After missing out on the NBA's two best centers, the Houston Rockets will have to take a series of steps to get back to respectability. With a roster filled with prospects, the Rockets more closely resemble an AAU team than a serious NBA contender.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey spent the offseason shuffling to acquire draft picks in an effort to land either Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard. That effort fell short after Howard was sent to the Lakers and Bynum to Philadelphia in last week's blockbuster.
So where do we go from here?
The first step for Houston should be trading veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin. The Rockets are in rebuilding mode, and Martin is in the final year of his deal. A trade would allow Martin to spend his contract year on a team committed to winning now. It will also give Houston a chance to get a closer look at rookie Jeremy Lamb.
Martin is owed close to $13 million next season. He's a talented scorer with a nice shooting touch. The team could dangle him along with a couple other players to help trim down the roster. The Rockets currently have 20 players under contract; Houston will have to make some moves to get under the max.
The next step is figuring out a defined rotation. At power forward alone, there's five guys jockeying for minutes. Patrick Patterson is currently listed as the starter, but the team has to find time for guys like rookie Royce White and Marcus Morris. There's also highly regarded prospect Donatas Motiejunas.
At small forward, Chandler Parsons is entrenched as the starter. However, rookie Terrence Jones is coming off an excellent run in the Summer League and could be a factor for minutes. Assuming the team keeps Kevin Martin, they'll need to find time for Lamb somehow. At point guard, Jeremy Lin is backed by Shaun Livingston and Courtney Fortson.
The team should try to move Morris along with Martin in an attempt to upgrade at center.
Current starter Omer Asik is a career backup getting his shot at the starting lineup. Unless he's somehow Rik Smits 2.0, he's not the answer in the middle.
How about packaging Martin and Morris in a deal for Utah's Al Jefferson? Both Martin and Jefferson are free agents at the end of the year. Both have their successors waiting in the wings. Both make around the same money. Jefferson could be a stop-gap option for Houston while the team develops Asik.
The Rockets tried to win now by acquiring assets to lure Bynum or Howard to Houston. It didn't work. The next best thing to having someone else's stars is to make stars of your own. The team used three first-round picks on White, Lamb and Terrence Jones; the law of averages suggests that one of them has to be a hit.
In trying to set themselves up for the present, Houston set themselves up for the future. They don't have the same luck that Boston did in 2007 when they turned all that young talent into their own "Big Three."
It's time for them to get a good look at what they got and focus on being contenders a few years down the road.
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