The Houston Rockets made some great moves this offseason, but it's the moves they didn't make that could end up defining their season.
Sure, the moves general manager Daryl Morey made were high-profile ones—signing Dwight Howard, trading Thomas Robinson and re-signing both Francisco Garcia and Aaron Brooks all made headlines—but the he had a legitimate opportunity to improve his team even more on several occasions.
The Rockets have one gaping hole on their otherwise stacked starting five. The power forward position is in a state of flux, as neither Terrence Jones nor Donatas Motiejunas has been handed the job just yet. Even when one is awarded the job, neither figures to make a huge impact this season.
Morey had opportunities to acquire power forwards both in free agency and trades, and his tentativeness to either shell out money or talent could come back to bite his team in the regular season. The Rockets improved tremendously over the last few months, but there was certainly more that could have been done.
Note: These moves exist within themselves. They are not tied together in any way and happen independently of each other.
Acquiring Ryan Anderson for Omer Asik
Morey really dropped the ball on this one.
Rumors arose at one point that a swap of Asik and power forward Ryan Anderson could be in the works, but a trade never materialized between Houston and the New Orleans Pelicans. This will turn out to be an unfortunate outcome for Houston.
Lacking a steady power forward, Houston would have benefitted from the all-around game of Anderson. He can shoot from deep (38.4 percent career), grab boards (6.4 per game in 2012-13) and score in bunches (16.1 per game over the last two seasons).
The Rockets love to shoot from deep and can always use help on the glass. Even if he's not the greatest of rebounders at power forward, his offensive consistency and propensity to bang bodies down low would have been a positive addition to the team.
A starting five of Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Anderson and Howard would easily rank among the deepest in the NBA. Plus, the core could stay together for years given their ages (Howard is the oldest player at 27).
Morey must be banking on the potential of Jones this season. If he doesn't pan out, then Morey will be kicking himself for not heavily pursuing Anderson.
Trading Jeremy Lin for Cap Space Instead of Thomas Robinson
In order to make signing Howard work, Morey had to clear some cap space. He chose to trade power forward Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers despite acquiring him just a few months earlier from the Sacramento Kings.
Given the status of the power forward position, Morey should have kept Robinson and dealt Lin instead. The point guard position proved to be much deeper by offseason's end, as Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Canaan will be fighting for playing time behind Lin.
Lin would have cleared similar cap space while opening up playing time for Beverley, who ran the team well in the postseason against the Oklahoma City Thunder and is much more of a game manager than Lin. Lin is great with the ball in his hands and is an above-average scorer at the point, but the Rockets offense calls for a point guard more apt to pass and set up his teammates.
It's not that Lin is a ball hog or anything.
It's just obvious that he operates better when he's asked to make plays himself.
Keeping Robinson would have been the better play.
He has much more potential at power forward than Jones and Motiejunas, whereas Lin may not improve much more and has likely reached his ceiling as a player.
Robinson has the athleticism to jump out of the gym and the physical skills to be successful down in the paint. He could have learned a lot from Howard, and the Rockets could have enjoyed putting both down low for the next several seasons.
Signing/Trading for Josh Smith
Acquiring Josh Smith would have been the icing on the cake for Morey this offseason. After already acquiring the best player of the offseason in Howard, he could have signed a top-five free agent in Smith.
Reports suggested that the Atlanta Hawks and Rockets were working on a sign-and-trade of Smith. Smith would have been a great addition at power forward, even if he's not exactly the prototypical player at the position.
Which non-move will hurt the team the most in 2013-14?
He's a great defensive player, runs the floor well and grabs a decent number of rebounds—this makes him a perfect fit for the Rockets. The team desperately needed defense following the 2012-13 season, and pairing Smith with Howard under the basket would have drastically improved that.
Plus, Smith's ability to run the floor would have made him useful in fast breaks—something the Rockets excel at. Smith would have been extremely useful on both ends of the floor, and Morey will regret not finding a way to get him to Houston.
Again, Jones and Motiejunas are major question marks.
The supporting cast around them is strong enough to mitigate any negative impact they may have, but it's hard to pass up acquiring a proven player when there's so much uncertainty on the roster.
Smith, and Anderson before him, represented more than viable options at the 4 for Houston. Morey should have acquired one of them.