The Houston Rockets have the payroll flexibility to make big moves this offseason, but there are certain moves that should be made and others that should most definitely be avoided. General manager Daryl Morey has the money to work with—all he has to do is put the best product on the court.
After a surprising season that led to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Houston is in a great position. The sky is the limit for a team with a budding superstar in James Harden, a do-it-all player in Chandler Parsons and a hard-working big man in Omer Asik.
Throw in the fact that they have nearly $15 million available this offseason (h/t HoopsHype.com), and the Rockets have the resources to acquire even more talent to play alongside them.
There a currently a ton of rumors out there surrounding this offseason. There are plenty of big-name free agents available, and expect the Rockets to be in the mix for nearly all of them given their cap room. Some are better fits than others, though.
The Rockets are in great position, but they can maximize their chances to win by making these moves this offseason.
Houston owns just one pick in the NBA draft (No. 34 overall), so the strategy should be to draft the best player and hope that he pans out. It has worked for the team in the past, as Parsons was selected No. 38 overall in the 2011 draft.
The best pick for Houston would be forward C.J. Leslie, however. Several mock drafts (like the one from DraftExpress.com) predict that they will select a point guard. That would be simply ridiculous. Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks are all under contract for at least next season. A point guard would be a waste of a pick.
Leslie provides the team with two things—athleticism and perimeter defense.
Leslie does much of his scoring in the paint, but Draft Express' scouting report reminds us that he's not exactly the most polished player down low. He gets by because of his freakish athleticism and ability to jump out of the gym.
He's also displayed the potential necessary to become a strong perimeter defender. He moves his feet quickly and has the length to wreck havoc on the opposition. This length and athleticism also helps him with his help defense, an area that he has excelled in.
Leslie fits the team's scheme of using athletic players and also addresses a need for defense. While he may not play much right away, Leslie would be a great player to develop in the system. His versatility to play either forward position also helps quite a lot.
Smith fits the team's style of play and won't require a max contract (he'll likely command around $14 million per season). This would make signing anybody else difficult, but there are already reports that Francisco Garcia's team option will not be picked up.
Should Morey decide to decline the options on both Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks as well, that could clear up nearly another $12 million. This would make signing a capable replacement for both Delfino and Garcia much easier.
The perfect candidate for the job would be Dorell Wright. Wright can shoot lights-out from deep (36.7 percent for his career) and can play above-average defense on the perimeter. He doesn't pile up the steals or blocks, but he makes it difficult for his opponents to score. For $4 million per season, I'd say Wright is worth it.
If the revolving door of Greg Smith, Tim Olbrecht and Donatas Motiejunas proved anything last season, it's that Houston needs a defensive-minded player to play behind Asik at center. All three struggle defensively and don't help much on the offensive end either.
Jermaine O'Neal can be had cheap (likely for the veteran's minimum) and on a one-year contract. O'Neal is a great post defender and can even hold his own offensively at age 34.
It's hard to predict what trades Morey will make (if any). Morey has proven himself to be a very unpredictable GM, albeit a very good one. If anything, I see him potentially looking to deal guys to pick up draft picks for later seasons.
Terrence Jones flashed some potential late last season. Pure speculation on my part, but maybe Morey could look to deal Jones to a team in exchange for a low first-round/early second-round draft pick. The acquisition of Thomas Robinson last season makes this trade much more realistic than it would have been in January.
Head coach Kevin McHale received a ton of flack this past season for his handling of Harden and Lin. Many believed Lin should handle the ball more because, well, he is the point guard. Others argued Harden, as the team's star, should control the ball.
In the end, McHale chose Harden. Harden played iso-basketball a vast majority of his touches, and while he certainly scored his points, it can be argued that it hurt the team. Toward the end of the shot clock, Harden often couldn't find a shot and quickly dished the ball to teammates with equally as poor opportunities to score.
This resulted in a ton of bad shots by both Harden and his teammates (though not to the fault of his teammates).
On the flip side, Lin has his downfalls has the main ball-handler. Harden is a far superior ball-handler, even if he doesn't play the role of distributor nearly as much as Lin would. Lin also turns the ball over a whole lot (3.2 per game).
I don't necessarily think Lin should have the ball more than Harden, but I do think Lin needs to assert himself more on offense. The league's best point guards (Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Chris Paul) all are their respective teams' leaders and top orchestrators on offense. With a clear-cut offensive leader, Houston could make strides.
Other than this, I like the way McHale runs the offense. They run very few set plays, which results in natural basketball by the players. As an athletic team, Houston is capable of playing this way.
Like I said, the Rockets have a ton of options given their payroll flexibility. By taking the routes I've suggested, however, the team could improve both offensively and defensively—both now and in the future.
Which big-time free agent would you rather see in Houston?
Smith would obviously be the biggest acquisition for Houston heading into next season. A starting five of Lin (or Beverley, perhaps?), Harden, Parsons, Smith and Asik would likely be good enough for at least the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Throw in a bench that has above-average shooters and a few strong defenders (Leslie, Wright and O'Neal) and you've got yourself a team that could push for the Western Conference Finals.
Houston has tons of potential and is in a great position to continue to get better. Morey just needs to play his cards right this offseason.