Point Guard Upgrades the Houston Rockets Could Pursue This Offseason
Let's say the Houston Rockets fall apart in the postseason and fail to have any real success. What avenues can the team explore to quickly improve if that's the case?
Based on the makeup of the roster, the expiring status of Jeremy Lin's contract next year and some of the rumored talks at this year's trade deadline, the answer might be to find an upgrade at point guard and add another star to the core group.
Although Patrick Beverley has proven to be a dogged defender and Jeremy Lin has had his moments offensively, perhaps the Rockets will look to go big this offseason to find another impact player for James Harden and Dwight Howard.
What stars might the Rockets target, and what would be the plan to acquire them? Let's take a look at a few of the point guards the Rockets might pursue this offseason.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
If the Houston Rockets explored the possibility of going after Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Wiliams this offseason, it wouldn't be the first time they've kicked the tires on adding the former All-Star.
Before this year's trade deadline, the Rockets were involved in talks with the Nets, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:
But the subject of a Dwight-Deron duo was broached again in recent weeks, with the Rockets and Nets briefly delving into the particulars of a deal that would've sent Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to the Nets for Williams. It made sense on many levels...The Rockets would've solved their own center problem, as Asik doesn't want to remain in Houston. They've been trying to get off the Lin contract, and the Nets are one team that wouldn't mind his $15 million balloon payment next season. All the better to stick it to the Knicks.
But the the idea never gained any traction and was shelved. Now, it's probably dead for good with Williams undergoing multiple injections in his chronically bad ankles this week.
Although the deal died then, could it be revived this offseason? Berger is probably right in his assessment that the Nets would be one of the only teams willing to pay the inflated salaries of Lin and/or Asik next season without batting an eye.
Would the Nets be willing to downgrade in talent to get a contributor without a myriad of health issues as well? It's a tough call on both sides, but if the Rockets were willing to sweeten the pot with a draft pick the Nets so desperately need for flexibility purposes, perhaps something could get done here.
Williams is a huge risk at this stage and probably a little overrated anyhow, but it's hard to deny how scary the Rockets would be at full strength with him in the lineup. How often that would happen is the only question.
Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings
Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas may not register as a true star by most accounts, but he's still one of the best young scorers in the game.
Thomas is averaging 20.6 points per game this season with a 57.9 true shooting percentage, which are both outstanding numbers. His small stature belies his ability to get to the rim, and his chemistry with DeMarcus Cousins in the pick-and-roll is very real.
Maybe. Sacramento is facing the very real possibility of dipping into the luxury tax next season, and at this year's deadline, word came out via Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports that the Kings may want something a little different at the point:
The Kings still like Isaiah Thomas, but they are also interested in acquiring a true point guard as the trade deadline approaches, a source said.
While the Rockets won't have the cap room to put in a substantial offer sheet on Thomas, particularly if Chandler Parsons' team option is declined to make him a restricted free agent, perhaps a sign-and-trade deal similar to what the Kings did with Tyreke Evans last offseason could be in the cards.
If the Kings want to improve their defense (and they should), perhaps pairing Cousins with a real rim protector and pick-and-roll defender like Omer Asik could be beneficial for both sides. If the Kings end up going with a guard like Dante Exum or Marcus Smart in the draft, maybe Thomas would become expendable.
For Houston, adding a lightning quick guard who can shoot from the outside, run the pick-and-roll and get buckets at an alarming rate could propel their offense to even greater heights. Although Thomas isn't a good fit with Harden defensively, the presence of Beverley could make that three-man backcourt rotation work out just fine, while also making a Lin trade easier to stomach.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo was another star point guard the Rockets were tied to during the trade deadline. Here's Marc Stein of ESPN.com breaking down the talks:
The Rockets want to acquire Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, according to sources familiar with Houston's thinking.
Yet sources told ESPN.com that talks between the teams have not progressed to a serious stage because the sides can't agree on the framework of a trade.
One main stumbling block, sources said, is Boston's desire to acquire blossoming Houston swingman Chandler Parsons in a potential Rondo deal. Sources say the Rockets have informed the Celtics that they are not prepared to surrender Parsons as part of a Rondo package.
Would the Rockets be more willing to part with Parsons since he's due for a big payday either this offseason or next?
That's hard to say, but we can reasonably assume that the asking price for Rondo will remain extremely high, if Celtics general manager Danny Ainge wants to move him at all. Here's what Ainge told Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe after the deadline:
We were not trying to trade Rondo in any way, shape, or form. Most of the rumors out there were completely false.
Rondo would certainly be an interesting fit in Houston as a pass-first player that could make life easier for James Harden and Dwight Howard, but with Ainge and Rockets GM Daryl Morey valuing the same things (draft picks, rookie-scale players), the two teams might not be compatible trade partners.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
Like Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe should be another highly sought-after restricted free agent this offseason.
Again, though, Houston won't have the cap space to put in a max offer on Bledsoe without some major changes to the current roster.
Even with that being the case, a max offer might not pry Bledsoe away from Phoenix anyhow. Here's what Suns GM Ryan McDonough told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne about Bledsoe's pending restricted free agency:
Obviously we don’t have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don’t have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we’ll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.
So how would the Rockets go about getting Bledsoe? A sign-and-trade deal might work, particularly since Goran Dragic has emerged as a star in his own right. If Phoenix really isn't thrilled with having Bledsoe at the max next to Dragic, perhaps they'd be willing to listen, especially if Chandler Parsons was involved.
Ultimately, the Suns can ask for a pretty penny in any deal for Bledsoe because of their future cap flexibility. Unless the Rockets were willing to drastically overpay, it's hard to see anything getting done here, even if Bledsoe playing next to James Harden is very enticing.
If a star player isn't available on a discount, Houston is probably better off riding with Beverley and Lin and waiting for the 2015 offseason to try and make something happen.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Since we've established that many of the stars may come with a trade price too high to justify, perhaps the Rockets will look to sign another guard in free agency to make an in-season deal for Jeremy Lin more palatable.
If the Rockets do decide to go that route, using the mid-level exception to snatch up San Antonio Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills could weaken a fellow Western Conference contender.
It has taken Mills some time to figure it out in the NBA, but he's proven to be a very capable scorer off the bench this year for an elite team. Mills is averaging 19.5 points per 36 minutes with a blistering 59.3 true shooting percentage and a PER of 18.9, which puts him in some elite company for sixth men around the league.
Mills will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so the complicated waltz of offer sheets can be ignored completely. With so many starting jobs around the league locked up, perhaps Mills would see the Rockets as a great fit given their pace and uncertain situation at point guard.
The only real issue with signing Mills long term would be that it would cut into the 2015 cap space, but if Chandler Parsons' new deal absorbs most of that anyway, perhaps that wouldn't be a big concern.
Like usual, the Rockets have plenty of options going into the offseason, both big and small. There are multiple players out there who could fit, but you better believe Morey will be hunting for the best deal possible.