Most Realistic Free-Agent Options for Houston Rockets to Chase
Like a kid at a community swimming pool, the Houston Rockets enter free agency anxiously awaiting their opportunity to make a big splash.
General manager Daryl Morey has his heart set on drastically improving the team this summer. That's why you hear the Rockets linked to every notable free agent from LeBron James to Carmelo Anthony.
Houston's main area of focus appears to be on the wing. The Rockets struggled with trying to stop opposing scorers on the perimeter this past season. Also, starting small forward Chandler Parsons is a restricted free agent this summer.
While the Rockets could go over the cap to retain him, their willingness to match offers for the talented 25-year-old probably comes within reason. If the Florida product were to get a max offer from another team, Houston may balk at the price tag.
Beyond the need at small forward, the Rockets will be in the market for a backup center. The team agreed to send former backup big man Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans for a future first-round pick, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. That deal will become official once New Orleans clears enough cap space to fit Asik's salary.
The free agents in this article are all players that Houston has expressed some level of interest in. They are listed by the team's chances of landing them, from least likely to most likely.
As always, reader participation is encouraged. If there are any questions or concerns, feel free to drop a line in the comments section.
Honorable Mention: SF LeBron James
Like any team with championship aspirations, the Rockets were one of a handful of clubs to contact James' representative, Rich Paul, to express interest in signing the four-time MVP away from Miami. Other potential suitors include the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, while Houston would love to have James team with Dwight Howard and James Harden, USA Today's Sam Amick writes that the Rockets are more concerned with James' former high school rival Carmelo Anthony:
The Rockets, it should be noted, are known to be laser-focused on the prospect of landing fellow free agent Carmelo Anthony at the moment. A person with knowledge of Houston's thinking expressed very little confidence that the Rockets were legitimately being considered.
You can't fault the Rockets for doing their due diligence. James is the league's best player and someone with elite skills on both ends of the court. His presence would turn Houston from a dark-horse playoff team to a championship contender overnight.
Still, there doesn't seem to be enough mutual interest from either side to make this anything more than a pipe dream.
SF Trevor Ariza
The Houston Rockets have been in this situation before. Back in 2009 the team successfully courted free-agent small forward Trevor Ariza, luring him away from the Los Angeles Lakers with a five-year, $33.5 million deal.
This time around, he is looking to be handsomely compensated for a career year with the Washington Wizards. The UCLA product averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He also shot 45.6 percent from the field, including a career-high 40.7 percent from downtown.
So, why is he the least likely of the potential free-agent targets to sign with Houston?
That has more to do with the probability that Ariza stays in our nation's capital than any shortcomings the Rockets may have. According to The Washington Post's Michael Lee, Wizards head coach Randy Wittman and team vice president Ed Tapscott left their meeting with the 29-year-old forward feeling good about their chances:
But even though Wittman and Tapscott had already left Ariza’s hotel suite in Marina Del Ray, Calif., before Gortat and the Wizards had settled on a five-year, $60-million pact, the duo had said enough to convince Ariza that he was wanted. And since Ariza had also expressed his affection for the Wizards, it didn't take long before he told his agent, Rob Pelinka, to get on the phone and see if a deal could be worked out, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
As for Houston, it makes sense why the team would be interested in Ariza. He is a solid perimeter defender who has made strides in his offensive game since the last time he wore a Rockets uniform. With continued improvement in his outside shot, he could thrive on a Rockets team that is obsessed with shooting threes.
However, that's contingent on a team being able to pry him away from the Wizards. With so many teams vying for his services and the Rockets so focused on landing Carmelo Anthony, the chances of an Ariza reunion in Houston seem bleak.
PF Chris Bosh
I already know what you're going to say.
"But, Dave, if LeBron James' chances of coming to Houston are slim, what makes Chris Bosh's chances any better?"
In truth, the most likely scenario involving Miami's Big Three would be all three stars re-upping with the Heat and chasing titles in the much easier Eastern Conference. However, while all the talk of a breakup seems like a well-orchestrated smokescreen, it isn't without merit.
"There's a clear breakdown in communication between LeBron and (Wade and Bosh)," a league executive told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "(James is) giving Riley time to go get players for them but if that doesn't happen in the next few days...LeBron seems ready to explore the market."
For some reason, the Rockets seem to prefer Carmelo Anthony over LeBron James. However, what happens if Houston comes up short in its pursuit of 'Melo? According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the team would shift its focus to James' teammate Chris Bosh.
But sources say the Rockets are determined to test Bosh's resolve in the event Anthony elects to return to the New York Knicks or chooses one of his other three primary suitors this week: the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Mavericks or the Los Angeles Lakers.
As Stein points out, Bosh would be the kind of floor-spacing big man who would allow Dwight Howard to do his thing down low. The former Georgia Tech standout has become infatuated with his outside shot and has reformed himself into more of a stretch 4.
The 30-year-old attempted 218 threes last season and shot just less than 34 percent from behind the arc. He also averaged 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game for the Heat.
Now, much like with James (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Anthony), Houston's ability to land Bosh will require the team to clear some cap space. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Bosh is looking for a five-year deal in the $80-90 million range.
With Asik already on the move, the next step is finding a suitor for point guard Jeremy Lin and the close to $15 million he's owed next season.
From there, someone like forward Donatas Motiejunas becomes a cap casualty. Shooter Francisco Garcia has already opted out, and the team is letting playoff hero Troy Daniels test the free-agent waters.
Assuming the Rockets can come up with the money to sign Bosh, they'd still have to wait on James to make a decision. If the King returns to South Beach, you'd have to think Bosh and Wade will, too.
If not, Bosh is a native Texan (born in Dallas), and playing for the Rockets gives him a chance to stay close to home while playing for a contender. All of these theories are dependent on what other moves are made, but Bosh would make for a nice Plan B if Houston misses out on 'Melo.
SF Paul Pierce
At 36 years old, "The Truth" is a shell of the player he once was. He doesn't defend the perimeter like he used to. He's not an elite scorer, and his minutes will have to be monitored to keep him fresh for a long playoff run.
Still, while his once-dominant physical skills may have eroded, he still brings a lot of intangibles to the table. For starters, he's a savvy veteran with a wealth of playoff experience. Those postseason chops include two trips to the NBA Finals and a championship ring.
Who on the Rockets roster can say they have that on their resume?
Pierce could provide guidance for a young Rockets team that hasn't been able to get out of the first round in the last two seasons. He still has the knack for hitting clutch shots and could still be a decent third or fourth scoring option.
As is the case with many of the other names of this list, Pierce won't get serious consideration from Houston until after Carmelo Anthony decides on his future. Even after that, the Rockets face tough competition for Pierce's services.
The Los Angeles Clippers appear to be the front-runners to land Pierce. He's a California native, and the Clips could reunite him with his former coach, Doc Rivers. However, Nets general manager Billy King told ESPN New York's 98.7 FM's Michael Kay Show (h/t Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com) that the team wasn't interested in sending the cagey veteran out West.
"They made a call and inquired, but there's nothing there at this point that makes sense for us." King said.
ESPN's Marc Stein tweeted at the start of free agency that Houston was among the many teams that kicked the tires on Pierce. Given the Nets' endless desire to spend money and the need for a backup point guard in the wake of Shaun Livingston's departure, could they be interested in a sign-and-trade for Jeremy Lin?
For now, the Rockets have set their sights higher. However, if Houston's grand plan to improve doesn't pan out, the team could do a lot worse than Paul Pierce.
PF/C Spencer Hawes
With Omer Asik on his way to New Orleans, the Rockets need someone who could play caddy for starting center Dwight Howard as well as occasionally play alongside the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
That's where former Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers big man Spencer Hawes comes in. Based solely on the numbers, he has a lot to offer.
He's a capable scorer, both in the post and from the outside (as evidenced by this shot chart from last season, courtesy of Vorped.com). He puts in work on the boards (8.3 rebounds per game last season) and is a decent shot-blocker (1.2 rejections per contest).
