Houston Rockets' Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason
It was an unfortunate offseason for the Houston Rockets, who missed out on their top free-agent targets and lost some key role players. But all things considered, the Rockets are still in decent shape out West.
Houston lost some big names such as Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik but also picked up plenty of talent through free agency and the draft. The biggest signing was Trevor Ariza, but the Rockets also will be welcoming new faces such as Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith and more.
With several departures as well as some intriguing arrivals, many of the players on Houston's roster will have ample opportunities to break out this year. People could be surprised by the performances of some little-known bench players all season long.
The schedule is out, and the Rockets now know their path en route to hopefully a third straight playoff appearance. But before we head off to L.A. for opening night against the Lakers, let's take a look back at the biggest winners and losers of the offseason for Houston.
The winners are the people (or things) that have benefited from the Rockets' offseason, while the losers, not so much.
Winner: Donatas Motiejunas
Isaiah Canaan isn't the only bench player who excelled in Vegas this summer. Motiejunas cashed in an All-NBA Summer League performance that has Houston fans very excited.
D-Mo averaged 16.8 points and 8.1 boards a game. He shot nearly 60 percent from the floor, including over 40 percent from behind the arc. If he can turn in those kind of stats during the regular season, the Rockets may be onto something here.
At 7'0", D-Mo can have a serious impact in the Rockets' rotation if he can shoot and rebound that well all season long, especially if he can shoot well from three. He would be a serious asset and could potentially have a long career if he can keep up those numbers from distance.
Sure, the summer league is just a small sample size. But we've been waiting for D-Mo to reach his potential ever since he came here from overseas, and this could finally be it. The big guy has a solid post game and decent shooting stroke, placing him in serious contention right now to be the Rockets' sixth man.
Loser: Daryl Morey
It's not a secret that Houston failed miserably this summer. General manager Daryl Morey did a nice job of piecing together a respectable roster last-minute, but let's face it: After shooting for the stars in free agency the Rockets came away with nothing to show for it.
Morey was painfully close to bringing in Chris Bosh and retaining Chandler Parsons to create a Big Four. Yet Bosh decided to stay put, as did Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Lowry. As for LeBron, well, that was a long shot from the very beginning.
So here we are, with the only noteworthy prize this offseason being Trevor Ariza.
Morey has always been about getting superstars. After a few years of waiting since the departures of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, he struck gold in back-to-back offseasons by landing James Harden and then Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a complete whiff in the summer of 2014.
The Rockets were looking to propel themselves into the top tier of the league with a third star, but instead the roster has arguably downgraded quite a bit with the losses of Lin, Asik and Parsons. Morey decided to let Parsons walk to keep his cap flexibility as the hunt for a third star continues, so we'll give him that.
But at the end of the day, all you can really do is chalk up this offseason as an "L" for Morey and move on.
Defense has been the biggest issue for the Rockets since the day Jeff Van Gundy was no longer coach. Let's be honest: The Rockets' D last season was a joke.
Houston surrendered the most points per game of any playoff team last season, ranking 23rd in the league. Even with two elite defenders, Patrick Beverley and Howard, in the lineup, it wasn't enough to cover up Houston's glaring Achilles' heel.
With Trevor Ariza in the picture now, however, things could be different this season. Ariza starting at the small forward instead of Parsons changes things up.
Instead of having two poor defenders on the wings in Harden and Parsons, now the Rockets have a top-tier defender in Ariza, along with Bev and Dwight. Plus, Harden even seems committed to improving his defense this summer with Team USA.
If the Rockets can fix their defensive mistakes from last season, this team can be better next year even with a downgraded roster.
The offense is already in good shape. You have James Harden, one of the best scorers in the league, and he's teaming up with Howard, who is elite at the pick-and-roll and has an improving post game. Then you have a plethora of three-point shooters, which should be even better than last season's arsenal with guys like Ariza, Troy Daniels and Robert Covington.
It's pretty simple: If you take that efficient offense and combine it with a newly improved defense, the Rockets are truly a force to be reckoned with in the West.
Loser: Chris Bosh
When LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, Cavaliers fans weren't the only ones rejoicing. Rockets fans thought that James' departure would almost certainly result in Bosh's as well. The media and just about everyone else thought Bosh was as good as gone.
It's hard to call someone with that kind of money a loser. The truth of the matter is, you can't blame Bosh for taking the money and staying. His family and his life have been in South Beach for the past four years, and he didn't want to say goodbye just yet. Bosh also has the unique opportunity to go from being the third option to the main piece of the puzzle due to Wade's lingering knee issues.
With LeBron gone, Miami certainly isn't the perennial contender that it was, but the team still has potential for a respectable playoff run in the weaker Eastern Conference. But what Bosh left on the table in Houston...that team was something else.
Bosh and Dwight Howard would have been the best big-man combo the league has seen in years. Bosh wouldn't have had to take all the bumps and beatings down low and would have wide-open spaces for all of his jump shots. Pair those two up with the likes of James Harden and Chandler Parsons, and you're talking about a terrifying machine that could have taken over the NBA.
