After having spent three seasons wandering the wilderness of a prolonged rebuild and amassing a dismal 59-177 record in the process, the Houston Rockets used this offseason to take their first steps toward reclaiming some measure of respectability.
Houston dismissed coach Stephen Silas and replaced him with Ime Udoka. It invested heavily in free agency, signing guard Fred VanVleet and acquiring forward Dillon Brooks via sign-and-trade with the aim of adding grown-ups to a youthful locker room. The Rockets also shaved younger players from the margins of their roster and replaced them with veterans who should be of service.
The Rockets will open the 2023-24 season on the road against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday with what they hope is a sturdier, more reliable mix.
The roster upheaval has crystallized their core moving forward: guard Jalen Green, forward Jabari Smith Jr. and center Alperen Sengun.
How the Rockets develop around that trio will determine the transition from their rebuild. Their play this preseason offered hope that the immediate future will be brighter than the recent past.
The Magic are, ostensibly, one step ahead of Houston in the rebuilding process. Orlando missed out on a playoff berth for a third consecutive year last season yet made a late-season push for a play-in spot undergirded by the stellar play of Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero.
Their frontcourt, which includes Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., features ascendant talent. Their backcourt has ample depth. The consensus is that Orlando has excelled at roster-building, and all that remains is coalescing while maintaining a steady pace of growth.
Perhaps on the cusp of a breakthrough, the Magic are faced with the primary challenge of leaning into their development now that they have made significant strides toward playoff contention.