The most intriguing part of his game is his outside shooting. He shot 41.6 percent from three last season in his two combined stops. That ability to stretch the floor makes him a better complement to Howard than Asik ever was as well as a better perimeter option at the 4 than Terrence Jones.
The problem lies in Hawes' preference. Does he want to take starter money to play heavy minutes for a fringe playoff team or take less money to be a quality role player on a contender?
After watching Chris Kaman sign a two-year, $9.8 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, per USA Today's Sam Amick, Hawes has to like his chances of getting a pretty good contract from a team in need of his versatility.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the Dallas Mavericks are interested in Hawes, even after acquiring center Tyson Chandler from New York prior to the NBA draft. Hawes met with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers prior to his meeting with the Phoenix Suns, per Paul Coro of AZCentral.com.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat also have an interest in Hawes, according to Coro.
If Houston could find a way to land Hawes, his versatility would give the Rockets some much-needed depth as well as flexibility in the rotation. However, with Hawes reportedly seeking around $8 million annually, per a tweet from the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, he may be too pricey for Houston's taste.
PF/C Jordan Hill
In theory, Los Angeles Lakers big man Jordan Hill would come cheaper for the Houston Rockets than Spencer Hawes would (hence why he's higher on this list). Of course, with the way players have been overpaid in the first 72 hours of free agency, all bets are off.
Hill may not offer the same versatility that Hawes does, but he's still a solid alternative. He's very athletic and moves well for a man his size (6'10" and 235 pounds). He's only 26 years old (will be 27 later this month) and coming off his best season as a pro.
He averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for the Lakers. He doesn't have the ideal height you want in a backup center, but the Rockets could find a use for him in smaller lineups. According to a tweet from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Houston is among the handful of teams interested in Hill's services.
The former Arizona standout is familiar with the area from his two-and-a-half-year stint with the Rockets from 2010 to 2012. If he's unable to spell Dwight Howard, he could replace Donatas Motiejunas as the backup to Terrence Jones at power forward.
Regardless, Hill is the kind of mid-level option that Houston could use to rebuild its roster in the wake of its chase for a third superstar.
SF Carmelo Anthony
Alas, we have come to the apple of Daryl Morey's eye. Carmelo Anthony has been on Houston's radar for quite some time now. Even back in March, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski mentioned the Rockets as contenders in the 'Melo sweepstakes.
Houston faces a tough battle in acquiring Anthony's services. The Chicago Bulls have their own dynamic duo to flank 'Melo in reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and former MVP Derrick Rose. They also play in the weaker Eastern Conference, making Anthony's road to the Finals a bit smoother.
There's also the Dallas Mavericks, who have a solid core in Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis. The Los Angeles Lakers have the money to go along with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to entice the former Syracuse star as well.
Houston hosted Anthony for four-and-a-half hours. They pulled out all the big funs from fancy billboards to a full-court press from stars Dwight Howard and James Harden. According to The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, the Rockets felt the meeting with 'Melo "went well."
Howard said all the right things as well about Anthony potentially coming to town.
To have an opportunity to be competing for titles...it would be great to have him here. Me being one of the leaders of this team, whatever we can do to make our team better, I’m all in for it. I think getting a guy like Carmelo will give us a great opportunity to be competing for championships for a long time, at least four or five years.
If Anthony comes to Houston, the Rockets would become instant contenders, especially if they found a way to also retain restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. A Howard-Parsons-Anthony-Harden foursome would be tough for even the best defenses to stop.
It would also pose a problem for the Rockets. As with any collection of stars, everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of touches and acceptance of their roles. If there were concerns over how Howard and Harden would coexist last year, imagine how chaotic it could get with 'Melo added to the mix.
Naturally, that's a good problem to have, but we've seen All-Star teams like this come together and fail. For all of his immense talent, Anthony doesn't fix Houston's biggest need on the defensive end. The Rockets would still have to find a way to get stops with one of the worst defenders in the league in Harden and another subpar defender in Anthony.
Houston has made its bed with Anthony. He's the top priority, and if the Rockets can acquire him, it would be a huge coup. However, it doesn't guarantee that the team will be hoisting the same trophy they photo-shopped into Anthony's hands during their presentation.