The Houston Rockets didn't manage to get past the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs last season. However, they've been one of the biggest threats to Golden State in the Western Conference over the past couple of years and could finally push for a Finals appearance in 2019-20.
The fact that the Warriors are unlikely to have either Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson during the regular season certainly works in Houston's favor. However, adding another piece to the roster could help ensure the Rockets get over the hump.
The problem for Houston is that it can't really afford to sign an additional piece in free agency—the Rockets projected payroll this season is more than $125 million, according to Spotrac. However, there could be a creative solution in the works.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets are eying Philadelphia 76ers forward Jimmy Butler and are hoping to acquire him via a sign-and-trade:
"The Rockets don't have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they'd need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate Philadelphia into a trade. The Rockets also would potentially need to make this a multiteam deal to satisfy the rules of base year compensation that would cover Butler's outgoing salary."
Per Wojnarowski, the 76ers are expected to make a "significant" four- or five-year offer to Butler but could be inclined to deal him if the threat of receiving nothing in a free-agency departure appears real.
As for Durant and Thompson, injuries—a torn Achilles and torn ACL, respectively—may not be the only thing keeping them out of Golden State's lineup.
According to Wojnarowski, Thompson could consider going to the Los Angeles Clippers if the Warriors do not offer him a five-year max contract at the start of free agency.
"The one team that I think, that my information is, that he would be very open to going down to sit down with are the Clippers," Wojnarowski said, per RealGM.
While Thompson will likely stay in Golden State if he is offered a max deal, Durant may be on his way out regardless. The Brooklyn Nets have long been linked to Durant and friend Kyrie Irving, and they could pursue another of Durant's friends in order to entice him.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Brooklyn is looking into the possibility of adding center DeAndre Jordan in free agency:
There's no telling if the addition of Jordan would increase Durant's interest in the Nets, but expect Brooklyn to explore all avenues in its pursuit of the 10-time All-Star. Durant should be one of the most coveted players in free agency, even with the Achilles injury considered.
Another player expected to draw a high level of interest is Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker.
With Walker eligible for a supermax deal, the Hornets could struggle to re-sign him. If so, the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are ready to pounce, according to Stein:
The Celtics' interest in Walker is notable, because they're set to lose Irving in free agency. It could indicate that Boston has already shut the door on an Irving reunion, which would, in turn, make things easier for the Nets if they do indeed want him.