While the Houston Rockets will likely make a big offseason splash for the third consecutive year, there are cheaper alternatives that the team could consider in its effort to improve this summer.
Houston already had one of the league's best values in small forward Chandler Parsons, who was set to make under a million dollars. That was before the Rockets declined a team option on the 25-year-old, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Parsons will now be a restricted free agent this summer and should be in line for a substantial raise. The move allows the Rockets to get Parsons' name on a long-term contract a year sooner, while also leaving open the possibility of bringing in a third superstar to play with James Harden and Dwight Howard.
The latter move will likely require the team to move the expiring, yet expensive contracts of point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik. From there, the team could chase opt-out candidates such as the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony as well as the Miami Heat's LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Even though adding a third star will probably be general manager Daryl Morey's course of action, it isn't a necessity. The Rockets made it to the fourth seed in the West on the strength of Howard, Harden, Parsons and some quality role players.
With the addition of a couple solid defenders, Houston could enter right back into the championship hunt again next season. Of course, if you can find a way to lure LeBron James from South Beach to H-Town, campaigning for someone like Al-Farouq Aminu becomes moot.
Since we'll have the entire summer to discuss Houston's grand plans, what do you say we use today to focus on a few guys who won't garner superstar attention?
The common theme among these three players is defense, since that's Houston's biggest area of need. Also, while a couple of these names won't come cheap, they still offer value because they can do a number of things for half the price of a Carmelo Anthony or Dirk Nowitzki.
You should also keep in mind that I'm not advocating for the Rockets to sign all three.
In some ways, Trevor Ariza is the kind of third wheel (or fourth wheel, if they retain Parsons) the Rockets should be going after. He's an excellent perimeter defender, and he's more than capable of holding his own on the offensive end.
However, a lot will ride on the kind of deal Ariza will be seeking this summer. Considering he'll be 29 at the end of June and is coming off the best season of his career, his handlers might seek one last big payday. Perhaps, they could look for a deal north of the five-year, $33.5 million contract he signed with Houston back in 2009.
If that's the case, it will be tough to find value for a guy with two good seasons under his belt set to be drastically overpaid. If Houston were able to add Ariza's services for about $6-7 million annually, that could be a steal (especially considering what they would likely pay someone like Parsons or Anthony).
Ariza averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals for the Washington Wizards this season. Oddly enough, those are the UCLA product's best numbers since his last stint in Houston in 2009-10. He also shot a career high from behind the arc, converting just under 41 percent of his attempts.
Given the Rockets' infatuation with the three ball (no team shot more threes than Houston in the regular season) and their need for help defensively on the perimeter, Ariza would be the perfect fit at the right price.
He could slide into Parsons' spot at small forward. If Parsons is re-signed, Ariza could move to power forward and give the Rockets a stretch 4 who can space the floor and give Howard some breathing room down low.
Meanwhile, the combination of Ariza and point guard Patrick Beverley would give the Rockets two quality defenders, which would make up for Harden's infamous matador defense.
Here's a look at Ariza's 30-point performance in Game 4 of the Wizards' first-round showdown with the Chicago Bulls. Throughout the clip, you'll see Ariza feasting on open threes. If he's getting those kinds of looks with John Wall and Bradley Beal, imagine what it will be like with teams focused on Harden and Howard.
As enticing as adding someone like Carmelo Anthony is, Trevor Ariza is the guy that should be atop Houston's free-agent wish list. He fills needs, and he'll likely come to town for much less than 'Melo.
This season, Thabo Sefolosha was the anti-Trevor Ariza. His numbers took a slight dip in his walk year, and he was eventually replaced in the starting lineup during the playoffs. Sefolosha isn't as gifted as Ariza is on the offensive end either.
All of this should be reason for the Rockets to stay away from the Oklahoma City Thunder guard, right? Wrong.
