Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thinks ‘there are probably at least three teams better than us ‘

Kelly Dwyer

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is nothing if not realistic about his team’s chances heading into the 2013-14 season.

Morey’s machinations, spread out over four and a half years in the time since Yao Ming limped off the court in a second round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Lakers, have resulted in a young, talented team that features (in Morey’s estimation) two of the ten best players in the NBA. In adding James Harden and Dwight Howard in consecutive years, Morey has given the franchise its best shot at a championship since Hakeem Olajuwon’s time in Texas, a sad note considering that the Rockets (with Yao and Tracy McGrady) fielded perhaps two of the top five or six best players in the NBA some years ago. When healthy, at least.

Howard’s health, after a rough 2012-13 spent in Los Angeles, can rightfully be called into question. And the overall makeup of the team, led by a coach in Kevin McHale that is known for letting the ball sprint up and down the court despite his legendary low post status as a player, has yet to be sussed out. It may take most of the season to develop that needed chemistry, which is why Morey is soberly and accurately discussing his team’s current NBA ranking. From CBS Houston:

“I think there are probably at least three teams better than us if not more,” Morey said about the chances of winning a championship this season. “Until you’re going into a season felling like you are the top one or two I think it’s, and we haven’t really accomplished anything, I think it’s hard to talk about ‘hey we’re one of the favorites to win the championship.’ But I do think we go in with a chance, where as we haven’t in the last few years.”

So, of those three or more teams ahead of the Rockets right now, who are they? Mike Meltser tossed out the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs to Morey.

“I think those three, I would say going in for sure are better than us, and they’ve definitely proven more,” Morey said of the last three teams to appear in an NBA Finals. “I think the Bulls and the Pacers they’re very good as well this year. I am hoping we are in the mix with them, maybe equal quality.”

If anything, Morey’s placement of the Rockets amongst the NBA’s top five is even a little audacious. Yes, Dwight Howard is a franchise shifter – a potentially legendary player added to a playoff team that was improving from game to game last season. Still, as we stated above, the team has no real clue as to how it’s all going to work out in Dwight’s first season with the Rockets. First, his back woes are a concern. And secondly, Howard chafed at Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo, pick-and-roll-heavy offense in Los Angeles, and reportedly wanted the 2005 NBA Coach of the Year fired as a condition for Howard’s return to the Lakers.

Well, last year’s Rockets ran even more than the Lakers did with Dwight. And guards Harden and Jeremy Lin do their finest work in pick and roll situations. On top of that, the Rockets have a starting-caliber center already in place in the form of Omer Asik, and no real obvious go-to options at power forward. Asik could be on the trade block, Harden could defer too often (or not nearly enough), and all manner of rotation worries could beset the Rockets as they figure things out.

That’s not to say Houston’s situation isn’t enviable. The team has perhaps the league’s best trade chip in Asik and cap flexibility to work with down the line. On top of that, the team has a well-regarded coach in McHale, Morey has more than earned his many plaudits, and owner Leslie Alexander is one of the NBA’s best and most committed. On top of that whole “two of the best players in the NBA”-thing. This is a good comet to cling to.

The fourth-best comet, at least. Fifth, perhaps. Depends on what the Pacers can get for Danny Granger, or if Doc Rivers can turn around the Clipper defense, or if Derrick Rose turns into an MVP again, or if …

The season needs to get here. Soon.