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Rockets Rumors: Serge Ibaka, Nerlens Noel Interest Houston in Free Agency

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2020

Toronto Raptors' Serge Ibaka (9) grabs a rebound against the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA basketball conference semifinal playoff game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets are reportedly interested in two of the top bigs expected to be available in free agency next week.

According to ESPN's Tim MacMahon on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast (beginning at the 9:55 mark), the Rockets have shown interest in veteran center Serge Ibaka and a younger, cheaper option in Nerlens Noel.

The Rockets are in need of a quality big after trading center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks last season. That decision forced Houston to go small for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.

Of the two free agents, Ibaka is the better and more accomplished player, but he also figures to cost the Rockets significantly more.

The 31-year-old is fresh off a three-year, $65 million deal with the Toronto Raptors. There is little doubt that the contract paid dividends for Toronto, as Ibaka was a key part of the team that won the NBA championship in 2018-19.

Ibaka is a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection and two time NBA block champion. While those accomplishments occurred earlier in his career, he is still a strong defensive player and has made strides offensively.

Last season, Ibaka appeared in 55 games and averaged a career-high 15.4 points to go along with 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He also shot 51.2 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. In addition to his strong two-way game and championship experience, another thing going for Ibaka is the fact that he has played alongside Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook before.

Ibaka was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons from 2009-10 through 2015-16. He was Westbrook's teammate for that entire time and played with Harden for the first three seasons of the 2018 MVP's career.

While Ibaka is likely the ideal signing for Houston, Noel could be a good fallback option if Ibaka is out of the Rockets' price range. The 26-year-old is limited on the offensive end, but he is a highly effective defender, especially at the rim.

As a member of the Thunder last season, Noel played 61 games and averaged 18.5 minutes. He also put up 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steal per contest.

Noel has averaged double digits in scoring only once during his six-year career, but with Harden and Westbrook doing the bulk of the scoring, his defense is a much bigger need.

Like Ibaka, Noel has some experience with at least one of Houston's stars, as he was Westbrook's teammate in OKC for one season in 2018-19.

The Rockets have undergone some significant changes this offseason, as head coach Mike D'Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey were replaced by Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone, respectively.

Since the new regime may not be as married to the players and concepts of its predecessor, Harden and Westbrook might not have long to make it work and prove that they can be the core of a championship-contending team.

Because of that, it is of the utmost importance to bring in a quality supporting cast, and both Ibaka and Noel could fit the bill in different ways.

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