Offseason Grades: Houston Rockets
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams, Marcus Camby, Isaiah Canaan (No. 34 in 2013 draft), Robert Covington, Jordan Henriquez, B.J. Young
Losses: Thomas Robinson, Carlos Delfino, Royce White, Tim Ohlbrecht, James Anderson
Other Moves: Re-signed Francisco Garcia, re-signed Aaron Brooks, acquired the rights to Marko Todorovic (No. 45 in 2013; plays in Spain), acquired the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou (No. 48 in 2012, plays in Spain)
What Went Right: Landing Howard. The pairing of Howard and All-NBA shooting guard James Harden is the unimpeachable basis of a potential championship contender — an efficient, high-volume shot creator set to play off of an elite defender, rebounder and finisher. The Rockets still have work to do to complete the roster around them, but the two stars should form an ultra-potent core for the foreseeable future.
That the Rockets were able to pick up Howard on a four-year, $87.6 million contract without sacrificing any of their best assets makes this an even more incredible offseason. To clear salary-cap space for this summer, the Rockets traded power forwards Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson during the season and Robinson after the season, along with cutting Delfino before his $3 million contract for 2013-14 became guaranteed (Brooks was waived for the same reason but later re-signed for less money). But otherwise, the Rockets will more or less return the same team they had a season ago — albeit with Howard, now a year and a half removed from back surgery, in position to make a huge impact on both ends. Keeping Harden was clearly a must, but holding on to useful (and tradable) players such as center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin while keeping low-salary contributors such as small forward Chandler Parsons and point guard Patrick Beverley helps Houston challenge the top-tier teams in the Western Conference immediately.
General manager Daryl Morey has done well in filling up the roster with potential bargains. Houston has 11 players on minimum or near-minimum deals worth less than $1 million each, including a handful of undrafted rookies signed to make-good deals. (Not all of those players will make the team; Houston has 18 players on its roster but can carry no more than 15 for the regular season.) Several of those players look to be quality rotation contributors, and if the Rockets hit on a few more they could soon have a deep bench of shooters with which to complement Howard’s post-ups and Harden’s pick-and-roll work.
Moreover, with such a group in place, Houston is flexible both on the court and on the books, giving Morey and coach Kevin McHale the freedom to go about maximizing the potential of this roster. Power forward is still a question (second-year player Donatas Motiejunas could end up being the best option to start alongside Howard) and how Houston executes its team defense remains to be seen, but the presence of Howard and Harden alone will open up so much for the Rockets and allow them to compete at a high level.
What Went Wrong: Not much. One could argue that Houston should trade Asik now in exchange for a starting-caliber power forward, but there’s not much harm in keeping an outstanding backup big man until the right deal can be found. Otherwise, the Rockets identified a high-level target, created the kind of roster that would entice him and successfully sold the appeal of their franchise in face-to-face meetings. Now they’re positioned to be one of the better teams in the West over the next few seasons, with the potential to improve through internal development and roster additions alike.
Grade: A+. The dependability of the minimum-salary shooters Houston signed could be nitpicked. But the pursuit of elite talent largely determines an NBA team’s fate, and the Rockets succeeded in that regard. More generally, they have done a splendid job of controlling their spending and minding their future ability to make moves without crossing the luxury-tax threshold.