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Rockets Decline 2009 Options - Go All in on Free Agency

The deadline for taking up team options on contracts was today (1/25/12) and the Houston Rockets decided not to entertain bringing back any of the 2009 draft collections they have amassed. The Rockets state that the reason for doing so is to acquire as much cap space as possible this summer. It seems like the Rockets are going all in on free agency and we’ve been through this song and dance before. This works out since I was going to do a "State of the Rockets Address." Not trying to cut in on OAL’s article but why not have multiple views, eh? After the jump we’ll look at the implications in this move but what you need to know will be above the jump:

Jordan Hill, Hasheem Thabeet, Johnny Flynn, and Terrence Williams will become Unrestricted Free Agents, Courtney Lee will be a Restricted Free Agent. The Rockets will acquire 16 million dollars in additional cap space bringing their total cap bill to 42 million dollars. If they don’t bring back Courtney Lee that number expands to 39 million for 19 million in savings. After the jump, for confirmation via Twitter, click the link.



Houston finds itself at 10-7 just outside the 8th place in the Western Conference Playoffs (if they were to start today). Houston is locked up with plenty of other teams battling for that last spot and with any luck on this homestand they can continue to move up in the standings. There is some peril in letting guys know they’re unemployed at the end of the season, at least with their current ball club. I can’t say none of this news is really shocking. Williams, Flynn, and Thabeet haven’t been part of the rotation (justified or not is up for debate) and announcing to them that they won’t be extended won’t impact on the court performance but carries a locker room caveat. In regards to Jordan Hill his production has been spotty but what can ya do, his position got swapped on the fly and it’s not like he has had too long to hammer down Center reliably. Either way, he’s a rotational player and letting him know his contract is going to go to the wayside so the team can TRY to pursue a free agent in the summer will likely impact him.

The Immediate Future:

What do you do with these guys? Williams has been well put together on Twitter about the whole ordeal. Johnny Flynn’s situation has been in freefall since he was drafted and Thabeet actually looked to be getting it. I doubt any of these guys would be cancerous in the locker room but a concern that was never there before has to at least be considered now. In regards to Jordan, he’s here and his performance is probably gonna drop. The pertinent question to ask yourself in all of this, though, is whether or not the Rockets will try to move him at the deadline. You certainly can see some value as expiring deals but you got rid of their value as a player since you can sign them off the free agent market. They’ve been known they are purely expiring contracts now and any team remotely interested in them now has no excuse to make an offer for that player. The only one of actual import is Courtney Lee who could garner interest based on consistent production and still then, he’ll be a restricted free agent.

Long Term:

This is where I am most confused by all of this. It seems to me that I would rather hold on to a couple of the guys destined to go to the wayside and there’s too much uncertainty in the Courtney Lee situation to see this as 100% viable. The outward explanation is that the Rockets want maximum cap flexibility to spend this summer. Given history and Houston’s attractiveness as a free agent destination I feel comfortable saying we’ll be spending a lot of money on middling talent this summer. I know I’m the guy who also felt like if we got Rondo we could try to make him the basis of a pitch to Howard but when it comes to star appeal the marketing department and the NBA needs to get on Lowry to bolster his marketability for this franchise. I feel like allowing all of these players to walk is putting the team in a fine place to come away empty this offseason and tell the fans "We tried!" Forgive me for being pessimist but looking over the 2012 free agency list I don’t see too much as marquee outside of Howard and Williams, which as Mike pointed out earlier could be the endgame attempt.

There is a possibility of trying to be available as a salary dump in a sign and trade but we’re depleting the roster anyway. I’m just confused as to how viable the front office really thinks this strategy is unless they’ve been in talks with some teams already. Houston will approach 2012-2013’s season with either 16 million or 19 million dollars to fling at the feet of whichever free agent they feel most inclined towards. The question is which free agent will tickle the fancy of the organization and how much will he be worth? Certainly tons of money can spur some foolhardy spending (See: Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay) but given the NBA’s current salary floor we have to ask "If free agents show no inclination towards Houston in the past, what can we possibly be thinking is good about going all in with only a few worthwhile free agents?"

My Take:

By all means I would have been more enthused to see Williams and Hill retained. The Rockets aren’t likely to attract Dwight Howard and this board can argue forever about whether or not you ship out Lowry for Williams or whatever. As far as I’m concerned, I feel like Jordan Hill could have been a solid contributor since he’s getting consistent minutes to keep developing. He’s shown improvement this season steadily. Some people want him to be a stud already but expectations need to be tempered around that pesky "context" thing people like to cruise past. I also was a fan of how Williams ran the second unit and as soon as he was pulled from it we started noticing lethargy and a penchant for giving away big leads in the second half. He rebounded well and executed the half court offense (Something Dragic is better suited as a scorer in than a PG).

For the season, I am coming to the point that I see how this team is a playoff team, 7th or 8th, which sends our draft pick to New Jersey. The addition of Samuel Dalembert did a lot to remedy the team’s biggest need, a Center. I know we all loved Chuck Hayes but you can’t teach 6’11" and Chuck was never going to block and intimidate the way Sammy D does. These moves open up room on the roster, make it apparent the organization has nothing but faith in Patrick Patterson, and thinks Marcus Morris will pay dividends. I guess my question is what is the contingency plan if it doesn’t pan out? Budinger is our back up 3 for reasons that are beyond me when Williams showed more production and impact in the 2nd unit than he has but here we are.

So for me I think the Rockets actually are giving up a couple of known commodities (That I don’t think were properly used) for the hope of defying history and what some would construe as common sense to land a big ticket free agent. If they whiff on the free agent, they are going to be forced to spend money on people who most likely won’t deserve their paychecks. I’m at once confused as to why we’re going all in on free agency when we tend not to come away with a big name, understanding as to why the guys who won’t get extended aren’t getting it, and a bit concerned as to the state of the Rockets if we whiff in the free agent market. Trade exceptions aren’t really the big thing and unless the RFA class is a beauty, it’s going to be tough to pry much out of the market.