Everybody's optimistic in the offseason. Fans think their teams will improve, general managers think their rosters will gel, players think they're ready to take the next step, coaches ... well, coaches are probably still paranoid about things that might go wrong. But let's talk about players. Or, rather, one player in particular: Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets.
Beverley and the Rockets endured a difficult, bordering on disastrous season last year. After reaching the Western Conference finals the year before, they went 41-41 and barely qualified for the playoffs. Their defense was five full points per 100 possessions worse than in 2014-15, and it wasn't because they had less talent. They just didn't play with consistent focus or energy.
Their best player, James Harden, was a part of the problem, and he was left off of the All-NBA teams despite great individual stats. Going into next season, Beverley expects Harden to win Most Valuable Player and Houston to make the NBA Finals, via Basketball Insiders' Oliver Maroney:
When asked what he expects from Harden in the upcoming season, Beverley told Basketball Insiders: "MVP and leading us to the Finals. Simple."
Beverley also said that Harden's mentality and approach seems to have changed since last season.
"Yes it has," Beverley said. "James is like a brother to me, so I've seen him improve each year in [regards to] him being a leader."
Let's begin with Harden. Just two years ago, Harden had a legitimate case for MVP. Back then, CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote a three-part piece comparing the two stars, and while he eventually settled on Steph Curry being more deserving, he called the difference between the two "microscopic."
Harden obviously has the ability to win the award at some point, and this might be his best chance. The voting media loves a comeback story, and two of his main competitors -- Curry and Kevin Durant -- just teamed up. If the Rockets are one of the best teams in the Western Conference with Harden as their lone star, then he should have a chance. After a little bit of thought, this part of Beverley's confident comments barely even registers on the crazy summer optimism scale.
The other part, though, is probably a 9.5/10 on the crazy summer optimism scale. Houston making the Finals would be more than a surprise. It would be downright shocking, more so than the Portland Trail Blazers making it to the second round after losing four starters or the New York Knicks starting Sasha Vujacic over Arron Afflalo last season.
There are reasons to believe that the Rockets will be improved: new coach Mike D'Antoni could reinvigorate them; free-agent acquisitions Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon should fit into the offense extremely well; losing Dwight Howard could wind up being addition by subtraction. You can even talk yourself into Houston earning home-court advantage in the playoffs, which is general manager Daryl Morey's stated goal for next year. But there is an ocean of difference -- and a 73-win team that just added a future first-ballot Hall of Famer -- in between that and a trip to the Finals.