get along with five-time champion Kobe Bryant. Following a loss to Clippers in Jan., he complained about the lack of chemistry on the Lakers, and a comment was seemingly direct at Bryant. “Look at the difference between our team and (the Clippers),” Howard said. “They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody’s excited when something happens.”

Most media reports said that Howard and Bryant were just too different in character. While Howard is generally easy-going and plays the game with a different attitude on winning, Bryant scowls and grimaces as he tries to destroy anyone who dares to get in his way.

“(Chemistry) is something we have to do to get better,” Howard told reporters in L.A. “We have to play like we like each other. Even if we don’t want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table.”

Lakers starters Steve Nash of Canada (L-R), Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol of Spain walk onto the court after a timeout during their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, October 30, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A Young Team Full of Explosive Potentials

Back in Houston, coach McHale has only been with Rockets for two seasons, Parson with two, Lin with one, and Harden signed on in the middle of the season. The young team has shown significant potential as they finished 2012-13 as the 8th seed and pushed the Oklahoma City Thunders to the sixth game in the playoffs. With the now healthy Howard coming on to the team, McHale said Sunday that he is confident that the Rockets can “compete with anybody” for the 2013-14 NBA title.

With the NBA All-Star 6-11 center Howard now anchoring the middle, the mix with James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons around him makes the Houston Rockets a formidable team.

Earlier this week, Ogden proposed in an article titled “Jeremy Lin is the Perfect Point Guard for New-Look Houston Rockets” the following scenario: “Offensively, Dwight Howard makes his money as pick-and-roll finisher that can set power screens and finish in traffic. While he’s not particularly skilled outside of the paint, Lin can work with James Harden to run dual ball-handler set with the high screen game.”

Lin told CSN Houston in an interview in May that as a team they’ve learned a lot about themselves and “what works and what doesn’t work.” He said before the game in Madison Square Garden he had been struggling. “I wasn’t really doing much. I was lost on the court. I was just lost. I didn’t feel rhythm or I didn’t feel like I was much of anything. And after that, the New York game kind of turned things around. And after that, that’s when I started to just improve and play better and get better.

Prior to his turning point last season, Lin had scored only seven points in 32 minutes in a loss at Toronto. At Madison Square Garden, he turned the tide, scoring 22 points with nine assists and two steals in a 109-96 Rockets victory. That win started a five-game winning streak. Lin finished the regular season with averages of 13.4 points and 6.1 assists, but as the year progressed, he saw steady improvement. In the season's final month, he averaged 17.3 points and 6.9 assists.

Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (L) drives to the basket past Brooklyn Nets point guard C.J. Watson in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York, February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

During offseason, Lin has shown an unbelievable 78 percent three-point shooting accuracy rate without being guarded, verified by his shooting coach. In addition, Lin scored 45 points during the San Francisco Pro-Am game in June.

McHale’s Commitment Amid Daughter’s Death

While last season the players may have struggled to adapt to each other, McHale had to take a leave of absence on Nov. 10 to be with his family as his daughter’s health worsened. Alexandra “Sasha” McHale died Nov. 24 of complications from Lupus. She was 23. During McHale’s absence, assistant coach Kelvin Sampson took over temporarily and the Houston went 7-6.

While McHale was out, Houston went 7-6 under interim coach Kelvin Sampson. McHale said he spoke with Sampson daily, watched every game and tried to stay plugged into the team as much as he could while he was away.

“It was hard. I don’t want to get into the whole thing, but it was hard because your mind is a million miles away, but yet you’re still watching games and you’re still pulling for the guys so hard and you want them to win,” he said, according to USA Today. “A lot of times that hour of the day (talking to Sampson) was sometimes the best part of the day.”

The third-year coach and Hall of Fame player complimented the job Sampson and the rest of the staff did while he was out, according to USA Today. He said he felt bad that he had to leave this young team, which was trying to fit new pieces together, just when the season was starting.

McHale rejoined the Rockets after almost a month away from the team, and two weeks after the death of his daughter.

"Coach has been through a lot," Lin told CSN Houston. "No one knows exactly what he's been through. None of the players. We haven't been through a tragedy like that, but I remember every time I feel like things are going rough on my end, I always try to think about Coach, you know, how he has to show up to work every day with a smile on his face, get to work even though he had to mourn the death of a loved one.

“Just his determination to come back as quickly as he came back and join the team - we've all grown to really respect him for that,” said Lin.

“It meant a lot to have him in the locker room … and it showed how much he wanted to be here because he’s been through a lot and he’s here with us working,” Houston’s Carlos Delfino said, according to USA Today.

Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (L) drives to the basket past Brooklyn Nets point guard C.J. Watson in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York, February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Perhaps, Howard chose to sign with the Houston Rockets because of the selfless spirit displayed through the coach and the players as well as their championship potential yet to be developed.

Howard told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a phone interview Friday evening about choosing to sign with Rockets over Lakers. “I just looked at both teams and I felt like Houston was going in one direction –they got a lot of young players, they got a good coach in Kevin McHale and I just felt like having him as a coach, he could really help me in the post and help me develop like I want to. That was mainly the big reason right there, and having the opportunity to grow with a team, a young team like the Rockets. That’s the reason why.”

“I haven’t won a championship but I’m in the NBA,” Howard said this week in Los Angeles, explaining his decision. “That’s winning. Winning isn’t all about just having a championship. But winning in life.’’

Jeremy Lin’s Highlights in 2012-13:

Dwight Howard’s Top 10 Career Plays: