With Dwight Howard opting out of his contract, the Rockets starting lineup is as follows: PG Patrick Beverley, SG James Harden, SF Trevor Ariza, PF ________, C Clint Capela. That’s the framework I am working off of. Who should the Houston Rockets fill that gap with? I’m going to look at a lot of the free agents out there in the NBA world and tell you if they would work here in Houston or not. On to the free agents:
Kevin Durant – I hope the Rockets get a meeting with Durant, if only because it would at least demonstrate they can get an audience. I don’t harbor many hopes of Durant leaving Oklahoma City, but especially not for Houston. The Rockets are coming off of a brutally-disappointing 41 win season. Durant is close to winning a title with the Thunder, and I can only see him leaving for teams like the Warriors or Spurs.
Al Horford – An ideal fit, with his combination of shooting, rebounding, and defense. My only concerns would be the contract, which would be massive, and his combination of age and injury history. I don’t think Horford is leaving, but the Rockets will have to pursue him.
Ryan Anderson –
Of the more known quantities on this list, I think he’s the most likely to sign in Houston. Anderson is a terrific shooter (37% on 3s in his career). However, he’s only played a full season once in his NBA career. He’s not old, at 28, but you would need to count on Anderson being a little bit healthier in the next 3-4 years to pay off on a contract. Anderson is a minus rebounder and a minus defender. We also don’t know exactly how much salaries will escalate in the next month, but I’ll just throw out a range of 17-21M/year for someone like Anderson. Maybe those figures are too high, but it’s hard to project at the moment.
The bottom line is that Anderson would help the Rockets on offense, and this team has needed a power forward that can shoot for a long time. However, with a combination of James Harden and Anderson, there would be a huge load on the rest of the roster to provide the defense.
Hassan Whiteside – He’s definitely an intriguing player. Whiteside has been a double-double machine, who averages a healthy 3.7 blocks per game. However, his effectiveness defense has been a subject of controversy.
Basically, it seems that there are questions about how well Whiteside fits in a team defense. How much does he help the other players? How willing is he to do his assignments against the pick-and-roll? The combination of personalities with Whiteside and Harden would give me pause.
Mike Conley – The Rockets can always use an upgrade at point guard, and Conley is the star of a fairly weak crop of free agent lead guards. Bill Simmons has consistently referenced Conley’s mentality in his role in Memphis, always tracking possessions and keeping track of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol’s touches.
The only two issues I can think of would be these: (1) fit next to Harden, (2) health. The second isn’t a huge worry, but he did finish this past season injured, and has a starter in the league since 2008. Conley is a guy who will need the ball a lot. I think Harden is actually a better pure passer, while Conley has a better mentality/feel of a floor leader, if that makes any sense. Ultimately, I would toss this one into a simple category: if he wants to come to Houston, you sign him and don’t look back.
Reports suggest Conley will be heavily pursued by the Spurs and Mavs, and obviously by his current team.
Jeremy Lin –
The Hornets want to re-sign him, but are concerned about losing Lin. He had some interesting quotes in that article, specifically about finding a permanent home. I wonder if there are lingering bad feelings about the Rockets putting Carmelo Anthony’s photo in Lin’s number 7 two years ago. Also, if you’re looking for a permanent home, the constant roster-turnover of the Rockets may not be the ideal place.
Lin found a nice role with the Hornets this past season, and was a spark-plug off the bench. I estimate that the awkwardness (on the basketball court) between him and Harden would prevent a Lin reunion in Houston.
Chandler Parsons – I wouldn’t have anticipated putting Chandler’s name on this list two years ago, but here we are. Parsons is exercising his player option to leap into more free agency riches. He will be seeking a max deal, and tell you that he’s worth it:
Here’s the major stumbling block: injuries. Parsons hasn’t played a full season with the Mavericks and had microfracture surgery on his knee last offseason. He couldn’t finish this season after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. In case you’re wondering, those injuries were to the same knee. That’s a big concern moving forward.
Basketball-wise, I do think Parsons is a relatively ideal fit for what the Rockets want to do offensively. He’s become an even better 3-point shooter in Dallas, and slides in easily at small forward. I’ve always thought that Parsons is a better passer than his assist output would indicate.
Ultimately, I believe there’s a chance that this reunion happens, but the Rockets would need to be very, very confident in that knee.
Nicolas Batum – I think Batum would be a tremendous fit in Houston. He’s basically a 15-6-6 player who can defend multiple positions at a fairly high level. He’s an ideal forward to pair next to Harden. Anybody who remembers the first round series against the Blazers in 2014 knows how difficult it was for the Rockets to deal with Batum. The Rockets need guys who can shoot and play defense, and Batum is good in both areas.
Unfortunately, Batum is expected to re-sign with the Hornets, where he had a career season this year.
Kent Bazemore – These guys at the Pelicans’ SB Nation site have a terrific write up on Bazemore. He doesn’t have the size of Batum, but has some similar attributes. Bazemore has consistently improved as an NBA player, and has become a consistent 3-point threat. He’s willing to defend some of the best wings in the NBA.
The idea of handing 15-18M/year to a guy like this may be a bit concerning, but the Rockets have been pretty good at projecting players to bigger minutes (see: Harden and Omer Asik). One note of caution is Bazemore’s playoff performance this year. In more extended minutes, he shot 36% from the floor, and 26% from 3 against the defenses in Boston and Cleveland.
Allen Crabbe –
This is a little off the normal list of free agents, because Crabbe is restricted, which means the Blazers have a period of time to match any offer sheet. Crabbe is appealing because he adds shooting; he was a 39% 3-point shooter on 3.5 attempts per game this year. Crabbe has improved a lot in Portland and was in double figures in scoring in 4 out of the 5 playoff games this spring against the Warriors.
I think the only realistic shot at Crabbe is if the Blazers somehow landed a separate big star in free agency, and would sacrifice on a big offer sheet to Crabbe. Otherwise, Portland has a very good cap situation, and will likely find a way to retain him.
Evan Fournier – This will be a textbook example of a guy who most fans will be stunned at the amount of money he lands in this salary cap environment. Fournier has consistently improved as a scorer throughout his NBA career, averaging 15.4 ppg this season. He’s also been a very good 3-point shooter (sensing a theme here?).
Fournier, like Crabbe, is a restricted free agent, so the Magic can match any offer sheet that he signs. Here is a solid piece in the Orlando Sentinel about Fournier, with some good words from Scott Skiles.
Marvin Williams – I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the Rockets had some chemistry issues in 2015-16. Williams has had a mid-career resurgence, after starting his career mostly known as the guy the Hawks took over Chris Paul. Williams is seen as a good locker-room presence, which has to be a factor in all Rockets’ decisions this offseason. More importantly, he became a tremendous shooter this past season in Charlotte, hitting over 40% from 3.
I’m not sure if Williams wants to leave the Hornets, but I think this style of forward is a consideration for the Daryl Morey/D’Antoni Rockets.
Jared Dudley – Dudley isn’t going to revolutionize a team, but he fits with some of what I wrote above about Williams. Dudley has been known as an excellent teammate for years, and seems to like the idea of playing next to Harden:
Dudley has always felt to me like the kind of player who is far, far more valuable on a good team than a bad team. He is a terrific 3-point shooter (39.9% in his career, 42% this past season in Washington). I doubt Dudley is someone you would see signed in the early day or two of free agency, but he would help this team.
Mirza Teletovic – In the spirit of most of this article, Teletovic is a very good shooter who plays the 4, which automatically puts him in consideration for the Rockets. For what it’s worth (and signing players on this basis almost always fails), he also averaged 22 points per game against Houston this season.
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