Houston Rockets: Guide to A Successful Offseason

By Salman Ali on June 13, 2016

The Houston Rockets are one of the more interesting teams with major decisions to make this offseason. No team can lay claim to a more disappointing season than the Rockets and as a result, no team caught more negative press than Houston. In response, the Rockets have to approach this offseason very delicately while at the same time being deliberate and having a clear direction for the franchise with the moves that they make.

This is easily Daryl Morey's most critical offseason in recent memory (Excluding the year the Rockets acquired James Harden).

Morey made mistakes last offseason that played some part in how the Rockets performed and while he's still a very capable general manager, this is an undeniable fact. Ty Lawson, who at the time seemed like a no-brainer acquisition, was a gamble that went horribly wrong and cost Houston a 1st round draft pick. Bringing the entire cast and crew back and standing pat, while seeming noble and sensible at the time considering the team's previous season's success, was ultimately a mistake. Granted, most of these mistakes were moves that anyone would have made if placed in a similar position, they were still mistakes.

To say any different is a mistake onto it's own.  The best way to move on and grow from these mistakes as an organization and a franchise, you first have to acknowledge them.

Once you've acknowledged what went wrong last season and correctly assess the situation, Houston can move on into the offseason with a better understanding of what needs to be done. There's a process to every offseason that's unique to every team's situation and the Rockets are no different.

As an organization, the Rockets have to correctly prioritize what needs to happen this summer.

1) Getting The Head Coach Right

Before the Rockets did anything, they had to find their head coach. Above all else, the Rockets needed somebody who set a culture and a direction for the franchise this offseason. The head coach determines how you want to play and what type of players you want to go after in free agency. After a long, careful search, the Rockets settled on former Suns, Knicks, and recently Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni and chose defensive stalwart Jeff Bzdelik to be his associate head coach..

We've written column after column on how D'Antoni could theoretically mesh with James Harden, the Rockets at large, and even one on Bzdelik so it's best not to dwell on the hire too much. For the purposes of this offseason preview, the only thing you need to know about Mike D'Antoni is the type of players he likes to have run in his system. This gives you an idea at who Houston will chase to fit in his system.

First and foremost, D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" offense requires a floor general to run the offense and fortunately for the Rockets, that player is already on the roster in James Harden. Although Harden is not actually a point guard, his style of play leans more to a Steve Nash type than a Carmelo Anthony. Harden already handles the basketball a ton, so it makes sense that he tweak his game a little to become more Nash-like and effectively play point guard.

However, D'Antoni's offense also requires a ton of big men who are adept at running pick-n-roll/pick-n-pop, great shooters, and good passers/high IQ basketball players. The Rockets don't have a lot of that, so this is where they need to be aggressive in free agency.

For a complete list of free agents the Rockets should target, click here.

2) Hoping Dwight Howard Opts Out

This one is completely out of Daryl Morey's hands unfortunately. 

When Dwight Howard signed with Houston in 2013, it seemed like the perfect match. Getting a superstar big man who excels under the pick-n-roll paired with a superstar who is equally great at running it in James Harden just made perfect sense on paper. However, basketball games aren't played on paper and three years later, this is where the Rockets are.

In fairness, the pairing did manage to reach the Western Conference in just the 2nd year of its' creation which is a success onto it's own. You can justify the Howard signing by this appearance alone. However, after the year the Rockets had and Dwight being where he is as a player in the arc of his career (on the downslope), it's best if both parties shake hands and part ways.

From the looks of it, both Morey and Dwight are saying all the right things and neither the Rockets or Howard have suggested a divorce is inevitable. However, it's likely that they are both keeping up appearances and the writing is very clearly on the wall. It's time to move on.

If Dwight opts out, like many expect, the Rockets could be looking at a maximum of about $46.2 million in cap space if recent projections of the new cap ceiling ($94 million) prove to be correct.

The sooner Dwight opts out, the sooner Houston can move on with a clearer figure in mind of their salary cap situation moving forward into free agency.

3) Assessing The Contracts You Want To Keep

This step of the process is often ignored by fans who are aware their team has a lot of cap space and are only looking to overhaul their roster. The reality is, no matter how bad the situation is, "blowing it up" is only the right move for 0.01% of rebuilds. More often than not, there's always going to be a contract/talent or a handful of contracts that are favorable enough to keep around every offseason. Even the lowliest of teams (even the 76ers) have players that hold significant value in relation to their contract.

Let's rank every player under contract on an on-court value/contract ratio.

1.) James Harden - 5 years/$78.7 Million

This shouldn't come as any surprise. James Harden is the best player on this team, a clear Top-10 NBA talent, and currently on a bargain contract of roughly $33 million over the next 2 years. (in relation to how good he is and what other star NBA players are earning). The Rockets have ever incentive to keep Harden this offseason and it's not even a conversation. He's a lock to stay.

