For the third straight season, the Houston Rockets came up just short of qualifying for the NBA playoffs, finishing ninth in the Western Conference after suffering a six-game losing streak late in the season.
While lacking a marquee name, the team has a stable of solid young players, including 2011 NBA draft picks Chandler Parsons and Marcus Morris, as well as 2009 second-rounder Chase Budinger and 2010 first-rounder Patrick Patterson. The team also holds the 14th and 16th picks in the upcoming draft, and is expecting Donatas Motiejunas, a 2011 first-round pick, to join the team next season.
Unlike past offseasons where the team was limited in terms of flexibility with the cap, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey should have some cap space to work with in the upcoming months.
The Rockets could have as much as $19 million in cap space, though that number drops to around $12 million if they keep their cap holds on free agents Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee. While that would not be enough room to sign a player to a maximum contract, the extra cap space would give Houston more flexibility in the trading market.
Expect Morey to try to take advantage of this as he retools the team for next season.
Houston could make another attempt to trade for Orlando center Dwight Howard.
With the trade of guard Tracy McGrady to New York last year and the retirement of center Yao Ming in July, the number one priority for GM Daryl Morey will be to find a new big-time talent to build the team around.
The Rockets thought they had secured that player in Pau Gasol last offseason in a three-way trade with the Lakers and Hornets before the league nixed the trade. The team also came close to landing Orlando center Dwight Howard at the trade deadline, only to see him to change his mind and not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract.
However, according to former ESPN writer Chris Sheridan, Howard still wants out of Orlando. Expect the Rockets to make another push for Howard in the coming months.
Another big name the team has interest in is pending free agent guard Deron Williams, who was reportedly the team's top target back in January.
In a league where the stars and big-time talents rule the game, it is imperative that Houston acquires one, and with the new-found flexibility they have, it is only a matter of finding the right fit.
Kevin Martin saw his playing time decrease as the season went along.
Having fallen out of favor with head coach Kevin McHale and seeing his playing time dwindle in favor of Courtney Lee, Kevin Martin was noncommittal when asked about his future with the organization at the end of the season.
With Martin unhappy, the Rockets would be best to work out a trade and try to get something back for the 6'7" shooting guard. A strong scorer, Martin missed the last 24 games of the season with a strained right shoulder.
Kyle Lowry, who averaged 14.3 points per game and 6.6 assists per game this season, reportedly wants to be traded.
This season, the Rockets possessed two capable starting point guards in Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Lowry averaged 14.3 points per game and 6.6 assists per game this year, but saw Dragic take his starting job after he was sidelined with a bacterial infection. Dragic ended the season with averages of 11.7 points per game and 5.3 assists per game.
With Lowry still under contract for two more years and Dragic set to become an unrestricted free agent, it would appear that the team would let Dragic walk. However, with Lowry recently expressing a desire to be traded due to being unable to get along with coach McHale, the Rockets might prefer to re-sign Dragic and grant Lowry's wish.
It is unlikely the team will be able to have both guards coexist on the roster, so a decision will have to be made of who to keep.
The Rockets drafted forward Marcus Morris in the first round last year.
The Rockets have the 14th and 16th picks for the upcoming 2012 NBA draft, and if they aren't traded in a package for a big-name player, Houston should have a good opportunity to add some depth to the team and address organizational weaknesses.
With Marcus Camby set to become a free agent, the Rockets will have a need for another big man, even if they decide to pick up the $6.7 million team option on Samuel Dalembert. Potential players who could be available include Mississippi State junior Arnett Moultrie, North Carolina junior John Henson, North Carolina senior Tyler Zeller and Illinois sophomore Meyers Leonard.
If the team does end up trading Kevin Martin, they will also need a shooting guard to back up Courtney Lee. Players who could fill this position in the draft include Washington sophomore Terrence Ross, Syracuse sophomore Dion Waiters and Duke freshman Austin Rivers.