Ranking Houston Rockets Best Free-Agent Options Beyond Dwight Howard
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An improving Houston franchise—armed with a healthy amount of cap space—figures to take a run at the 6'11" All-Star. Howard would pair nicely alongside Omer Asik in the Rockets' frontcourt, and the potential of a two-man game between Howard and James Harden is too enticing to ignore.
That said, Houston's offseason strategy won't—or at least, shouldn't—be focused on a single player. There are several options other than Howard that make sense for the Rockets, and with the amount of resources at its disposal, Houston is almost guaranteed to improve its roster in the coming months.
6. Tony Allen
Barring a draft-day trade, the Houston Rockets figure to have roughly $18 million to spend in free agency this summer. Though they may choose to spend most of that on a franchise-type player, they should also think long and hard about adding Tony Allen as well.
Even at 31 years of age, the 6'4" Allen is a premier perimeter defender who prides himself on keeping his man under wraps. With Allen in the fold, Rockets shooting guard James Harden would no longer be tasked with checking the opposing team's best scorer, thus giving him more energy to attack the basket on the offensive end.
Despite his three consecutive NBA All-Defensive nods, Allen should come at a relative bargain: He made just $3.3 million with the Memphis Grizzlies that year and doesn't figure to command much more than that on the free-agent market.
5. Josh Smith
Josh Smith doesn't appear to be an ideal fit in a Daryl Morey-influenced offensive system, but if the Rockets lose out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the high-flying Atlanta Hawks forward isn't a bad fallback option.
The 27-year-old Smith may be the best player currently in the NBA who has never made an All-Star Game: He has elite level talent, but after nine seasons in the league, he hasn't quite graduated to superstar status.
Of course, similar things could have been said about James Harden before he arrived in Houston last year. And if the Rockets can find a way to effectively harness Smith's talents, they could have one of the more devastating one-two punches in the Western Conference.
4. Andrew Bynum
The last time Andrew Bynum was in a meaningful NBA contest, he was fresh off of an All-NBA campaign in which he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
That, of course, happened in 2011-12: Myriad knee injuries kept Bynum on the sidelines this past year in Philly, and if the 76ers cut ties with their oft-injured big man, Houston may make a play for the 7-footer.
Although the Rockets could give the 25-year-old Bynum a max deal, that would be a foolish move given his chronic health issues. However, if the former Los Angeles Lakers star is willing to take a more reasonable deal, he could be that low-post offensive threat that the Rockets have been searching for.
3. Andre Iguodala
The smart money says that Houston will try to land a big man this offseason, but there are a few swingmen who should be on the team's radar as well.
One of those wing players happens to be Denver's Andre Iguodala, who figures to test the free-agent market after a brief stint with the Nuggets. The 6'6" Iguodala would fit in well with the Rockets' fast-paced attack, and given Omer Asik's ability to rebound the basketball, Houston could easily slide forward Chandler Parsons to the 4 spot.
The addition of Iguodala would also bolster a Rockets defense that allowed more than 102 points per game last season. With a true lockdown defender on the perimeter, it wouldn't be surprising to see Houston break the 50-win barrier next year.
2. Paul Millsap
Instead of trying to make a huge splash in the free-agent market, the Houston Rockets could instead make a run at Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap.
The 28-year-old Millsap doesn't have the name recognition of a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum, but the 6'8", 245-pounder is nearly as productive. During the 2012-13 season, Millsap's Player Efficiency Rating of 19.89 was the 30th-best mark in the entire NBA.
With more than half of his shots this past year coming from within eight feet, Millsap is a perfect fit for Kevin McHale's risk-averse, "Moneyball"-style offense. Even more attractive is the fact that he doesn't figure to break the bank: Houston may be able to sign him for less than $8 million per season.
1. Al Jefferson
The Utah Jazz have two young big men poised to make the leap next year (Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter), so it's unlikely that the team will re-sign free agent center Al Jefferson this offseason.
But while his current employer may not want him, Jefferson (17.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG in 2012-13) should pique the interest of the Houston Rockets, who are in desperate need of a player who can operate with his back to the basket. The addition of the 6'10", 265-pound Jefferson would not only improve the Rockets' ability to score in the paint, but his presence would create more open looks for Houston's shooters.
The 28-year-old Jefferson made $15 million during 2012-13, but he may be eager to join a contending team such as the Rockets at a much lower price tag.