An entertaining Houston Rockets' season has come to an end as they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder. A valiant effort made the series competitive, but the Rockets didn't have enough firepower to advance to the second round.
While the end of the season is rather disappointing, the addition of James Harden and his emergence as a legitimate superstar provide hope going forward. How this team handles the offseason will determine whether or not they take the next step in the Western Conference.
Here is where things stand for the Houston Rockets as they enter the offseason.
Dwight Howard, Finally?
Last summer, the Rockets were reportedly interested in bringing in Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in a trade. Here is a tweet from last summer regarding the Rockets' interest in Howard:
The Rockets continue to pursue Dwight Howard. However, the Lakers haven't given up either. Both teams have been in contact with the Magic.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 14, 2012
Fast-forward a year and the Rockets have another chance to add the star big man to the mix. This time, the Rockets will be able to openly negotiate with Howard, won't have to deal with another team and won't have to take on extra contracts to get their man.
Adding Howard would mean being on the right side of Howard's highlights instead of being on the receiving end of plays like this:
The Rockets have the money to bring in Howard on a max deal. Overall, Houston only has $38 million committed to next season, according to Hoopshype.com. James Harden is set to make just under $14 million, but the next highest contracts are Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik at $5.2 million each. With Howard in the mix, the Rockets could look to trade Asik.
In a year, the Rockets have made themselves a much more attractive landing spot for Howard. Harden has proven himself as a superstar in the league and would be half of a great duo with Howard. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are also solid pieces for the Rockets.
In the case of Howard re-signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets could turn their attention to other free-agent big men such as Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap or Josh Smith.
Kelvin Sampson Getting Head Coaching Looks
The Rockets are in danger of losing Kelvin Sampson from their coaching staff. According to reports (via CBSSports), Sampson is on a number of teams' radar regarding their vacant head coaching positions.
I haven’t really thought about it. Oklahoma City is my (responsibility for presenting the game plan). I haven’t been focused on any of these teams. I’m just focused on this series and the adjustments we have to make. Still upset about that bounce.
I haven’t really thought about it. I’m not going to think about it until after. I’ve done zilch about any of this stuff.
With the Rockets out of the postseason, Sampson can now turn his attention to those coaching gigs.
The defensive-minded Sampson has been a part of the Rockets' coaching staff since 2011. This season, the Rockets allowed the third-most points per game with 102.5. That number is higher in part because of the tempo at which they play, but it's still a rather unacceptable number of points.
Sampson's biggest contribution this season was acting as head coach during Kevin McHale's leave of absence to be with his family. He showed strong control over the team and kept them steady until McHale returned to the team.
Does Royce White Finally Play?
Throughout the year, the Rockets have dealt with rookie Royce White and his health issues. White didn't play for the Rockets this season, but sporadically played for their D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
According to a tweet a few weeks ago, White is preparing to challenge for a role with the Rockets:
AGAIN, no one is quitting ANYTHING, just getting prepared 4 next season with the @houstonrockets... I'm very excited, can't wait to rejoin.— Royce White (@Highway_30) March 22, 2013
Whether or not that's the case will be up to the team. White could actually help the Rockets, assuming his health situation is sorted out. The 16th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft has tons of potential and solid talent at the power forward position.
The team is incredibly weak at the position, which has forced them to play small ball throughout much of the second half of the season and the playoffs. Adding White would at least give them another option to play a bit bigger.
This summer will be very important for White and his relationship with the Rockets. If he can prove he's stable, there's a role for him on this team.