2.) Clint Capela - 3 years/$3.7 Million
This is a little more controversial, as the young Swedish big man's not exactly the first name you think about when debating the 2nd best player on this team. However, that's not the question being asked. In terms of a sheer on-court value to contract ratio, it's hard to argue against the placing Capela this high on the list. He's 22 years old, freakishly athletic, and can already run and switch on pick-n-rolls better than many veteran NBA big men. He's easily the best young prospect on the roster so it would be a real head-turner should the Rockets decide to move on from him this offseason. Another surefire lock.

3.) Patrick Beverley - 4 years/$23 Million

Patrick Beverley's contract is a bargain any way you look at it. At 27 years old, Beverley provides the Rockets very solid point-guard defense and very good to great 3-PT shooting which is exactly the kind of player you want to place alongside James Harden. His contract being as cheap as it is ($5.7 million with a non-gauranteed year in 2018-19) is only a bonus. While Beverley's not a lock to stay, he's the closest thing you can get to one considering his awesome contract.

4.) Trevor Ariza - 4 years/$32 Million

As far as locks to stay, it's safe to say Trevor Ariza is the first gray area contract for Houston to decide upon this summer. Ariza shouldn't be confused with being a "bad contract" - far from it actually. Ariza is easily the best perimeter defender on the roster and he he's a decent 3-PT shooter in a league where perimeter defenders who can shoot the 3-ball are so coveted. 

The reason Ariza isn't a lock, is actually because his contract is structured the way it is. It's sizeable, yet valuable - the kind of contract that makes for great trade discussion. Houston can get significant value out of Ariza, should they choose to part ways with him. While he can certainly help out the team next season, his future on the roster is very much up in the air

5.) Corey Brewer - 3 years/$23.4 Million

This one's tough.

In an ideal world, Morey wipes his hands clean of this contract and receives an asset for it. In actuality, Corey Brewer's contract is so terrible, that it's going to be nearly impossible to move unless you attach an asset to it. Corey Brewer, while he played a pivotal role in the Rockets reaching the Western Conference Finals the year before, is just not a very good basketball player. He's never been able to defend, he's a bad jump shooter, and he's never been a particularly gifted passer/playmaker. 

Because of the nature of his contract, it appears the Rockets may have to bring Brewer back and absorb his contract for a couple more years unless something opens up at the trade deadline.

6) The Young Guys (Harrell, McDaniels, and Dekker)

Aside from KJ McDaniels (signed to a 3 year/$10 million deal), the rest of these rookie deals are fairly small and insubstantial to the cap. These young guys also don't have much trade value having not played much their rookie years. Unless their values skyrockets after a year of Summer League, you'd be hard pressed to find Daryl Morey sneaking any of these players into a serious trade offer.

Morey's a GM who's shown to value a constant influx of young talent into his roster at all times. Since these contracts are fairly cheap, it'll be interesting to see how these freakishly athletic prospects grow under Mike D'Antoni.

4.) Determining The Free Agents You Want To Bring Back

(No Particular Order)

Jason Terry

Although, he brings virtually nothing but 3-PT shooting and low turnover handling to the team, Jason Terry is the kind of veteran presence you want to keep around. From a strictly on-court standpoint, sure he's easily replaceable, but from a positive influence and leadership standpoint, he's invaluable. Players like to be around Jason Terry and players listen to Jason Terry, and that's the kind of things that don't show up in box scores. 

Him being on the team these past couple years and already having the respect of most of the guys in the locker room is just an added bonus. Spending the veterans minimum on Terry won't hurt the team's cap figure much at all heading into free agency and it's a good investment to keep a familiar voice.

Josh Smith

It seems to become more and more evident that Josh Smith is quite simply done being a good, productive NBA player. At least, for this team. Smith came to this Rockets team as a defensive tool with excellent vision paired with great passing that could occasionally hit a 3-ball. However, at age 30, his limited athleticism paired with his poor efficiency has made for a player who wasn't even good enough to crack the rotation towards the end of the season.

Even on a veterans' minimum deal, it's unlikely the once star-forward is likely to return to Houston.

Donatas Motiejunas (Restricted Free Agent)

Another tough one. The Lithuanian big man has certainly shown the ability to be a productive low-post presence for the Rockets in the past, but recent back trouble caused Motiejunas to have an extremely disappointing season. Just a year after coming off of the best season of his career, D-Mo missed the 2015 playoffs due to a back injury, got surgery, and was only able to play 37 games (many while not looking completely right).

