What’s The State Of The Houston Rockets?


The Houston Rockets season hit a close on May 27 when they fell to the Warriors 104-90. The Rockets are left looking over the season that was, the success that wasn’t supposed to be, and the way ahead. Daryl Morey has openly admitted that the next step is the hardest for the Rockets (Chronicle link, subscription may be required).

The big question here is, what is that step? Scour the Internet and you’ll see a variety of opinions. Do the Rockets make a run at LaMarcus Aldridge? Maybe Kevin Love is lying when he says he expects to be a Cavalier. Could Paul Millsap finally come to the Rockets? Could Brook Lopez finally get sick of the Brooklyn Nets?

Well, while all of these names are sexy in their own right, none of them are okay. Why? Well, simply put, money. If Houston extends no qualifying offers and refuses to pick up any options and only exercises its draft picks, Houston sits at 53 million dollars. Last year’s cap was 63 million. If Corey Brewer turns down his option Houston sits at 48 million.

What does this mean? Well, simply, if the Rockets don’t sign anyone and stand pat, Houston is looking at a $15 million maximum offer they can extend (If the cap doesn’t move). Worse yet, that $15 million would come at the option of losing the bulk of their productive bench and their starting point guard. Not necessarily the biggest ask, right?

The cap is going to move up, though, right? Not as much as you think. The newly-minted nine-year, 24 billion-dollar NBA television rights deal doesn’t start until the 2016-2017 season. That means the incoming revenue isn’t realized until then and it shouldn’t impact the cap figure until then. If we’re generous, that cap number moves to $67 million and Houston has the option to offer a $19 million deal, tops. Brewer’s contract is a player option, so wave goodbye to roughly $5 million if he exercises it and Houston is down to $14 million to offer.

Competitively, Dallas has roughly $24 million under a presumed $67 million cap and San Antonio brings $34 million to that same firefight. For a fully fleshed out picture, New Orleans brings $11 million in and Memphis has $29 million. This, of course is all without retentions/signings that will surely diminish those numbers (Kawhi Leonard’s new deal, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are due, etc…).

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This is all a blessing for Houston, though. If they want to step up to the same level as their competitors in Texas, Houston would have to find takers for Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, for free. That’s just to get to Dallas’ level. The team that was just a competitor in the Western Conference Finals would have to absolutely gut the roster that got it to the post-season to draw in a big name. Is it really worth it?

Absolutely not. The roster is set. Stabilize it. Build continuity. The free agent market has a multitude of quality depth players in unrestricted free agency. As of today, without any signings and without playing probabilities of retention, the Rockets see a perfect world as offering: Millsap, Rajon Rondo, Jose Barea, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Ekpe Udoh, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Lou Williams, Landry Fields, Amir Johnson, and Jeremy Evans.

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  • Furthermore, the Rockets have the 18th pick in the NBA Draft. That pick is looking like a proper landing spot for Tyus Jones or Jerian Grant, both point guards capable of playing off James Harden to start. Rest assured, any point guard addition to the Rockets will need to be a ball handler and very sure of himself. Houston’s turnovers were more damning in the post-season than it was in the regular season. Jones and Grant both deliver that in a major way.

    Additionally, if we’re 100% honest with ourselves, the return of Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley from injury will be huge helps for the Rockets. Jones only played 33 games in the regular season and Dwight Howard only played 41 games. Beverley, Howard, Jones, and Motiejunas are all critical factors to the success of the Rockets. Stability and health with this group, in addition to the return of their core bench group, would go a long ways towards solidifying this team.

    If we’re honest with ourselves, is it worth gutting a 56-26 team that made it to the Western Conference Finals to atone for their loss to the best team in the NBA? Given the options available for depth in free agency and the need to retain players who played huge roles in the success Houston did see, a case cannot be made to overhaul the roster. Names build hype. Houston delivered that with Harden and then followed that up with Howard. Underwhelming signings and draft picks are the ones that see you to a title. Think to the Spurs, how often are they making huge splashes? Look at the catalyst to Golden State’s post-season tenacity? It’s Draymond Green. A second-round pick with a beefy body known for defense. When you have the foundation established, you complement it. Houston is at that point.

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    This off season will say a lot about what Morey thinks of the Rockets. If he believes they’re contenders, he’ll retain the critical pieces and add bench contributors. If he’s insecure about the roster he put together, he’ll make a few big trades and take a run at Aldridge/Millsap/Love. Time will tell, but Morey is a smart man, I fully expect him to solidify this roster for the long haul.

    Next: Do We Really Need Patrick Beverley?