The season unfortunately ended much sooner than what Houston Rockets fans had hoped for, but it's never too late to start planning ahead for the offseason. Houston will have plenty of time to prep for next season thanks to Damian Lillard.
We learned this season that the Rockets have some good pieces in place, but still have plenty of work to do before becoming a championship team. A heartbreaking first-round exit courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers was a wake-up call for GM Daryl Morey and head coach Kevin McHale.
Houston may be disappointed in its inability to escape the first round of postseason action, but the Rockets must learn from the experience and fill the holes that were exposed by Portland's high-octane offense. Morey is tasked with the job of retooling the roster to get the Rockets over the hump into true contention for a championship.
There are a handful of issues for Morey to address before basketball begins next October. Let's go through them one by one.
Chandler Parsons' Contract
Chandler Parsons was one of the biggest bargains in the NBA this season, earning just $926,500 on the third year of his rookie contract. The Rockets also have a team option on his contract for next season. If they pick it up, Parsons will return to Houston next season still making less than a million dollars.
However, this would be a slap in the face to the athletic forward.
Parsons has proven that he is the third star on this team along with James Harden and Dwight Howard. Parsons is a key piece to the puzzle, and therefore, he should be making a much more respectable salary as a professional athlete.
The Rockets can decline his team option, which would make "Chandler Bang" a restricted free agent. At that point, Parsons can sign an offer sheet anywhere else in the league, but Houston could still match that offer and ensure that he remains a Rocket.
I personally think Morey should decline the team option and just sign Parsons to mid-level contract he has earned. Doing this would restrict Houston from signing a big-time free agent this summer (i.e., Carmelo Anthony), but it would show Parsons that the team wants him to be their star for the long haul.
Morey already declined a trade for NBA All-Star and champion Rajon Rondo that was centered around Parsons, so it's clear that the Rockets value Parsons pretty highly. If that's true, then why pay him a lousy salary when he obviously should be cashing out? That may not go over well when he becomes an unrestricted free agent the following season, if it ever comes to that. Let's hope not.
What Happens with Lin and/or Asik?
At the beginning of last season, no one expected Omer Asik to stick around in Houston. The disgruntled center was unhappy coming off the bench behind Howard. McHale tried experimenting with both big men in the starting lineup together, and it utterly failed.
The Big O was as good as gone, but the trade deadline came and went, and Morey refused to pull the trigger on a deal.
Fast forward to LaMarcus Aldridge putting a beating on Terrence Jones in the first two games of the playoffs, and boy are we glad we still had that guy. Asik held LMA in check for the next few games and made what was once a beat down a close series.
The twin towers proved in the playoffs that it was still possible for them to play together, provided that the matchups with the opposing team align. As long as he is under contract, which he is for all of next season, Asik won't be going anywhere.
But hold on a second.
Here we are in Portland for Games 3 and 4, and Asik is showing us why the Rockets signed him in the first place. However, his poison pill partner makes a few costly mistakes to put himself under the spotlight, which raises a new question: should the Rockets unleash Jeremy Lin and his backloaded contract? This one is a bit trickier.
Lin had yet another inconsistent postseason, which lost him his starting to job to Patrick Beverley in the first place. Despite a wondrous Game 5 that can only be attributed to a critical sense of much-needed redemption, Lin was far too reckless and became the goat of one disaster after another.
Lin's nonsensical turnovers and boneheaded decisions arguably cost the Rockets a game or two in the series, which was oh so close. Some folks in Houston even went as far as to term Lin the next Jacoby Jones, referring to his muffed punt in the playoffs against the Ravens that got him run out of town.
Rumor has it that neither Lin nor Asik are going anywhere this summer despite their hefty contracts. Even though that money could be put to better use under the salary cap, those backloaded contracts are a tough sell for any GM to take off your hands.
I expect both players will be back in a Rockets uniform next season. Asik must be brought back, but I'm not so sure I would be devastated if Houston and Lin went separate ways.
Retooling the Roster
During the playoffs, we realized that the Rockets were not quite as deep as we once thought. Guys like Donatas Motiejunas and Jordan Hamilton, who got plenty of playing time during the regular season, didn't even see the floor in the postseason.
There is a very blatant problem that Morey must solve. Houston chucked up the most three-balls of any team in the NBA, yet they only shot 35.8 percent, which is in the middle of the pack. This just doesn't make sense.
If a team is going to strategize around three-pointers, then they should probably be one of the best at shooting them. Live and die by the three, they say, and you're a lot more likely to die if you don't even excel at shooting the three in the first place.
The Rockets' D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are sharpshooters. That team takes more threes than any other team in history. Players like Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan and Rob Covington will be key players coming off the Rockets' bench next season, and it's because they launched threes in the Valley all season long. The system has already had an impact, and it should continue to pay off for Houston in 2014-15.
Morey should spend this offseason finding more shooters, like Daniels, who shoot north of 40 percent from long range. The Rockets didn't have a single player shoot with that type of success all season long, and it's about time that they do. Morey can use free agency and the draft to try and find more players who fit that mold.
It is imperative that Houston collects more shooters to replace Omri Casspi's and Francisco Garcia's disappointing shooting percentages. If you're going to depend on the three, make sure you have the players that will make it worthwhile.
One Other Thing...
Time and time again this postseason, it went through my head that McHale was clearly losing the chess match with Blazers' coach Terry Stotts. McHale made an impressive turnaround after dropping the first two games at home, but it was too little, too late. Considering that McHale had better talent at his disposal, it was evident that Stotts is the superior coach.
That raises the terrifying question: is McHale good enough to lead this team to a championship?
We have ignored this issue for a while now, along with the issue of McHale and Morey butting heads with different styles. McHale won his rings in Boston with heart and toughness, while Morey is a big advocate of advanced stats and efficiency.
How much longer can this relationship last? Will the Rockets eventually have to fire McHale for a more qualified mastermind while they have this contending roster in place? The Golden State Warriors were faced with that decision, and they decided to pull the plug on Mark Jackson. McHale may have the same fate, but it won't be this offseason.