As the offseason is on its way, the Houston Rockets have entered the time of year when general manager Daryl Morey earns his paycheck.
We talk during the season about how certain players are (or aren’t) earning their paychecks, but during the offseason it’s Morey’s job to put together a winning team.
Only 10 teams had more wins than the Rockets and the question Morey faces this summer is how can his team win more games? With a 45-win season, the task gets difficult.
Last offseason, Morey was a busy man. He acquired his franchise player, James Harden. He took a chance and struck gold on Chicago Bulls reserve center Omer Asik and he brought Jeremy Lin back to Houston, who started each and every game in the regular season.
There aren’t too many question marks surrounding his team heading into the 2013-14 season, but there are going to be changes.
Not every position is set in stone. Some starting roles need to be addressed, while key bench roles need to be taken care of this summer.
Let’s assume Patrick Beverley’s $788,872 option is picked up; that solidifies the point guard position behind Lin. With Harden manning the 2 and Chandler Parsons occupying the 3, that leaves the frontcourt as an area that needs improvement.
What we’re looking at here are the positions—starting or reserve—that need to be upgraded before the start of next season.
Depth at Center
The only true center on the roster behind Asik is Tim Ohlbrecht. A D-League All-Star before joining the Rockets, Ohlbrecht appeared in just three games until he was sent back to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He played only 12 minutes in a Rockets uniform, recording four turnovers, three points and one rebound. It’s likely the Rockets will decline his option for the 2013-14 season to make room for a bigger fish.
As well as Asik played last season—10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 54 percent from the field—as much as he excelled on the defensive end, Morey is still searching for another superstar to play alongside Harden. His top target: Dwight Howard.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Houston is “determined to trade forward Thomas Robinson” to create cap space in order to offer Howard a max contract.
Howard would be an automatic upgrade over Asik. The elite big man is more of an offensive threat on the inside than Asik. With a career average of over 18 points per game, Howard has shot better than 57 percent from the floor in every year since 2006-07, with a career field-goal percentage of 57.7.
Additionally, he is a top-tier defender. He does it all on defense. A premier shot-blocker, Howard also dominates the boards and shifts to help around the rim using his size and athleticism to have success on both ends of the floor.
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com says the 7‘0” Asik is the kind of big man Howard would want next to him in the frontcourt. Coach Kevin McHale’s’ defensive mind could also be enough to lure Howard to Houston.
If the Rockets are unable to land Howard, Asik would resume his starting role and Houston could look at backup options through free agency that include Nikola Pekovic (has a $6,046,500 qualifying offer from Minnesota) and Timofey Mozgov (has a $3,925,536 qualifying offer from Denver).
Obviously, Dwight Howard is priority No. 1 for Morey and the Rockets, but regardless of how those negotiations go, the team needs depth at the center position.
Perhaps the biggest position that needs an upgrade is power forward. 82games.com shows the net production for Houston’s power forwards last season totaled a -3.4 PER.
The Rockets currently have an influx of tweeners capable of playing the 4. However, they are inexperienced and still require some development.
If management decides to trade Robinson, then Terrence Jones, Donatas Montiejunas, Greg Smith and Royce White will battle for minutes. All but Greg Smith have guaranteed contracts for next season, per HoopsWorld.
White’s anxiety disorder and fear of flying—which resulted in a suspension last season—will likely force the Rockets’ brass to try and rid themselves of this headache any way they can.
Montiejunas saw action in 44 games in 2012-13, where he played just over 12 minutes per contest. The 7’0” big man averaged 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds. For a Rockets team that had a 56 percent true shooting percentage, Montiejunas’ true shooting percentage was below the average, at 53 percent. He took 83 three-pointers, converting just 24, or 28.9 percent.
Plus, his defense on the inside was horrendous as he was constantly manhandled by the more physical power forwards. If he doesn't improve that area of his game he won't be playing meaningful, if any, minutes.
Besides Robinson, the power forward with the most upside is Terrence Jones. He should be receiving more minutes next season at both forward positions. The 6’9” 21-year-old has shown some explosiveness in his limited action and deserves a larger role in the future.
In April, Jones played over 23 minutes per contest. He scored 8.8 points, grabbed 5.9 rebounds and blocked 1.9 shots per game for the month.
If Morey rids the team of White and Robinson’s contracts, he could try to sign a cheap veteran, someone like Jermaine O’Neal—who made just over $850,000 last season—to ease some pressure off the youngsters.
In a perfect world, the Rockets sign Howard and shift Asik to the 4, with Jones as the backup. This would eliminate the need for an upgrade.
Backup Shooting Guard
While Harden is going to be on the floor the majority of minutes, the Rockets will need a player to step in when he goes to the bench. He played over 38 minutes per game last year, and it will take a toll on his body if that continues down the road.
Carlos Delfino has a team-friendly $3 million option, but the injury-prone guard recently had foot surgery and will require four-to-six months of rehab. He may not fit into Morey’s plans going forward.
The same can be said about Francisco Garcia. Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston tweeted that the Rockets won’t pick up Garcia’s $6.4 million option.
That would leave James Anderson as the only reserve shooting guard. Acquired midseason from San Antonio, Anderson played just 10.6 minutes per game. Despite the limited playing time, a 2-guard needs to score more than four points a game.
Morey should turn to the draft, with pick No. 34, to address this position. An intriguing option is a player who spent last season with the Rockets D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley, Glen Rice Jr.
The 22-year-old Rice Jr. averaged over 13 points per game in the D-League, shooting 49.1 percent. Standing at 6’6” with a 6’9” wingspan, he has a great build for an NBA wing player.
The Rockets have had a year to scout and discipline Rice Jr., who was kicked off the Georgia Tech team after two seasons due to numerous off-the-court issues.
He has great range on his jump shot and his quick release makes him a dynamic catch-and-shoot player on the perimeter.
Rice Jr. can also use his speed to get to the basket in transition. His 40.5” max vertical gives him the ability to create plays around the rim. You can see his ferocious finishes on display here:
Projected by ESPN’s Chad Ford as a mid-first round pick and the 22nd overall prospect, Rice Jr. could fall to the early second round due to his past issues. DraftExpress.com has Rice being selected by the Rockets and NBADraft.net has Cleveland selecting him at No. 33 while other mock drafts have Rice Jr. drafted in the late first round.
He is a great finisher with tremendous NBA potential. If he’s there at No. 34, the Rockets may look to take him in an effort to upgrade their depth at shooting guard.
Rice Jr. may not fall into the Rockets' lap, and if that's the case, they will be forced to make a different play for a backup shooting guard. Other notable names in the draft include Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., North Carolina's combo wing player Reggie Bullock and North Carolina State's combo-guard Lorenzo Brown.
Outside of the draft, Morey could look at free agents like Nick Young, Tony Allen and Marco Belinelli.
Again, no matter the route he takes, Morey must do something to help his franchise player.