After being eliminated in the first round for the second straight year, the Houston Rockets must make some changes this offseason. While there is no need to completely overhaul the roster, there are few players the team could do without.
Houston has a strong, young nucleus in James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons. They also have emerging talents such as Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley to round out the starting rotation.
Still, the team isn’t without their flaws, which were exposed in their ill-fated series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Houston’s defense, especially on the perimeter, was lackluster and the reliance on outside shooting came back to bite them.
This offseason, the team must improve defensively as well as find a way to trim some payroll. According to HoopsHype.com, the Rockets will have close to $72 million on the books for next season.
Whether via free agency or trade, here are three players the Rockets should let go this offseason.
The Houston Rockets have enough outside shooters that they could afford to lose one or two of them. At the top of that list is veteran Francisco Garcia, who struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout this season.
Garcia played in 55 games for the Rockets and averaged a meager 5.7 points per game. He shot 40 percent from the field and nearly 36 percent from downtown, but was surprisingly subpar at the free-throw line (just under 53 percent).
The former Louisville product will be 33 years old on New Year’s Eve and could make life easier on both parties by choosing not to exercise his $1.3 million player option for next season.
While Garcia’s salary isn't a hard pill for Houston to swallow, the team would be better off allocating 19.7 minutes per game he averaged in the regular season elsewhere. The best candidate to replace Garcia would be youngster Robert Covington.
Covington won the NBADL Rookie of the Year, averaging 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. Those numbers show enough promise to warrant the Rockets giving the 6’9” forward a long look next season.
As for Garcia, if he chooses to force Houston’s hand, teams such as the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers could use his services. Both of those teams finished at the bottom in three-point shooting during the regular season.
Like Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi is another veteran that offers solid outside shooting and not much else. He averaged 6.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field and just under 35 percent from behind the arc.
With his size and shooting touch, Casspi is serviceable at either his natural small forward spot or spacing the floor as a stretch 4. However, his inability to defend either position offsets any of the advantages he offers when he’s on the court.
He’s also not much of a factor on the glass, as he’s never averaged more than five rebounds per game throughout his five years in the NBA.
Casspi is a free agent this summer and it would be in Houston’s best interest to let him walk. The Rockets could fill his spot with another combo forward that has more to offer on the defensive end.
One name that comes to mind is New Orleans Pelicans forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu can defend either forward spot and he’s solid on the boards. His energy and athleticism make him a nice fit on a Rockets team that likes to run.
Aminu (career 29 percent from three) doesn't possess Casspi’s outside shot, but the Rockets could afford a hit on offense if it means getting better on the other end of the court.
If the Rockets are going to have any cap flexibility this summer, they will need to find a taker for Jeremy Lin and/or Omer Asik. Both players are due nearly $15 million a piece for next season, though the cap hit will be a little over $8 million.
Of the two, Lin is the most expendable. The team already has Patrick Beverley entrenched as their starting point guard as well as last year’s second-round pick Isaiah Canaan.
Lin has been relatively productive during his two seasons in Houston and, at times, it seemed he found a comfort zone as the team’s spark off the bench. Still, it’s tough to justify paying your sixth man $15 million when you have needs elsewhere.
Lin’s salary will be the biggest obstacle in finding a potential suitor. It also doesn't help Houston’s cause that there aren't many teams in need of a point guard due to how deep the position has become over the years.
The Los Angeles Lakers have the cap space to fit Lin in, and with Steve Nash’s health declining, they could be in the market for a young point guard. The Lakers could also benefit from Lin’s popularity, both internationally and in the States.
Lin’s a tireless worker whose skills have improved each year. His three-point percentage jumped from nearly 34 percent in 2012-13 to just under 36 percent this past season. He’s also become less of a turnover machine.
On the right team, Lin could be a star. That team just doesn't happen to be the Houston Rockets. With guys such as Canaan and Troy Daniels ready for bigger roles next season, the team has the personnel to replace Lin’s production at a much cheaper cost.
It might agitate Lin's legion of devoted fans, but the best move for everyone involved is to find Lin a new home. It would save Houston some coin and allow Lin to apply his trade in a better situation.
Any time a team fails to live up to high expectations, there’s going to be a clamoring for change. After landing superstars in Dwight Howard and James Harden in back-to-back years, there’s going to be pressure to reel in another big name this summer.
The Rockets should ignore that pressure. The team doesn't need a Carmelo Anthony or a Rajon Rondo to legitimize them. They have a solid young roster that will continue to grow.
What they do need is a change in philosophy. Houston can’t continue to rely on its dynamic offense to get them out of jams. They must improve their anemic defense to avoid squandering their championship window.
To do that, they’ll have to make some unpopular decisions this summer.