Jermaine O'Neal would provide depth at a minimum salary.
The Houston Rockets will have to get creative with their free agency plans in 2013.
In search of another star-caliber player to pair alongside James Harden, Houston general manager Daryl Morey doesn’t have too much money to throw around.
With a cap of $58.5 million, the Rockets have a full slate of 15 players currently on the books for next season who will be making a collective $54,851,158. However, seven players have non-guaranteed contracts while Houston has to decide on Francisco Garcia’s $6.4 million team option.
It is likely Garcia has played his last game in a Rockets uniform as Morey aims to bring in a top-tier free agent such as Dwight Howard or Josh Smith. It was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Thomas Robinson and his $3.53 million salary is on the trading block in order to free up some cap space for Howard.
Keeping Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith, while declining the other options will leave Morey with a salary of $41,938,187 before free agency.
With the luxury tax threshold projected to be $71.6 million, that gives Morey the ability to sign that second star-caliber player. Additionally, he’ll need to find quality players at minimal costs to fill the bench.
Adding solid role players at the NBA minimum salary—which varies depending on the experience of the player—is an effective way to put together a winning team.
Then there’s the mid-level exception (MLE), which is designed to allow teams over the cap to spend a specified amount without affecting their luxury tax. If a team has cap room, it can sign a player to a maximum of two years and $2.652 million per year. Teams over the cap can sign a player for four years with a maximum of $5.15 million per year.
If Morey makes a high-profile signing, he could very well be over the cap without addressing all of the Rockets' needs.
The following cost-effective options are MLE or veteran-minimum contracts for free agents that Morey should consider.
The 24-year-old DeJuan Blair has spent four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
The former University of Pittsburgh standout was used sparingly in 2012-13, playing just 14 minutes per game. With a career 52.8 field goal percentage and tons of confidence in his shooting, Blair doesn’t seem to be in the Spurs’ plans going forward.
Making a mere $1.054 million last season, Blair hasn’t shown that he deserves a raise, either. However, coming to a team that needs frontcourt help could rejuvenate his career. He is tremendously athletic, and at 6’7”, is able to get in great position for rebounds on the low-post.
Though his rebounding is ideal for his size and position, defense is a concern. Coach Kevin McHale can work with Blair to help him become a better overall defender.
Blair’s struggles on that end have overshadowed his overall production while his lack of playing time has negated him from reaching his full potential. He has averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds for his career.
He is a very strong in the paint and could become a force if he keeps his body in shape. Knowing he has lots to prove, Blair could be signed for one year at around the fifth-year minimum salary.
Coming off a year in which he played for the veteran minimum in Los Angeles, Matt Barnes could find himself with that salary again.
Barnes would bring toughness and grit to a team looking for defense. He’s energetic and, at this point in his career, wants to win.
Barnes scored 10.3 points per game off the bench with the Clippers in 2012-13 for the best average of his career. His 15.57 player efficiency rating was also a career high.
Barnes’ rebounding is above average for his position and he has the ability to defend multiple positions on the wing. This fits the criteria that Houston needs in order to contend for a championship. He's not lazy on the court and will spark some energy off the bench.
At 6’7”, Barnes uses his length to contest shots and challenge ball-handlers. Offensively, he plays great off the ball, creating space for himself and his teammates with his cuts.
The nine-year vet has moved from team to team and could be intrigued by the talent that Morey has put together in Houston. He would be a solid signing for the veteran minimum and make an immediate impact off the Rockets’ bench.
Martell Webster is coming off a career year in virtually every statistical category.
His 11.4 points, 1.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 42.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season in Washington were all career highs.
The former sixth overall pick in the NBA draft and combo-wing player saw his best performances come from the 2-guard position. He posted a 17.0 player efficiency rating at shooting guard in his lone season with the Washington Wizards, while holding opposing 2-guards to just an 8.7 player efficiency rating, according to 82games.com.
The Rockets need a player capable of producing when James Harden is on the bench. Webster could be that player.
He played mostly small forward last season, so the 6’7” winger could be a nice swing piece in the Rockets’ lineup.
Making just $1.75 million with Washington, Webster will look for a pay raise. If Morey uses his mid-level exception on Webster for around $3 million (essentially Carlos Delfino's money), he will become the player who allows Harden to get some extra rest.
Jermaine O’Neal’s NBA career is nearing its end.
Playing for the Phoenix Suns last season, O’Neal needs a change of scenery if he wants to be on a winning team again.
He could sign with the Rockets and serve as a mentor to the young talent while being a worthy contributor off the bench.
O’Neal averaged 5.3 rebounds and 8.3 points last season with a player efficiency rating of 16.76.
The 34-year-old big man can play either center or power forward, providing much-needed frontcourt depth at a low cost. After playing in just 49 games over two seasons with the Boston Celtics, O’Neal proved he could stay on the court by appearing in 55 games in 2012-13.
He is a great low-post defender and has averaged 1.8 blocks in his 17-year career. His 16.2 rebound rate was his highest since the 2003-04 season—his second year in the NBA.
While his offense was on a steady decline for six years, the 6’11” O’Neal is coming off the fourth-highest field goal percentage of his career after making 48.2 percent of his shots last season.
Chasing a championship, O’Neal is a low-risk, high-reward type of player for Morey to sign at the veteran minimum.
Darren Collison is a playmaker off the bench. Playing in 81 games last season for the Dallas Mavericks, the 25-year-old posted a 16.37 player efficiency rating.
He earned $2.3 million in 2012-13 and possesses a qualifying offer for $3.34 million next season.
If he hits the free-agent market, Houston should strongly consider Collison with its mid-level exception.
He has shown he can both score and dish the ball. Playing behind Jeremy Lin, Collison would give the Rockets a player who mirrors the abilities of its starting point guard. Collison averaged 12 points and 5.1 assists last season as a starter and coming off the bench.
Like Lin, Collison is a shoot-first player, who is explosive in the lane and can finish at the rim.
He is a prolific scorer, shooting over 47 percent from the floor as a point guard, and is able to make baskets from anywhere on the court.
Assuming a big splash is made and Morey finds himself over the $58.5 million cap, a multi-year deal with the MLE for around $3.5-$4 million per year would improve the position backing up Lin.