The Houston Rockets entered this year's offseason aiming for the fences but eventually struck out swinging at the plate.
The team made it a point of emphasis to add a third superstar to go along with center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden. They did whatever they could to open up cap space, from trading expensive contracts to letting their own free agents test the market.
The team did manage to fill its need for perimeter defense by bringing back small forward Trevor Ariza, but that acquisition is somewhat offset by the loss of a number of key rotational players.
With Houston's summer plans presumably finished, this seems like a good time to hand out grades for each of the team's offseason moves. Granted, it might be a little premature to rush to judgement on the Rockets' plan before seeing how it all plays out on the court.
Before proceeding, it's important to keep in mind that these moves are being graded from the Rockets' perspective only.
In a three-team trade, Houston Rockets trade C Omer Asik and F Omri Casspi to New Orleans Pelicans for SF Alonzo Gee, G Scotty Hopson and a protected 2015 first-round pick. Rockets also acquire SF Trevor Ariza from the Washington Wizards, who obtain F/C Melvin Ely from New Orleans.
For starters, let's tip our hats to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for finding a way to merge the team's two biggest moves into one masterstroke. Houston initially agreed to trade Asik to New Orleans in late June but had been waiting for the Pelicans to open up the cap space to fit the big man's salary.
Wizards have engaged Rockets and Pelicans in three-team deal to facilitate Trevor Ariza going to the Rockets and Omer Asik going to NO.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 13, 2014
Wizards will take non-guaranteed contract of Melvin Ely from NO & get $8.5M TPE for Ariza, who will do sign and trade to go to Houston.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 13, 2014
Pelicans will get Asik, Omri Casspi & 1.5M from Houston. Rockets get Ariza from Wizards, Alonzo Gee and 2015 protected first from Pelicans.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 13, 2014
In the meantime, the Rockets signed Ariza away from the Wizards for four years and $32 million. Since the timing of the Ariza deal coincided with New Orleans finally making room for Asik, everyone involved decided to agree to an elaborate sign-and-trade.
While the addition of Ariza isn't as flashy as adding, say, Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony, it addresses the Rockets' biggest need. Last season, opposing perimeter players scored on Houston at will. The team lacked a guy capable of creating turnovers or hindering the opposing team's offense.
In Ariza, it gets both. The UCLA product is coming off one of the best seasons of his career with the Wizards. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals a game. He also shot 45.6 percent from the field, including 40.7 percent from behind the arc.
Oddly enough, last season's efforts were the best Ariza has produced since the last time he played for Houston in 2009-10.
The best part of the Ariza deal is the salary. He'll make $8.6 million next season, but the price tag dwindles each year, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. The money in the first year of the deal is only a slight raise from the $7.7 million Ariza made last season.
Ariza's $32M deal has declining scale: $8.6M, $8.2M, $7.8M, $7.4M, source tells Yahoo. Flexibility for summer '16. @sam_amick reported deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 12, 2014
On the Ariza signing alone, the Rockets should get an A-. On the flip side, the Asik trade deserves a C-. While it is understandable for Houston to want to rid itself of Asik's expiring contract ($8.4 million cap hit, close to $15 million owed in salary), it's a risky move to trade him within the division to a Pelicans team on the rise.
Sure, last season was a nightmare for Asik as he dealt with injuries and trade demands. However, the Rockets know what the big man from Turkey is capable of when he's healthy and happy. As a starter in 2012-13, Asik averaged 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest.
Now you're sending him to New Orleans and pairing him with superstar power forward Anthony Davis. While it might make sense financially, this could be a move that comes back to bite the Rockets in the end.
As for the 2015 first-rounder, the Rockets only get the pick if it falls between Nos. 4 and 19. That means that if New Orleans somehow tanks or draws a high enough seed in the playoffs, Houston ends up with nothing to show for the Asik trade next summer.
The Asik trade becomes especially troublesome if Houston can't find a suitable replacement to back up Dwight Howard.
Much like the Asik deal, the Rockets' decision to trade away Jeremy Lin was based solely on money. Like Asik, Lin was owed close to $15 million for next season (only $8.4 million against the cap) and Houston needed to do whatever it could to free up money to add another big name.
The trade obviously works out well for the Lakers. They not only fill a need at point guard with Lin, but they get a couple of draft picks as well for a player that would have never donned a Lakers uniform.
