Under-the-Radar Free-Agent Signings to Boost Houston Rockets Bench Attack
Thanks to both free agency and injury-related concerns, the Houston Rockets' second unit next season will look vastly different from the one that ended this year.
Carlos Delfino may miss the start of the season, Francisco Garcia and Aaron Brooks are likely gone, and the team may even move power forward Thomas Robinson in an attempt to clear cap space.
Houston isn't a team that lacks scoring (106.0 points per game—second in the NBA last season), but at the same time, it can't afford to be so reliant on James Harden to provide offense. Some of the burden on Harden's shoulders can be relieved with a smart free-agent signing or two, and the Rockets may not even have to break the bank to make it happen.
The Houston Rockets' starting lineup last season was fairly static except at the starting power forward spot. Donatas Motiejunas will probably get the nod there in 2013-14, but the Rockets will definitely need to strengthen the rotation behind him.
San Antonio's DeJuan Blair would be the perfect fit in Houston as the first power forward off of the bench. Not only is he a solid defender, but he's a more-than-capable option around the basket on offense. Most importantly, he doesn't figure to cash out this summer: Blair probably won't make much more than $2 million per year in free agency, leaving the Rockets plenty of cap space to work with.
Currently, there is no one on the Houston Rockets' projected roster next season with five years of NBA experience. A team which figures to be that young could benefit from some veteran leadership, and that just may come in the form of Antawn Jamison.
The 37-year-old Jamison can hold his own (he averaged 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Lakers last season), but his true value will be measured by the tips that he can potentially pass down to the next generation of NBA stars.
Jamison has shown that he's willing to be a role player for a team poised to make a title run, and Houston is a big-name free agent away from competing for the Western Conference crown next year.
Stephen Jackson doesn't just give great interviews: He still has enough left to be a solid reserve on a legitimate contender.
Chandler Parsons' place in the Houston starting lineup is relatively secure, but a number of the Rockets who backed him up last year are set to leave this summer. General manager Daryl Morey's primary goal this offseason may be to land a top-flight free agent, but he'll also need to find a quality wing player or two to come off of the bench as well.
Jackson, despite a tumultuous season in San Antonio, fits the bill both figuratively and literally: He's a tenacious defender, and he can be signed at a reasonable number.
Even if his on-court performance mirrors that from last season (6.4 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting), the intangibles that he'll bring to the Houston locker room are immeasurable.
Gary Neal's timing is impeccable: His 24-point outburst in Game 3 of the NBA Finals came weeks before the San Antonio guard is set to become a restricted free agent. And considering that he fell somewhat out of favor with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich this year, he may be looking to latch on with a team where he'll have a chance to get on the court more.
The 28-year-old Neal is more of a scorer than a pure shooter, and his consistently declining field-goal percentage is proof of that.
But there's value in having a player like Neal coming off of the bench for Houston: Neal's presence would ensure that the team's offense wouldn't go completely stagnant when James Harden is out of the game.
If a bidding war erupts for Neal, don't expect the Rockets to hang around until the end. But if the third-year guard can be signed on the cheap, Houston would be wise to lock him up long term.
Nate Robinson would be perfect as the spark plug for the Houston Rockets' second unit. The only problem is that Robinson could be in line for a $4 to $5 million deal this offseason, and it's unlikely that Houston GM Daryl Morey would pony up that kind of money for someone as erratic as Robinson.
But maybe he should.
The 29-year-old Robinson is just a 42.7 percent career shooter, yet his versatility (he can play both backcourt spots) and his ability to fill it up at a moment's notice (just ask the Brooklyn Nets) should make him a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate for at least the next couple of seasons.
He has already said his goodbyes to the city of Chicago—perhaps a move down South is in order.
Robinson isn't the best defender, but his offensive potential negates just about all of his deficiencies on the other end of the court.
Mid-range jump shots are rarities for the Houston Rockets. The team prides itself on taking the most efficient attempts possible: Those at the rim and those behind the three-point line.
With the status of shooting guard Carlos Delfino in question, Houston needs to find someone who can replace the 158 threes that Delfino sank last season. And who better to do so than a man who once made a league-leading 194 three-pointers back in 2010-11.
In what he would consider a bad year, Dorell Wright still knocked down 37.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc with the Philadelphia 76ers last season. That number is better than the 36.6 percent the Rockets averaged as a team last year, and right on par with Delfino's average (37.5).
There's no other way to put it: Wright and Houston are an ideal marriage between free agent and team.