NBA Free Agency 2012: 4 Moves Houston Rockets Need to Be a Playoff Team Again
The Houston Rockets squandered a promising start to the 2011-2012 season, fading down the stretch amidst injuries to key players Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, and a talented yet inconsistent roster that couldn't get it done.
Going into this summer's free-agent pool, they'll have plenty of cap space to work with (close to $30 million if you count Samuel Dalembert's $6.7 million team option), and general manager Daryl Morey has been looking to add a premiere free agent for some time now.
With a core of Lowry, Martin and Luis Scola, the only true guarantees heading into the 2012-2013 season, the roster could look quite different on opening night.
Here are four moves in free agency that Houston should consider to send them back into the postseason next time around.
Make a Play for an Elite Center
Yao Ming may have retired, but he left a 7'6" hole in the hearts of the Rockets faithful. Since they were so close to adding Pau Gasol, it has to hurt watching Chris Paul play in Los Angeles and not with the Lakers.
They've done a patch job so far, with names like Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Camby trying to tackle a position that, while one of the weaker in the conference, is pivotal for defensive and matchup purposes.
Roy Hibbert will be a restricted free agent, so will JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez and Spencer Hawes. Omer Asik will be an unrestricted free agent.
Houston will have money to play with, and they should make finding a legitimate center the No. 1 priority in their offseason plans. Even though some of those names are restricted, they could afford to overpay to get a guy to bolster the middle, or at the very least drive up the price to a point that a team like Indiana or Denver might not want to match.
Allow Goran Dragic to Walk
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However, with a healthy Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, this team has too much invested elsewhere to tie up cap with Dragic, unless they feel he is a budding star and will consider trading Lowry elsewhere.
If that's the case, then Houston should make some sort of sign and trade with whoever decides to bid for Dragic's services, which will give them even more flexibility in the roster overhaul movement should they not get exactly who they want in the free-agent game.
It also makes things easier on Lowry, who before his injury this season was making a legitimate case to be considered one of the better players at his position in the NBA. He won't have to look over his shoulder with Dragic looming, which could be huge for his and his teammates' confidence.
Re-Sign Courtney Lee
Lee has been a good player the past two seasons for the Rockets, filling in for Kevin Martin at times, spot-starting, shooting the three-pointer at a 40 percent clip and playing good defense on the perimeter.
He's a valuable asset, and would be for any playoff-caliber team.
The Rockets should recognize this, and lock up the 26-year-old before he commands much more than the $3.2 million qualifying offer they'll have to give him to keep him around.
More than anything, the versatility on defense and the improving offense should be enough to keep him in the fold.
Find a Solid Interior Reserve
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Patrick Patterson has made nice strides in his first two seasons, but since Jordan Hill is gone via trade and Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Camby might not be back, there is a void in the frontcourt that needs to be addressed.
There aren't many names that would work, but there are several that could be possibilities. Could Ersan Ilyasova be an option? What about Jason Maxiell the big bruiser, or Anthony Randolph, the ever versatile flop so far?
Whatever the case may be, finding a center should be priority one. But finding frontcourt help behind that player should be the next thing on Daryl Morey's list, and whether that person is in the draft or in the free-agent pool, it's something that will help consistency and defense—things Houston struggled with in 2011-2012.