Projecting Houston Rockets' 2014 Free-Agency Big Board
While this season isn't over just yet, the Houston Rockets should start looking at ways to improve for next year. The first step would be to comprise a list of potential free-agent targets that would fill the team's needs.
With close to $72 million on the books for next season, according to HoopsHype.com, the team won't have a ton of money to play with unless it does some shuffling. Houston could free up some cap space by finding suitors for center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin (both owed close to $15 million apiece, with a cap hit of $8.3 million for each).
The Rockets also have decisions to make on some of their own players. Key reserves such as Omri Casspi, Greg Smith and Jordan Hamilton are all free agents this summer, while rising star Chandler Parsons is due for a payday next year.
Unlike in past years, Houston won't enter the offseason with any glaring needs. If it manages to move Asik and/or Lin, there will be an obvious need for replacements at those positions. The team could use some perimeter defenders as well as a couple able bodies for the second unit.
To assist with Houston's free-agent search, a big board was comprised. The rankings were comprised based on talent and need. Keep in mind, though, that these are merely projections.
As always, crowd participation is encouraged. If you have some feedback on the list or feel the need to pitch a name that was left off, feel free to drop a comment below.
10. PF Elton Brand
Elton Brand may not be the player he once was, but he still has enough left in the tank to be a capable reserve big man. With the Atlanta Hawks this year, Brand has contributed on both ends of the court. He can still score in the post and crash the boards, as well as block a couple shots.
With Al Horford out for the season and Pero Antic missing time as well, Brand hs filled in admirably at center. He's averaging 5.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the field.
He made $4 million this season. If he's willing to take a little less next season to chase that elusive championship ring, there's a place for him in Houston. His ability to play power forward or center and hold his own in the paint would make him a welcomed addition as a reserve big man.
A couple of years ago, the former Duke star would be higher on this list. However, at 35 years old and entering his 16th season next year, he's merely a solid role player with a ton of veteran savvy.
9. SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu would be another cheap signing who could help the Rockets in a number of ways. Aminu is a good athlete who plays with a ton of energy. He's a good perimeter defender who could also be a factor on the boards. Even better, he'll be only 24 years old in September.
Aminu doesn't come without his share of flaws, though. He's not a particularly great outside shooter (career 29 percent from three) or ball-handler, and he's still a bit raw despite this being his fourth season in the NBA.
However, the Rockets don't need Aminu to be a scorer. He can be a worthwhile addition simply by being a defensive stopper who can fluctuate between either forward position. He may be best suited at power forward, where he stay around the rim.
The former lottery pick out of Wake Forest is contributing 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the New Orleans Pelicans, both of which are better than his career averages (6.6 points and 5.5 points). He's also shooting a career-high 48 percent from the field.
With the Rockets' cap situation being what it is, the team's best chance of improving is finding some low-budget steals in free agency. If Houston is willing to sacrifice offense for some defense, Aminu wouldn't be the worst pickup in the world.
8. SF Mike Miller
As far as veteran shooters go, Mike Miller will be one of the best available on the open market. He's shot nearly 41 percent from behind the arc during his 14-year career, including an astonishing 46 percent from deep with the Memphis Grizzlies this season.
Another encouraging fact is that Miller has managed to stay healthy for most of the season. His 71 appearances so far this year are the most he's had since playing in 73 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2008-09 season.
If Miller can keep a clean bill of health, he'd be an upgrade as a shooter off the bench over current Rockets like Omri Casspi and Jordan Hamilton. He has plenty of postseason experience and had some big moments during his two title runs with the Miami Heat.
In Houston, Miller could be an offensive spark off the bench as James Harden's main backup. He'd also be a solid presence in the locker room, which is key for a young team still trying to find its way.
Miller made just under $1.4 million with Memphis this season. That would be a bargain for Houston if it can reel him in at the same price.
7. SF P.J. Tucker
At the risk of using hyperbole, Phoenix Suns small forward P.J. Tucker may be the most underrated player in this year's free-agent class. The overall numbers don't tell the whole story of what has been a breakout season for the 28-year-old out of Texas.
