Omer Asik (left) or Dwight Howard (right)? That's just one question Daryl Morey will have to ask himself.
Whether it be free agent decisions, team/player options or possible trades, general manager Daryl Morey and the rest of the Rockets organization must buckle down and focus on what could end up being a crucial offseason for the franchise.
Houston has the money to make a serious splash in free agency. Letting go of the correct contracts and trading the right players in an effort to free up even more cash will prove important. But choosing which players to go isn't going to be easy—nor will it come without controversy.
Houston fans may not agree with some decisions made, but Morey has done well in creating the team that they watch each game. He deserves a lot of credit for turning a young roster into a competitive one. Adding a few big-time veteran free agents could be exactly what the team needs to take the next step.
If that's the case, then the fans should just sit back, relax and allow Morey to work his magic.
Jeremy Lin is a fan favorite in Houston—and rightfully so. He carries with him one of the largest fanbases in the NBA and is as well-respected as they come.
He possesses all the skills to be a starting point guard in the NBA and would start on nearly every team. Houston just isn't the best fit for him. If the Rockets are committed to James Harden in the long term, then Lin won't be able to realize his full potential.
It's simple. Lin is a player who thrives when the ball is in his hands. He's surprisingly good at creating shots for a point guard and excels at driving to the rim. Unfortunately for him, that's exactly what Harden does. The only difference? Harden does it better.
It's impossible for two of this type of player to coexist, so it may be in Houston's (and Lin's) best interest to explore trading him. There's no doubt that teams would line up to acquire him. Like I said, he's a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA.
Houston could look to acquire a second-round draft pick and a role player for Lin, whose $8.3 million salary could easily be allocated to other areas of need.
In the meantime, Patrick Beverley could be given the chance to start. If head coach Kevin McHale is not satisfied with Beverley, free agents such as C.J. Watson or Nate Robinson could be fits.
Verdict: Lin should be traded for cap relief.
Thomas Robinson only played a few months with the Rockets, coming over from the Sacramento Kings at the trade deadline in a move that surprised much of the NBA.
The former No. 5 overall pick played sporadically in Houston, scoring just 4.5 points and grabbing 4.1 boards in only 13.0 minutes per game. He has shown flashes of promise, but the young power forward failed to excite last season.
Houston has two other young power forwards on the roster. Terrence Jones is modelled similarly to Robinson. He's athletic and long, and he finishes well at the rim. Donatas Motiejunas is big and lacks significant athleticism, but he can stretch the floor from time to time and knock down mid-range jumpers. This depth makes one of the three expendable.
Seeing as Robinson is owed around $3.5 million next season, he may be the likeliest option to go. Rumors have already surfaced regarding the possibility, but no real ground has been made by any potential suitors (as far as we all know).
It's rare to see a recent draft pick play for three different teams in just over one professional season (especially a pick as highly regarded as Robinson), but that just may be the case for the Houston power forward.
Verdict: It's a tough decision, but Robinson should be dealt for even more cap relief.
Carlos Delfino hit some big shots and played some important minutes for the Rockets this season, but his $3 million contract is non-guaranteed for next season. This situation is often overlooked, but freeing up another $3 million could be more important than many think.
The problem with Delfino is that there are so many players in the NBA who can do what he does. Delfino is a career 36.5 percent shooter from three who has never averaged more than 11.5 points per game. He established this career-high back in 2010-11 with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Free agents like Kyle Korver, Dorell Wright, Marco Belinelli and Mike Dunleavy all bring that same type of production to the table. Each of the aforementioned could probably be had for cheaper than $3 million, as well.
If the Rockets let Delfino walk and spend enough money to reach the salary cap, then there's a good chance that the team could use its mid-level exception on one of the four players (or even Delfino if he's still available).
This could result in a contract worth more than $3 million, but it wouldn't be hurting the team's chances of signing free agents. The mid-level exception is essentially "extra."
Verdict: Let Delfino walk, but don't count him out when considering players to sign with the mid-level exception.
Dwight Howard has been linked to the Rockets for months now, and many fans love the idea of bringing the NBA's most athletic big man to Houston. I am not one of those people.
Omer Asik was the most underappreciated player on the Rockets last season, and a case could be made that he was one of the most underrated in the NBA. He averaged a double-double of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds, shot 54.1 percent from the field and blocked 1.1 shots per game.
As a first-time starter in the NBA, those numbers are fantastic. Given his lack of experience as a starter, Asik is also a candidate to improve next season and beyond. Throw in the fact that he's never missed a game in his NBA career, and you've got yourself one of the most valuable big men in the game.
Howard's ball-hogging, team-destroying history is not something that Houston should be particularly fond of. He single-handedly dismantled the Orlando Magic with his opinions on then-head coach Stan Van Gundy and is a player who needs to have the ball in his hands to be successful.
The clubhouse cancer thing is bad enough, but having a player who needs the ball constantly just doesn't fit in Houston. Harden already needs the ball enough. Having two superstars compete for touches simply doesn't seem like a recipe for success.
Sticking with Asik is the best course of action for Houston.
Verdict: Howard is a great player, but Asik has the most room for growth and fits the team's strategies well. Don't trade him to make room for Howard.
Chris Paul is the far superior player to Josh Smith—that doesn't even need to be argued. Paul is considered a top player in the NBA whereas Smith, a very good player in his own right, is not even in the conversation.
The player who better fits the Rockets' needs is not as easy to decide, however. If Lin and Robinson are both dealt away for salary cap relief, both the point guard spot and power forward spot are open. Beverley and Motiejunas are the current members of the roster who would start in those positions if the team doesn't bring aboard any new players.
With that being the case, Smith is the better option. Beverley is far more ready to start than Motiejunas, making power forward the weaker position. Smith also fits the team's needs perfectly. He's athletic, loves to run the floor, finishes at the rim, rebounds well and plays defense.
Smith's length is his best asset. It helps him offensively to attack the rim and defensively to rack up steals and blocks.
Many dislike Smith because of his tendency to shoot from three despite a 28.3 career shooting percentage, but that is not enough reason for the Rockets to shy away. He'll have a clearly-defined role that calls for mid-range jumpers and quick cuts to the basket. Both Beverley and Harden will look for him to make those shots.
Smith has the potential to thrive in Houston as the No. 2 star. A starting-five of Beverley, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Smith and Asik could be enough to make waves in the Western Conference.
Verdict: Yes, Paul is the better player. Regardless, Smith is a better fit and fills the bigger hole.