The Houston Rockets' season is over, so it's time for general manager Daryl Morey to look towards the draft and free agency to improve his team for next season. Morey certainly has the opportunity to improve the Rockets this offseason, though his free-agency wish list shouldn't really be all that long.
At this point, the Rockets really only lack two things—a power forward that stands out above the rest and defensive role players to come off the bench and lock down the opponent's best scorers.
And no, this will not turn into a "Dwight Howard will be a Rocket" piece. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but I don't think Howard should be a thought for Morey. He's a clubhouse cancer, a me-first type of player and would cost an exorbitant amount of money on a long-term deal.
Omer Asik took a huge step in his development last season, and I'm perfectly content with seeing him continue to get better. He'll probably never turn into a Howard-type player, but he's a double-double machine and is still learning how to be more consistent in the post.
The money that would be spent on Howard can be better allocated in other areas—areas that the Rockets actually need improvements in.
Power Forward Option No. 1 - Josh Smith
Josh Smith should be the No. 1 priority for the Rockets this offseason—period. There's no other free agent available that fits their needs and their offensive strategies better.
First, let's address the needs. Smith would give the Rockets a power forward for the next four or so seasons that can provide consistent production on a nightly basis. Terrence Jones and Thomas Robinson have potential, but it doesn't appear as if either is ready to be the clear-cut starter at the four.
Smith's career numbers are very impressive. He's averaged 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over his nine-year career—well-balanced numbers if I do say so myself.
The defense he would provide would be a monumental (yes, monumental) improvement for Houston. Smith is one of the best defensive forwards in the NBA. He was a member of the 2009-10 All-Defensive second team and led the league in Defensive Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins a player provides his team based on his defense) in 2011-12 with 4.9.
For his career, he has a DWS of 35.1 to go along with 1.3 steals and 2.2 blocks per game.
Smith also fits the way the Rockets play. He isn't a great three-point shooter (28.3 percent career), but there are plenty of other players on the team that can knock down shots from deep. He fits well with their transition game and would thrive in the Rockets' system.
Famous for his highlight dunks and ability to jump through the roof, Smith would bring even more athleticism to the Rockets' starting five. In the team's run-and-gun offense, Smith could become the No. 2 option behind James Harden.
A four-year deal in the neighborhood of $60 million should get the job done. He made just over $13 million in Atlanta last season, but Morey should be willing to go the extra mile to secure Smith's future in Houston.
Power Forward Option No. 2 - Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap ranks behind Smith because he is not nearly as athletic as the high-flying forward. Millsap does, though, fill the same need that Smith does. The only question here is whether or not Millsap will fit in the system.
With the Utah Jazz, Millsap was arguably the most underrated player in the NBA. He works exceptionally hard on a nightly basis, doing more than what shows up in the box score. He sets great screens under the basket and routinely outworks his man on the glass. Millsap could be an asset to any team looking for power forward help.
For his career, Millsap has averaged 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 51.6 percent shooting. Millsap is the epitome of a post player, however, as he only attempted 39 shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13.
While not a standout defensive star, Millsap works hard and puts up solid defensive numbers. He's blocked 1.0 shots and racked up 1.1 steals per game for his career.
If Morey misses out on Smith to a team willing to give him a max contract (likely on the Atlanta Hawks will be willing to do that), then Millsap can be had for a fraction of the price. A five-year contract in the $40 million range should be enough to lure in the 28-year-old power forward.
Defensive Options Off the Bench
There are two options that the Rockets should pursue in their quest for defensive-minded role players. Jermaine O'Neal could help the Rockets in the paint next season, while Dorell Wright could help the Rockets on a multi-year deal.
O'Neal is 34 years old and at the tail end of his career. No longer is he a difference-maker offensively, but his defensive skills are still useful to teams looking for help under the basket. Enter Houston, as Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith and Tim Olbrecht offer little to no defense in the paint.
O'Neal averaged 18.7 minutes per game with the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13, swatting 1.4 shots per game and recording a DWS of 1.3. As a reserve, a 1.3 DWS is quite impressive. Morey should look to scoop him up on a cheap one-year contract.
Francisco Garcia is a free agent, and the sharpshooter could look for a new home this offseason. Morey may be intrigued to bring him back because of his strong three-point shooting, but Wright represents a much better option.
Not only can Wright shoot from deep (36.7 percent career), he can also play lockdown defense. He doesn't rack up blocks or steals, but he's great at preventing his matchup from scoring. Last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Wright posted a DWS of 2.1 in 22.6 minutes per game—equally as impressive as O'Neal.
Both options would give the Rockets great defense off the bench while not sacrificing much offense. Morey would be wise to give each a look.
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