He's averaging 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game for the Suns. According to 82Games.com, opponents have an effective field-goal percentage of just under 50 percent against him. He's a fine defender and occasional scorer who could be a key reserve for the Rockets.
The catch in Houston trying to add Tucker this summer is that he's a restricted free agent and the Suns have more money to burn than the Rockets do. Phoenix has just $32.4 million on the books for next season, according to Spotrac.com.
The reason Tucker is higher on this list than the previous two perimeter players is that he possesses both of their strengths. Like Miller, Tucker can shoot from the outside, as evidenced by his nearly 41 percent mark from three this season. He also plays quality defense, much like Aminu.
If Houston can manage to wrangle Tucker out of the desert, his energy, rebounding and sneaky defense will be welcomed on the Rockets' second unit.
6. PF/C Jordan Hill
If Houston can manage to move backup center Asik, former Rocket and current Laker Jordan Hill would be a suitable replacement. While he doesn't have Asik's defensive acumen, Hill has shown flashes of being an offensive monster.
In the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 27, Hill put up 28 points and 16 boards in 31 minutes. In his last four games since returning from a knee injury, the Arizona big man is averaging 18.5 points and 12 rebounds.
Sure, that's a small sample size, but it is also a testament to what Hill is capable of when he's healthy. Injuries have slowed the 26-year-old (27 in July) from reaching his full potential. He's played more than 70 games in a season just once in his career (oddly enough, in 2010-11 with the Rockets).
The Lakers have the money to retain Hill this summer, while the Rockets would have to do some maneuvering to make room. There's a drawback in swapping out Asik's defense for Hill's offense, but the latter's upside makes it worthwhile.
If he can stay healthy, Hill can be the kind of player who leads the offensive attack on Houston's second unit. His potential impact, albeit one-dimensional, is slightly better than those before him on this list.
5. SG Thabo Sefolosha
The reasoning behind Thabo Sefolosha being on this list is pretty obvious: The Rockets need a stopper on the outside, and Sefolosha is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Take a look at the 29-year-old's effective field-goal percentage allowed (according to 82Games.com) over the last three seasons:
In essence, he's a rich man's Aminu. He's an excellent athlete and defender who doesn't offer much on the offensive end. He's a career 35 percent shooter from downtown and never averaged more than 8.5 points per game (2008-09, his first season with Oklahoma City).
The trick for Houston will be convincing someone who is starting for a superior title contender to be a key reserve on a work in progress. It seems unlikely the Rockets could convince the Swiss forward to jump ship, but it would be a huge move if they could pull it off.
The addition of Sefolosha has the potential to transform a porous perimeter defense into a good one. The combination of Sefolosha and Patrick Beverley on the outside with Dwight Howard protecting the rim would make Houston's defense incredibly tough to score on.
It may be a long shot, but it's a gamble worth taking.
4. SF Trevor Ariza
Rockets fans have seen this movie before. Trevor Ariza hits the open market after a career year and Houston is in need of his services.
After the 2008-09 season, Ariza had just finished helping the Los Angeles Lakers win an NBA title. He then parlayed that momentum into a five-year, $33 million deal with Houston. After just one season with the Rockets, Ariza was dealt to New Orleans as part of a four-team trade.
Now, Ariza (who will be 29 in June) is looking for one last big payday after a solid season with the Washington Wizards. His 14.9 points per game matches his career high from his lone season in Houston (2009-10).
He's also posting the best numbers of his career on the boards (6.4 RPG) and from behind the arc (nearly 42 percent from three).
Again, for Houston to be able to accommodate Ariza, it will need to free up some cap space. If the Rockets can do that, Ariza is the kind of two-way player that they need. He's a better scorer than Sefolosha and is almost as good defensively.
For a team that needs bench scoring and perimeter defense, Ariza would be a quick fix. Hopefully, this time around, his contract won't force him to be one-and-done again.