In the midst of his poor season in Houston, Motiejunas was traded the the Detroit Pistons for a 1st round pick in a three-way deal that eventually was vetoed by the Pistons due to a "failed physical" on D-Mo's part (Many, including Motiejunas himself, question the legitimacy of this physical).

In summation, it's been a rough year for D-Mo and that, due to no fault of his own, has hurt his value on the open market this free agency like crazy. It'll be hard to see the Rockets throwing significant money at Motiejunas or matching any large contracts he may get in restricted free agency. There's no question that a healthy D-Mo is fully worth the investment, but there's question on the "healthy".

Terrence Jones (Restricted Free Agent)

Terrence Jones hasn't been a fully healthy and fully productive basketball player since 2013-14. At peak value, Jones is a great rebounder, finisher, and rim-runner, but the problem is, he rarely reaches peak value. On paper, Jones would be a perfect addition to a Mike D'Antoni offense. In reality, Jones is too big of a health risk (possibly a bigger health risk than Motiejunas) to be paying significant money or matching any large offers in restricted free agency.

Quite simply, Terrence Jones was hobbled this season and when he did see the floor, he was truly one of the worst players in the NBA this season (-10.5 in Net RTG). Although, he has the tools to be a good NBA player, it would be a true shocker if Terrence Jones is brought back next season.

5) Pursuing Your Overseas Prospects

Sergio Llull

If you could make a list of players Rockets fans are tired of hearing about, Stephen Curry would top the list. Sergio Llull would make for a close second place.

At this point, you probably know everything there is to know about Sergio Llull. "He's quick, plays good out of PnRs, good defender, makes big shots, decent shooter in general, deceptively athletic, etc...", but the reality is, we have to talk about him every year as long as the Rockets hold his draft rights (which could be until he retires).

The Rockets are going to be in the market for guard help (again) and the Spanish point guard could theoretically work great in Mike D'Antoni's system.

Also, with Llull on a freshly signed contract for Real Madrid, a cheaper buyout could prove to be just "in" the Rockets need to try and lure him to the NBA this summer.

It's unlikely to happen, but the Rockets shouldn't leave any stone unturned this summer.

Embed from Getty Images

Alessandro Gentile

He's a 23 year-old, 6’6,” 227-pound guard out of Italy and he may be more attainable than you think.

Alessandro Gentile was selected by the Rockets in the 2014 NBA Draft (2nd Round - Pick 53). He's a scorer who's known to attack the basket, seems to have quite a nice jumper, can dribble the ball and attack out of PnR a fair bit, and is a very good passer. He's best with the ball in his hands, but he's learning to play well without it.

When Gentile was drafted, he was considered to be too "skinny" or too frail to defend at the NBA level. Two years later and Gentile has added over 20 pounds to his long frame and is continuing to get stronger. The biggest question with him now is whether or not he has the athleticism to make it in the NBA.  Gentile, while might not make the same immediate impact as Llull,  is far more obtainable than Llull ever was. He has to potential to make for a solid rotation level NBA talent (perhaps in an off the bench, creator capacity).

6) Nail Your Draft Picks And Try To Move Up

The Rockets, as it stands, currently possess the 37th and 43rd pick in this year's NBA Draft. However, Morey's made the rounds on a couple podcasts and teased that the team may try and move up to the 1st round of the draft.

Houston's always been quite good at landing value in the 2nd Round of the draft (Chandler Parsons, Carl Laundry, Chase Budinger, Montrezl Harrell, etc..), but it'll be interesting to see if the team tries to package their 2nd rounders or pair them with players to move into the 1st round.

7) Land Quality Talent In The Open Market

Houston will obviously try (and should) their hands at the Kevin Durants, Al Horfords, and Mike Conleys of the world and rightfully so. Anytime you have the chance to get a face-to-face meeting with an All-NBA talent, you should try your best to do so. Even though it's been reported that Kevin Durant doesn't consider Houston as a possible destination, the Rockets will still try their best to at least land a meeting.

 Even though the Rockets aren't likely to add a superstar this offseason, it doesn't mean they should (or will) toil away their time and resources away trying to impress the girl that's not interested. There are still plenty of quality free agents out on the market that are ready to improve this team. Whether it's Jeremy Lin, Jared Dudley, Nic Batum, or even Chandler Parsons, there's no shame in spending your cap room on quality role players, improving the team, and coming back next offseason with ideally a better record, situation, and roster that'll be more likely to impress a superstar next season.

After all, if Kevin Durant signs a 1+1 deal in Oklahoma City, which we fully expect he will, there's an opportunity to impress again him again next offseason or any other would-be free agent superstar for that matter.

We've written in-depth about free agents Houston should target this summer, so for more, click here.

For more news, analysis, and rumors about the Houston Rockets offseason, stay tuned to our coverage this summer at RedNationHoops.com!

No comments:

Post a Comment