Recently I was requested to post my thoughts on how the Rockets could best take care of the now and the future and build the franchise. Before I delve into my plan I wanted to extend a special thank you to the people who kept that thread going. I appreciate the words of encouragement, the requests, and the people on this board that keep things moving and I certainly hope I can come off as somewhat informative or at the very least moderately interesting to keep everyone engaged.
After the jump you will have my assessment of what the problem is (I think this is the most widely known issue of my opinion), the conundrums facing the Rockets currently (The post-trade deadline Rockets are very different than the ones I was dealing with before), and a restructuring plan I would like to see Houston pursue. Admittedly, if a fan comes up with a better plan of action than those currently occupying the front office you’re either a fan of the Charlotte Bobcats or your GM needs to be fired. I hope this sparks some discussion at the very least that you guys might enjoy. Feel free to critique, I'm not overly attached to my views.
Plans of action all require a distinct direction. This much is true in every facet of life. Flexibility is valuable but in doses. A jack-of-all-trades will master none and unfortunately you need specialists from time to time. Right now the Houston Rockets are looking to be a jack-of-all-trades. The interesting thing about the Houston Rockets is that when you look at the team on paper, they don’t really have any weaknesses. The alarming thing about the team on paper, though, is that they don’t even have strength. This places the Rockets in a predicament we’ve been in now for a couple of years. We are good enough to challenge for the last playoff spot but not good enough to draft high.
We are a team that is not able to draw free agents because the majority of free agents that are available are role players or at best, second tier stars. Franchise players tend to be drafted and then traded if they leave their team. The allure of free agency is something we are keen to comment on but we fail to address the fact that before Lebron James left Cleveland, franchise-changing free agents don’t generally emigrate from their team via the free agency process. Most free agents are the supporting characters or the role players, like those that currently staff the Houston Rockets. Houston has acquired a great amount of depth and gotten a great amount of production from players that over-achieve. Over-achieving is perhaps the greatest flaw in the Rockets of the last few years. The value of the individual Houston Rockets, as shown by a lack of trade deadline deals of the highly anticipated then later rationalized away variety, is clearly not as high as the fan base chalks them up to be. It’s possible that production is an aberration and it’s possible that production is legitimate, around the league there seems to be doubt.
The lockout presented an opportunity to get some growing pains out of the way in a season that, for all intents and purposes is a throw away. The Rockets acquired Samuel Dalembert (A move I was a huge fan of) and have subsequently strung together a season that hovers the team right around the 8th seed (A prediction many had, specifically 8th or 9th again). The draft has been praised by those who believe in the players coming out and derided by those who want guarantees out of the draft. The Rockets have their 1st round pick to New Jersey for Terrence Williams (Lottery protected) their 1st round pick from Memphis to Minnesota (Johnny Flynn/Donatas Motiejunas deal), Dallas’s pick (Top 20 protected), and have a 1st round pick (top 5 protected) from the New York Knicks. It seems like there was a lot of potential here that the Rockets have mortgaged off and it gives me some concerns similar to the Phoenix Suns of recent memory.
Currently the hopes of Rockets fans are falling on summer cap space and a European rescue. Unfortunately I think this is a case of seeking comfort wherever it may be regardless of its reliability. Donatas Motiejunas (Confirmed) and the possible arrival of Sergio Llull (Not guaranteed) COULD buoy the Rockets but just how realistic is this hope? European players tend to take time to adjust and impact the NBA. Motiejunas has shown he can produce in Europe but so didn’t Vasillis Spanoulis and countless other players who flared up for a year or two AT BEST in the NBA.
The Rockets currently sit at 30 million dollars in dedicated salary at the end of the season (citing HoopsHype salaries for Houston, the chart contains players no longer on the roster, but deals this year required us to comply with salary restrictions anyway). That’s 28 million dollars below the cap figure of 58 million dollars. This is useful flexibility in a trade or for signing free agents. Currently the crop of free agents this season is a list of many people who don’t really strike me as franchise players (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?page=FreeAgents-11-12). The Rockets will have to grossly overpay for the guys who headline this class, guys like Roy Hibbert. Deron Williams is an unrestricted free agent (barring any news that occurred I didn’t remember). The Rockets currently stand to lose Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic, and Marcus Camby into free agency if they want to stand by their pledge to maximize cap space. If the draft were to take place today the Rockets would draft in the 15th, 21st, and 42nd spot. I tend to trust nbadraft.net’s mocks and as it stands we would be drafting Moe Harkless, Jeffrey Taylor, and Mike Scott. This would leave the Rockets with two SF’s drafted and a PF. If I am the GM, on draft night, I am shopping Kevin Martin and Luis Scola heavily. I am looking to move up in this draft with an eye towards Jared Sullinger, Jeremy Lamb, or just stay put and draft Tyler Zellers at 15.