Lakers announce the trade for Jeremy Lin is official. Rockets get the rights to Sergei Lishouk, who is not house hunting in Houston.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 13, 2014
The reason the Lin trade is a better move than the Asik deal is it's less likely to come back and haunt the Rockets. The Lakers are at a crossroads. They have an aging superstar in Kobe Bryant who wants to win now, but most of the pieces around him will need time to grow.
Even with Lin, it's tough to see Los Angeles making the playoffs in a deep Western Conference. That pales in comparison to trading one of the best rebounding and defensive big men in the league to a division rival.
The downside to the Lin trade is it leaves the Rockets without a proven backup point guard. As embattled as Lin's two years in Houston were, he had some big moments for the Rockets. Most importantly, he didn't sulk when the team opted to replace him in the starting lineup with Patrick Beverley this past season.
Thank you to @HoustonRockets fans, media, Rockets staff, coaches and teammates for the last 2 years!— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) July 13, 2014
With Lin gone, the spot behind Beverley will likely go to either second-year man Isaiah Canaan or rookie Nick Johnson. The Rockets could try to bring in a veteran, but the remaining options are very limited.
The Lin trade was done with the idea that the team would be able to reel in someone like Chris Bosh. With Bosh returning to Miami, you have to wonder if Houston would have still gone through with the trade knowing what it knows now.
Instead, Houston gave up draft picks as well as a capable scorer and got nothing in return. It's hard to see how this move doesn't make the Rockets worse next season.
For all of Daryl Morey's brilliance over the years, the decision to let Chandler Parsons walk to the Dallas Mavericks for nothing may go down as the GM's biggest blunder.
In the beginning, the decision to decline Parsons' option for next season made sense. They would be able to control negotiations by making him a restricted free agent this year as opposed to competing with teams next summer, when he could become an unrestricted free agent.
Houston will always have a special place in my heart and I will never forget the memories. My teammates, I love you, thank you.— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) July 13, 2014
Plus, with Parsons having Bird rights, the Rockets could make a move for another marquee free agent and still go over the cap to retain their prized small forward. It sounded good in theory.
The problem is Houston came up empty in both regards.
While Houston was waiting on an answer from Chris Bosh, Dallas swooped in and offered Parsons a huge contract. Bosh opted to stay in South Beach, and the Rockets decided to replace Parsons with Trevor Ariza.
That was a bad decision for a number of reasons. First, the Rockets let a 25-year-old rising star sign with a division rival and got absolutely nothing in return. The two teams couldn't come to an agreement on a sign-and-trade. The whole point of making Parsons a RFA was to avoid this very scenario from happening next year.
Sign-and-trade talks between Houston and Dallas have ended, sources say. So Rockets won't be salvaging trade exception from Parsons' exit— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 14, 2014
Mavs understandably cool on the idea of helping a Texas neighbor escape with a valuable asset. So original offer sheet to Parsons stands— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 14, 2014
Parsons is coming off the best season of his young career. He averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a night for the Rockets. He also shot 47.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. Most importantly, he was influential in luring Dwight Howard to Houston around this time last year.
Now with the additions of Parsons and Tyson Chandler, Dallas is a dark-horse title contender. The case can be made that the Mavericks were the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs' toughest competition in the playoffs last year, and that was as an eighth seed.
Meanwhile, the Rockets take a hit. While Ariza gives Houston a much-needed boost on defense, he doesn't possess the upside that Parsons has. Plus, he's four years older and has just two good seasons out of a 10-year career under his belt.
The saving grace here is Houston avoided overpaying Parsons. For all of his potential, it would have been tough to justify paying Parsons $46 million to be the third wheel the next three seasons. If Ariza continues the momentum from last season, the Rockets may be able to salvage Parsons' departure.
In the end, this offseason didn't go quite as the Rockets had hoped. They not only failed to land one of the four elite free agents, but they lost some key players in Asik, Lin and Parsons as well. While the competition around them got stronger, Houston managed to get worse.
How Did Houston Do This Offseason?
The addition of Ariza doesn't make up for the loss of talent and depth that the Rockets suffered this summer. Houston downgraded at small forward as well as backup center and point guard. It's hard to fathom the team remaining a top-four team in the West again this season.
The silver lining is that Houston will have some money to spend next season, when marquee names like Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love will be on the market. However, as the team learned this summer, trying to improve through free agency isn't always a safe bet.