Instead, Bosh chose to stay with mediocrity in Miami. It's an understandable decision, but now we are all left wondering what could have been in Houston.
Winner: The Youngsters
With Jeremy Lin off in L.A., the backup point guard position is wide open. Well, it was for a tiny bit anyway, before Isaiah Canaan took it.
In the summer league, Canaan proved he belongs in the NBA. He averaged 17.0 points and 3.3 assists per game, but what was really impressive was how he put the scoring load on his shoulders in crunch time. He excelled at shooting the three ball as well as driving to the rim and finishing around bigger defenders.
Patrick Beverley is the unquestionable starter at point guard for this team. He earned second-team All-NBA Defense honors last season and is one of the team leaders, especially in the mental-toughness department.
Backup point guard was one of the bigger concerns after the Lin trade this summer, but Canaan's performance in Las Vegas was somewhat reassuring.
Point guard still may be one of the Rockets' weaker areas. However, with Beverley's tenacious defense in the starting lineup and Canaan's scoring ability coming off the bench, the point guard production may be better than expected this upcoming season.
Robert Covington will also get a chance to contribute at the NBA level. The reigning D-League Rookie of the Year spent the majority of his time last season in Rio Grande with the Vipers. This season, that could change.
Covington is a small forward in a power forward's body. He can shoot the three with the best of them, which will help space the floor. With all of the departures from the Rockets' bench last season, Covington will be one of the more reliable guys in the second unit for Houston.
Together, Canaan and Covington can run the show with the second-stringers just like they did with the Vipers last year. Then draft picks Clint Capela and Nick Johnson could wind up doing the same.
Loser: Chandler Parsons Fans
Anyone who has been to a Rockets game the past couple of years knows that whenever Parsons does anything good, there's always a loud burst of cheers coming from Toyota Center.
It's sad to think that the longest-tenured Rocket and part-time model will no longer be in Houston. What makes it even worse is that he joined forces with the state-rival Dallas Mavericks. Parsons was a fan favorite ever since his surprising rookie season out of Florida, not just for girls but for everyone.
Now all of a sudden, he's the enemy.
After the Rockets declined Parsons' team option for less than $1 million (it still hurts to think about it), Morey decided he could not match his offer sheet with Dallas for three years, $46 million. Not only is that contract very expensive, but it's also got a not-so-coincidental trade kicker that scared off the Rockets.
Morey chose cap flexibility instead of retaining Parsons and getting stuck with this roster for the next couple of years. At the end of the day, Morey decided that this team doesn't have enough firepower to make a run at a championship, and so the search for a third star will continue.
Things got a little chippy as shots were fired between Parsons and Howard and Harden in the media. Parsons was offended because he thought of himself as the third star, but Harden and Howard thought of him differently.
Rockets fans should mark their calendars, because on November 22 the Mavs come to town and Parsons makes his much-anticipated return. An already bitter rivalry just got even messier.
As Morey was piecing together his new roster after striking out in free agency, he ended up bringing back plenty of familiar faces. Other than Ariza, the list of returning players includes Ish Smith, Joey Dorsey and Jeff Adrien.
The Rockets picked up Smith as an undrafted free agent back in 2010. He started a few games for the injured Aaron Brooks before being sent down to the D-League in Rio Grande. Ultimately, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Shane Battier.
Since then, he has bounced around between Golden State, Orlando, Milwaukee and Phoenix before finally returning to Houston this summer. Smith is a serviceable point guard with good passing skills and great speed, perhaps even the best in the NBA, according to DeMarcus Cousins.
Adrien bounced around between the NBA and Europe before the Rockets signed him as a free agent in December of 2011. He only played in eight games before they ended up waiving him a few months later, and he played in Rio Grande for a bit after that. A couple of seasons in Charlotte and Milwaukee, and now he's back with the Rockets.
The Rockets received the rights to Joey Dorsey on draft night in 2008. He played in just three games during the 2008-09 season before being sent down to the D-League. He appeared in seven more games with the Rockets the following season before he was traded to Sacramento in the deal that sent Tracy McGrady to New York and Kevin Martin to Houston. The Kings waived him, and he signed on with the Toronto Raptors to play the 2010-11 season.
After that, Dorsey played on a few different teams in Europe, where he developed his game. He became a rebounding and defensive specialist and even earned himself a nickname comparing him to his new teammate Dwight Howard. Now he's back in Houston trying to reignite his NBA career.
Lastly, Trevor Ariza, the most prominent of the returning bunch, signed on with the Rockets for four years, $32 million after a career year with Washington.
The Rockets first signed Ariza in the summer of 2009 to replace Ron Artest with Yao Ming's injury exception. Ariza struggled as the No. 1 option and eventually was traded to New Orleans in the Courtney Lee deal. He spent a couple of years with the Hornets and then the Wizards before coming back to the Rockets, this time as the third option.
The Rockets used to be a team full of role players. Morey wisely traded those assets and turned them into two superstars. However, now many of them have returned to play alongside those two stars.