The Houston Rockets are a team in need of assistance, even after a postseason berth in 2012-13. Houston was just good enough to make it into the playoffs (thanks to an ahead-of-schedule performance increase) but clearly were not good enough to oust the defending Western Conference champs in Oklahoma City in the first round.
Offense really isn't the problem for Houston. General manager Daryl Morey's squad posted the second-best scoring offense in the NBA. James Harden and Chandler Parsons had career seasons, while even Omer Asik was solid offensively.
The problems came at the other end of the floor. Houston could be described as lackluster (at best) defensively, with not much perimeter defense and little defense underneath aside from Asik.
Luckily for Morey, he has a lot of cap space to work with this offseason. Morey could feasibly hand-pick nearly whichever top free agent he wants and still have enough money to put complementary pieces around him on the bench.
Some needs are bigger than others, though, so it may not be best to go right ahead and sign a big-name player.
3. A Reserve Behind James Harden
James Harden played 38.3 minutes per game this season, a number entirely too high for stars at Harden's level. He may be the most talented player on the team, but nearly 39 minutes of play is sure to have a guy gassed by the end of games.
James Anderson played the remaining time behind Harden, but there are better options on this year's free-agent market. Guys like Kyle Korver and Tony Allen come to mind, as both can play solid defense while also providing solid offense during Harden's rest periods.
Having a capable reserve is important for so many reasons. The primary reason is because of the fall-off in offense the Rockets receive when Harden is on the bench. Anderson is nothing special offensively (or defensively) and would immediately lose his role if either Korver or Allen were acquired.
The second reason is mostly precautionary, but the Rockets likely wouldn't be able to function and win games if Harden were to get injured. Both Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley would start as combo-guards, but a Korver or Allen could help to ease the pain.
Alen is an extremely interesting option given his defensive play. Putting Allen in the Rockets' starting lineup would immediately give them a boost defensively.
There's plenty of evidence here to suggest that the Rockets can't keep running Harden into the ground next season. The benefits are sufficient enough that Morey should make a deal for somebody. Anderson simply isn't good enough to replace Harden while he's on the bench.
2. A Defensive, Reserve Center
Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas left much to be desired as reserve centers in 2012-13. Neither played great defense, and both had trouble staying consistent on offense.
Asik needs to be replaced by another bruiser while he's on the bench. When Asik comes back in, the defender could still be tired from working extra hard against the reserve. This could work to the advantage of both the Rockets and Asik. Tired defenders simply mean more opportunities to score in the paint.
Jermaine O'Neal can provide the Rockets with such an opportunity. The veteran big man is a free agent after playing a small role with the Phoenix Suns this season but still has enough left in the tank to play a similar role in Houston.
O'Neal isn't the offensive stud he used to be, but defense still comes easily to him. With him in the fold, head coach Kevin McHale shouldn't be afraid of giving Asik longer rests (or more rests) on the bench.
The beauty of it all is that O'Neal could likely be had pretty cheap. As a player on the downslope of his career, O'Neal shouldn't be asking for more than $2 million on a one-year contract.
I'd be jumping all over that potential signing if I were Morey.
1. A Power Forward That Can Defend
Houston lacks defense in the starting lineup (aside from Asik), so filling the vacant hole at power forward with a legitimate defender should be the team's top priority.
Paul Millsap and Josh Smith are two names that come to mind, even though both are very different players. Millsap is undersized but plays a solid post game and bumps bodies on the glass.
He's not afraid of a little contact and posts strong numbers because of it.
Smith is a slightly better fit, though, because of his ability to run the floor. The Rockets ran a quick-paced offense last season, as transition basketball was a big reason for their success.
Smith can run the floor very well, is athletic enough to score in traffic and can even step out and hit a three on occasion. Smith will cost more money, but that shouldn't be an issue for Morey and his influx of cap space.
Putting Smith in a starting lineup alongside Asik, Harden, Lin and Chandler Parsons would propel the Rockets to a high seed in the Western Conference. On that note alone, Morey should make signing a player like Smith his priority.