Jeremy Lamb – Gives us someone to replace Kevin Martin with and I feel that he’ll be someone we can build around. I have faith in the kid and think he can develop into a good defender. Does he need bulk? Yea, but doesn’t mean you can’t use quickness on defense.
Jared Sullinger – In the time I’ve watched him play, he’s 6’10" and we can slot him at the PF. We’re loaded on PF’s but I don’t think we’re loaded on PF’s we could build around. Sullinger is one of them.
Tyler Zellers – He’s one ugly son of a bitch but I like what he brings to the table. It can never hurt to have a young center on your roster and he’s showing some good things at UNC. I’ll happily draft him at 15.
If Kevin Martin and Luis Scola remain, I don’t think this team is going to be able to do much in free agency. Paired around someone like Roy Hibbert (Max offer I’d extend is 12 million a year for Hibbert) they’re good but I have my doubts about Scola and Martin, when healthy and playing doesn’t contribute much outside of scoring and I’m sorry but I need more from my players. If the Rockets are hesitant to move Kyle Lowry, then we’re not going after Deron Williams because you don’t spend Lowry’s money on a back up and then drop the money on Williams. I think what’s more likely is that the Rockets are holding out to trade and take on an albatross contract.
Atlanta loses a guy who wants out and gets out from under Williams’s contract and gets Scola, a man who can start in Smith’s stead, Patrick Patterson, a young prospect on a cheap contract, and the Mavericks Pick to turn that into anyone they want. Smith will field better offers but I think you could do worse. The Rockets would take on 9 million dollars in salary for 2012 by doing this deal but ultimately shed Scola’s backloaded contract and save 20 million.
The Hornets get something in return for Eric Gordon, a guy they can try to sell with Kyle Lowry and Marcus Morris along with cap space via Dalembert’s contract. Houston gets their hands on a young, premier SG/PG and a defensive 3 they’re familiar with in Ariza. Granted, there’s probably some vitriol hanging out there. Rockets would take on salary depending on the terms of Eric Gordon’s deal.
Minnesota gets to move a guy in Adelman’s doghouse (Milicic) who is a perfectly serviceable center and jettison some dead weight I believe in (Johnson) and swap their Jazz pick (The 13th if the draft happened today) to pick at 15 and pick up the shooting guard they want that Adelman is familiar with. Part of this hinges on the severity of Kevin’s shoulder. With the 13th pick you take Kendall Marshall. I like the way he runs the game and he’s a big point guard at 6’4". I feel like he can develop a shot to round out his game but he does everything I want in a point guard. The best part is the Rockets actually SAVE money in this deal for the season.
Re-sign Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee.
Any leftover FA money gets spent on bolstering the 4/5, see what Kaman or Camby asks. If 12-15 million is left floating around, I say make a turbo-charged offer to Hibbert and dare Indiana to match.
Fire the strength and conditioning staff, kidnap the staff from Phoenix.
The end result is that Houston would have undergone a dramatic makeover but isn’t that what it will take to get this team set? A line up as shown above consists of either high quality young guys on good contracts, guys who want to be in Houston, expiring deals, or guys locked in for 2-4 years anyhow. If Houston wants longevity to compete the S&T of Gordon gives us a young player to build around, Smith has openly admitted to wanting to play in Houston, Dragic has won me over as a starter, Motiejunas can get acclimated to the NBA, and Marshall could develop into our little floor general and make Dragic expendable eventually. To clarify, he’s not a franchise player in my eyes, so let us skip over the "but you say nothing good ever comes of the 14th pick!"
I was told I didn’t have to go into specifics and I feel like this kind of housecleaning is unrealistic, but if you want to be aggressive enough, I don’t feel I can put anything past Daryl Morey. The Rockets have some wiggle room and financial flexibility this summer truly helps that. I feel like there are willing trade partners out there and that the Rockets brass can find them. I know this team is redeemable without having to settle and I know there are better avenues for the Rockets to compete without having to tank. It is my sincere hope that the Rockets can turn this around quickly. In a perfect world deals would be as simple as the NBA Trade machine. I sincerely feel as though my proposals aren’t that far out of the realm of possibility individually. Orchestrating an offseason like this, however, would be damn near impossible
I hope this puts to rest any concerns over what my proposed direction of the team is. I feel that we need to use the resources we’ve acquired and stop talking about them. Stop overvaluing players and detach ourselves from sentimentality. At the end of the day, I want a banner in Houston, not "scrappy but gone" from the first round of the playoffs. I want a team that wins now and competes for a title tomorrow, not a playoff spot. If it takes a year or two of growing pains to do so, I am fine with that. I think we could turn it around very quickly if my proposals could happen. If the arduous and lonely road of losing to win happens, I will welcome it because I know with a few years of losses comes the talent you need to win. I hope this was what was requested of me.