5. Houston Rockets
Houston had a breakout year that turned out to be a bit of a roller coaster at the end, becoming surprise playoff contenders, fighting Golden State and a number of other teams for final three spots in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Despite incredible efforts from rising superstar James Harden and fantastic runs by Chandler Parsons, they got bounced quickly by the Thunder in the first round (largely without Russell Westbrook). To be fair, most of those games were closer than the ending game score of the series would show, but the point remains. For now, the team is pretty unstable, but also supremely fun to watch.
Now, why are they so promising? For the same reasons any other team is called promising: young stars and spending money. Most of the excitement from this squad will come from the trio of Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin. Parsons, at a youthful 24, saw a significant boost in productivity this season. His points per game jumped from 9.5 to 15.5 on an efficient 48.6 percent (and 40.0 percent from deep).
Harden, the NBA’s 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, showed his prowess as a starter, averaging 25.9 points per game on 43.8 percent from the field, catapulting him into the upper echelon of shooting guards in the league. And while Lin hasn’t had an incredible year, he’s a more than a serviceable starter with a good supporting cast, and the team struggled without him.
To add to that core of great new players, the Rockets only have about $54 million tied up in 2013-14 and about $43 million in 2014-15.That’s plenty of money to throw around at some of the NBA’s top free agents this summer.