Sefolosha's down year and subsequent benching will likely lower his asking price to something more reasonable. At one point, it appeared Sefolosha was in line for a deal similar to (if not better than) the four-year, $20 million contract Tony Allen got to re-sign with the Memphis Grizzlies last summer.
Now, that seems like a stretch. In truth, it's hard to fathom a team paying $5 million annually to a 30-year-old coming off a down year that saw him get benched during the most important time of the year. Even a spot in a team's starting rotation is far from a guarantee.
That's where Houston comes in. Obviously, with James Harden holding down the shooting guard spot, Sefolosha won't be starting for the Rockets anytime soon. However, he could still have value to the team as a super-sub.
With all due respect to Troy Daniels and his key contributions during the playoffs, the Rockets are in greater need of someone with Sefolosha's defensive chops than the rookie's dynamic scoring. By getting Sefolosha to agree to be the team's sixth man, the Rockets would have a number of lineup options.
They could pair Harden and Sefolosha together at times. Since Harden is the team's best distributor and normally dominates the ball anyway, he could slide to point guard and focus on making plays while Sefolosha handles the defensive end.
The Rockets could also throw out a backcourt of Sefolosha and Beverley, which would be a fantastic defensive combination.
Obviously, the key here will be getting Sefolosha to agree to come off the bench. During his exit interview, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, Sefolosha expressed frustration over being benched and questioned his future with the Thunder: "It’s just tough. You’ve got a lot of questions, like, why and what is the thought process necessarily behind it? Things like that. You just stick with the plan, stick with your teammates. ... I'm going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things."
The reality of the situation is that potential suitors will be reluctant to give starter money to a 30-year-old three-and-D guy coming off an off year.
If Sefolosha still wants to chase a title, his best bet is to accept his fate as a key reserve on a contender like the Rockets.
Obviously, the Rockets' interest in Spencer Hawes is contingent upon the team trading Omer Asik first. Once Asik is out of the picture, Houston will had a sudden need for a backup center. Hawes could be that and more.
What Hawes brings to the table is versatility. He's listed at 7'1" but can play center or power forward. He's a solid rebounder, averaging 8.3 boards per game in 2013-14 playing for the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
He's a decent outside shooter for a big man. In the past two seasons, he's shot better than 35 percent from behind the arc. He's also a capable shot-blocker, swatting away at least one shot a game in five out of his seven seasons in the league.
Hawes is a more ideal fit alongside Howard than Asik ever was. His touch from the outside will keep things from getting too congested in the paint. Plus, he's more than capable of holding his own on the glass and the defensive end.
The main hiccup will be the price. Hawes made $6.5 million last season and $8.5 million the season before. Given his standing as a jack-of-all-trades, he could command some nice offers from teams looking for a quality starting center.
Now, if you're Houston, you want to pay Hawes closer to what he made last season to be Howard's caddy and occasional frontcourt tag team partner. If need be, the case can be made for Hawes to start over rising power forward Terrence Jones.
Here is some video of Hawes putting all of his skills to good use during his time in Philly:
And some highlights of his work with the Cavs as well.
In both videos, you'll see the various ways Hawes can score the basketball. He's a threat from the outside or in the post. At times, he even made some nice drives to the hoop. His versatility on offense is the biggest difference between him and Asik. Hawes is also a career 70 percent free-throw shooter, which is an added bonus for the Rockets.
If Asik is traded, the Rockets will need someone who can be a better complement to Howard. Jones does his part, but he struggles with consistency and a lack of ideal size. Hawes brings a ton of value for the right price. He can do a number of different things on the court and gives Houston advantages where they didn't have them last season.
With limited cap space, the key for Houston will be getting the most bang for its buck. Guys like Hawes and Ariza are capable of affecting the game positively on both ends of the court. Furthermore, they'll likely combine for the same price of either re-signing Chandler Parsons or bringing in another superstar.
While the need to win now is evident, the team isn't that far away from title contention that GM Daryl Morey needs to swing for the fences this summer. Sometimes, you can win by hitting a few doubles in the gap instead.