With only four teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs, it means a few “contenders” have already been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. The Houston Rockets were one of the surprise teams of the 2012-13 NBA season. After pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire James Harden they landed a true superstar — something they haven’t seen since Yao Ming was on the roster. Harden was amazing for Houston, averaging 25.9 points, 4.9 boards and 5.8 assists a night, and was named to his first All-Star Game. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, their two other offseason pick-ups, and Patrick Beverley, a late season pick-up, were also key contributors to the Rockets.
Though the Rockets were the eighth seed in the Western Conference they definitely did not sneak into the playoffs. However, after suffering a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on the final day of the regular season they dropped down to final spot. In their opening series, they faced off against Harden’s former team: the Thunder. After two games, it looked as if Houston would have no chance to advance, but after a controversial play by Beverley left Russell Westbrook sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs, Houston found life. The team’s split the final four games of the series as OKC advanced in six games.
With cap favorable contracts (Chandler Parsons), the Rockets have left themselves a good amount of cap space heading into the offseason. They have the opportunity and the money to add better complementary pieces and maybe even a second star to surround Harden. The Bearded One showed he is capable of shouldering the load on a successful team, but they are missing another piece if they want to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of Rockets GM Daryl Morey. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Rockets should keep, who they should lose, players to target in free agency and the draft.
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This doesn’t mean that the Rockets should not keep anyone who is on their current roster; instead it means that they have no impending free agents that I think they need to re-sign. Houston has one lone free agent this season and that is Francisco Garcia (team option that they’ll probably use). Every other player is at least signed through the end of next year. It would be great for Houston to lose Garcia’s contract ($6.4 million) in order to open up even more salary cap space, even though Garcia was an impact player in the playoffs, having a couple of good defensive games against Thunder star forward Kevin Durant.
LOSE: Francisco Garcia
As I stated above, Garcia is not needed for the Rockets success — especially at that price — and though he had a good showing in the playoffs, he can be replaced. Garcia’s best days are most likely behind him and the Rockets need to add more talent to build around Harden, Asik and Lin.
FREE AGENT TARGETS: Al Jefferson, Chris Copeland and Nick Young
Al Jefferson is one of the best young big men in the NBA today. The potential he possessed in Boston was the main reason the Celtics were able to snag Kevin Garnett away from Minnesota. All he’s ever done is produce. Last season, Jefferson posted per-game averages of 17.8 points and 9.2 boards, and made a formidable interior tandem with Paul Millsap. While Jefferson hasn’t shown that he is able to be the centerpiece of a franchise, he is certainly capable as an effective second option on a great team. Imagine the possibilities that a Harden and Jefferson pick-and-roll would provide.