Are The Houston Rockets Finished With The 2014 Offseason? I think the short answer to this question is, NO. General Manager Daryl Morey is never going to just sit on his hands and say “okay, we’re there.” Well, maybe if the Houston Rockets reeled off several championships in a row and had nobody on the team over 30-years-old, but other than that, he’s always going to be looking for the next move.
That’s a good thing, a desirable thing, to have in a team’s GM provided he makes smart decisions and doesn’t cripple a franchise. I’m not sure anyone is ever going to say Morey is not smart. Some moves may work out better than others but he is always looking to get to a championship level.
Let’s dig a little deeper and see what the Rockets may be thinking at this point.
First and foremost, the Rockets still have two of the league’s top stars. Dwight Howard stated after the Chandler Parsons exit, that they have the top center and the top shooting guard in the league. All due respect to the careers of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade and the up-and-coming Anthony Davis, at this point Howard is correct. And the analysis as well as the “eye test” bear that out.
Harden by all accounts has been sensational with Team USA this summer and has been playing defense. I have made the case that he’s better defensively than his reputation has become. He can shake that reputation by renewed focus and effort on the defensive end. Will he ever become a lock down defender? Not likely, but being an average or slightly above average defender to go along with being one of the best scorers in the league, would be huge for him and the Rockets.
Expect Harden and Howard to have renewed focus and desire this season. They did not expect to get bounced in the 1st round last year. But now they have a better idea of what it’s going to take to advance in the playoffs with this team.
Do they have enough help? In the starting lineup, yes. Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones were both in their first full season on an actual NBA roster last year. Both still have room to grow and improve. Beverley should improve on the offensive end, with his penetrating, three-point shooting and distributing. Jones showed flashes frankly of all-star caliber play in a few games last year, but must become a more consistent contributor and needs to improve on the defensive end.
The free agent signing of Trevor Ariza replaces Chandler Parsons at the small forward position. Does Ariza have the growth and upside that Parsons could have? Probably not, since he’s 29- years-old, but many may not be aware that Parsons is actually older than James Harden. Ariza is clearly a superior defender from Parsons and last year he was the superior three-point shooter at 40 percent. If Ariza continues that, he will be a better fit for this team than Parsons was. So there is no reason for the starting unit to be worse than last year and I would expect them to be better due to better defense and perhaps better fit as a unit.
The Rockets have added these other free agents:
SF: Kostas Papanikolaou – A Greek player who is known to be a three-point shooter and a plus defender. It remains to be seen if it translates the NBA but the intent is for him to back up Ariza.
SF/PF: Jeff Adrien – Adrien is a bit of a wildcard, he rebounds well and had by far his best season ever last year and may have found his niche in the NBA. They will likely utilize match ups with him and Dorsey.
Returning on the bench is Donatas Motiejunas who was outstanding in the Vegas Summer League and looked much more composed as opposed to the sometimes frantic player we have seen. Troy Daniels returns after giving us a glimpse of what he can add to this team in the playoff series against Portland with his deadly 3-point shooting. Isaiah Canaan will get more opportunity having had some fantastic play in the D-League last year and the Vegas summer league, including showing up #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. All three of these young players have the potential to take a huge step forward this season and create their own niche on this team. The talent is there.
As far as veterans, the Rockets have retained Francisco Garcia and acquired Alonzo Gee in the Omer Asik trade. It’s unclear if Gee will have a role or simply be a contract that can be moved in another acquisition. Garcia is likely just insurance for Daniels and Papanikolaou not seizing their intended roles.
Rookies Clint Capela and Nick Johnson most likely will spend the majority of, if not the whole season in the D-League with the Rio Grand Valley Vipers. Capela has huge upside but likely will not be ready this year. Johnson showed what he can add in the Vegas summer league but needs to work on his outside shot and possibly point guard type skills.
So are the Rockets finished making moves?
It’s possible but any of the non-starters could still be dealt and it would not be a surprise. Here are some rumors and considerations they will likely explore.
1. Suns Point Guards – The availability of Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic comes down to what the Suns end up doing with Bledsoe’s situation as a restricted free agent. More than likely, if the Rockets were interested in paying Bledsoe the max dollars that he’s interested in, a deal would have already been made, unless the asking price is way too steep.
On the other hand, if the Suns come to terms with Bledsoe, the Rockets will make a play for Dragic and that is likely their preference.
If Bledsoe signs the one-year tender instead, he can become an unrestricted free agent next year. He gains a no-trade option, but the Rockets would likely have little interest in him at that point because trading for a player playing on a one-year restricted free agent (RFA) qualifying offer, the team would lose his Bird rights, meaning they could not go over the salary cap to resign him. In short, for the Rockets situation this is likely a deal breaker for them and they would pass on Bledsoe.
2. Rajon Rondo – The rumor has been out for a while that the Rockets covet point guard Rajon Rondo. With Boston drafting Marcus Smart and missing out on the Kevin Love trade, it’s very likely they are or will be looking to trade Rondo. That he hasn’t been moved yet, suggests that the asking price is too much or teams want to see if he’s truly all the way back from injury. I would not expect the Rockets to make a move like this until after the season starts, if they do.
3. Ramon Sessions – The rumor is out there that the Rockets have interest in Ramon Sessions. The interest makes sense in that he could replace what the Rockets got from Jeremy Lin last year and reduce one of their questions about depth. If there is no move to be made with the Suns, Sessions could be the move. The Rockets could use their bi-annual exception of $2.077 million to sign him out right since he is a free agent.
However, they want to save that for later in the season. That is why there have reportedly been sign-and-trade discussions. To sign and trade with Milwaukee, the Bucks would first have to un-renounce Sessions (they renounced his rights last week). However the Bucks couldn’t do that until after they made the two-for-one trade with the Clippers on Tuesday because they already had 15 guaranteed contracts on their roster. Now the move can be made if the Rockets send a guaranteed contract or cut down below 15 themselves.
4. Emeka Okafor – Okafor could be the backup center that the Rockets need behind Howard. However, reports are that Houston native will not be physically ready until mid-season. This could work to the Rockets advantage and is one reason why they don’t want to use the bi-annual exception at this time. By saving it until during the season, they will have the ability to offer Okafor more than the league minimum, which is more than most playoff bound teams would be able to offer. This would also be the case for any other veterans that could get released during the season.
Those are likely the main things that the Rockets are still contemplating or working on. The team is in better shape than most of the media would have you think. They have youth, many of whom should continue to improve. And that youth along with the Pelicans 1st-round pick acquired in the Asik trade and numerous other draft picks give the Rockets a lot of options to make a preseason or mid-season move to improve the team, quite possibly a significant impact before the trade deadline.
The starting lineup should still be one of the best in the league. They have two legitimate stars and a better defensive team than they had last year. Another interesting note, despite all the gloom and doom about the Rockets offseason, according to Bovada.net, Vegas still has the Rockets as the 4th team in the West, almost exactly where they were this time last year. And Vegas tends to be more right than wrong.
Look up Rockets fans! The team is in good shape — with the youth and future moves, barring major injuries, they will be better in April and May than they are in November.
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