Pieces Houston Rockets Must Acquire to Become a True Contender
The Houston Rockets were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference this season, but their chances of contention were bleak. They were matched against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the West's No. 1-seeded team and the heavily favored club.
The Rockets lacked both consistency and defensive presence at times this season (let alone the playoffs). While consistency isn't always something that can be fixed during the offseason, defense certainly can.
General manager Daryl Morey should focus on defense and defense alone during the offseason. His team has the pieces in place make a run at a title in the near future if reinforcements come via free agency or trades.
The current roster could use some tweaking (a starting point guard swap, perhaps?), but a team led by James Harden on the perimeter and Omer Asik underneath is in good hands.
I foresee three players who could come to Houston and make an immediate impact, one of whom is a star and two of whom are role players. Should these pieces by brought in by Morey, the Rockets could quickly move up the ranks of Western Conference powerhouses.
An Impact Defender in the Starting Five (Who Can Score)
Power forward is the biggest hole on the roster for Houston, and no player fits the team's needs better than Josh Smith.
Smith is one of the most athletic defenders in the NBA. He's blocked 2.1 shots per game during his career (which began in 2004-05 with the Atlanta Hawks) and has also tallied 1.3 steals per contest for his career.
Houston really lacked athleticism this past season. Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons are athletic, but they are not gifted athletes like many consider James Harden to be. Smith trumps even Harden in this category. Defensively, his quickness and length make him one of the tougher opponents to score on.
Offensively, this athleticism and quickness make him difficult to defend. He's capable of driving to the basket at will and slamming home a powerful dunk. In an offense that featured Harden iso plays more often than not, Smith's attacking mentality would be a nice addition to the team.
Smith would couple with Asik underneath the basket to form a formidable duo. While Smith isn't necessarily known for his post play, he handles himself quite well under the basket, as evidenced by the 8.0 rebounds per game he's grabbed during his career.
The Rockets need defense in the starting five, as well as a little boost offensively from the power forward position—enter, Josh Smith.
A Sharpshooter from Deep (Who Can Also Play Defense)
The three-point specialist pool is full of quality players this offseason. Mike Dunleavy, Dorell Wright, Kyle Korver and former Rockets Francisco Garcia and Carlos Delfino are all free agents waiting to find new homes.
While Wright and Dunleavy are solid options, Korver is the player to get here.
Korver is arguably the best three-point shooter in the game today. He's averaged just under 42 percent from deep for his career but shot a ridiculous 53.6 percent in 2009-10 with the Utah Jazz. The guy can flat-out shoot.
Korver would replace the role played by Garcia this past season, albeit with a slight twist. Garcia is a great shooter from downtown but offered but a small amount of defense. Korver provides much more.
The Rockets loved to shoot the three in 2012-13, and adding Korver to the mix would only further that dynamic. He'd be a great fit in the system, and he represents a vast improvement defensively.
A Defensive-Minded Reserve Center
Jermaine O'Neal hasn't played a ton of minutes over the past three seasons, but he still has enough defensive talent to warrant a signing by Daryl Morey.
Once known for his offensive skills in his days with the Indiana Pacers, O'Neal is now more of a bruiser down low than anything else.
In 18.7 minutes per game with the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13, O'Neal grabbed 5.3 boards and blocked 1.3 shots per game—impressive numbers for an over-the-hill big man. What was most impressive about his defensive line was his DWS.
His DWS of 1.3 is fantastic for a guy playing in under 20 minutes per game. This shows how much of an impact he had on the Suns defensively.
Omer Asik is solid as a rock down low, but Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas are not ample replacements when it's time to give Asik a breather. Bringing in O'Neal on a one-year contract would be a great move for Morey and the Rockets.
If nothing else, O'Neal would be able to mentor the team's younger big men.