PF/C Spencer Hawes
Spencer Hawes spent the brunt of his walk year as the subject of trade rumors. When Houston was shopping Asik in December, Hawes' name came up as possible compensation. CBS Sports' Zach Harper pitched the idea of an Asik-for-Hawes swap in a column around that time:
This isn't a ideal value return for Houston, but Hawes would fit in nicely with what the Rockets like to do. He can stretch the floor, could play next to Howard with his passing ability, and he's an expiring deal that would give them room to go after one more major player in free agency/trade.
Inevitably, Hawes was shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a couple of second-round picks and the right to waive Earl Clark. In 18 games with the Cavs, the big man is averaging 13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He's also shooting nearly 46 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from behind the arc.
While the teams may have changed, a potential Asik-for-Hawes swap in a sign-and-trade still makes sense. The Cavaliers could use a big man with Asik's skills, and Hawes would be a cheaper alternative as a backup for Dwight Howard.
The close to $15 million Asik is owed for next season is a tough pill to swallow, but quality centers come at a premium. Plus, it allows Cleveland to get something of worth for a player it rented for a couple months.
Hawes' skill set is what puts him so high on this list. There aren't many seven-footers out there who can crash the boards, protect the rim and possess a solid outside shot. The ability to play Howard and Hawes together would give Houston a huge advantage inside.
As always, this kind of move will take some creativity on the part of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. However, if anyone has the smarts to pull it off, it's the man known as "Dork Elvis."
2. PG Kyle Lowry
This list has been unintentionally saturated with former Rockets, with Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry being the best of the bunch. Lowry has put together an amazing year that has been slightly tarnished by an All-Star snub.
He's averaging 17.7 points, 7.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season, all of which are career highs. With his pending free agency this summer, Toronto tried shopping Lowry but decided to hang on to him for a playoff run instead, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Lowry is an integral part of Toronto's core, but what if he prices himself out of the Raptors' reach? Would a deal involving Lin, draft picks and rising prospect Robert Covington be worthwhile to Raptors GM Masai Ujiri?
That's another debate for another time. One thing's for sure: Lowry would be a huge upgrade at the point guard spot for the Rockets. Current starter Patrick Beverley has done a fine job on both ends of the court, but he isn't the finished product that Lowry is.
In an effort to win now, the Rockets will need to find more proven veterans and rely less on players still needing time to develop. Lowry is one of the best players on the open market, and he fills a need for Houston.
It will take a lot to pry Lowry out of Canada, but if the Raptors become less hopeful that they can retain him, the Rockets should do whatever it takes to bring the 28-year-old back to H-Town.
1. SF Carmelo Anthony
We can argue over whether Carmelo Anthony is a worthwhile free-agent target forever. The fact of the matter is that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is a master fisherman and 'Melo is a 3,000-pound marlin (figuratively, not literally).
As the biggest name in free agency (assuming LeBron James doesn't opt out), it would make sense for Morey to at least kick the tires on adding one of the 10 best players in the NBA. It doesn't make much sense, mind you, but it makes sense nonetheless.
The upside to bringing in Anthony is that he's a much better version of what Houston already has in Chandler Parsons. He's an elite scorer and solid rebounder who doesn't offer much on the defensive end. By bringing in 'Melo, the Rockets would be bidding adieu to Parsons, either via trade or because they can't afford to keep him.
The downside is 'Melo's presence throws a wrench in Houston's current pecking order. James Harden spent the early part of his career as a third wheel, and Howard has never been keen about playing second fiddle to anyone.
However, if Anthony is brought in, someone will have to take a backseat. For all of Parsons' warts (and there aren't many), you can't overlook his willingness to be the Pras to Howard and Harden's Lauryn Hill and Wyclef.
According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, Houston is expected to make a run at Anthony this summer. A deal for the former Syracuse star requires a sign-and-trade, which means the inclusion of the usual suspects:
The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik, Berman wrote. "Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden.
If the Knicks are really ready to move on from Anthony, there are teams with more enticing things to offer than the Rockets' proposal centered around Asik, Lin and draft picks. The Chicago Bulls, for one, have the money to accommodate Anthony as well as the assets to make a move in a sign-and-trade, if need be.
Time will tell whether Anthony will be killing them softly with the Rockets. Morey has managed to make huge moves in each of the last two seasons. Could Anthony be his final piece to the puzzle?
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