Of the many directions the Rockets can take to this offseason (trading Chris Paul, trading Clint Capela, standing pat, etc), potentially “running it back” is far more difficult than one may think.
As I touched on back in March, Danuel House is probably gone this summer. Since the Rockets converted House’s two-way contract to an NBA deal rather than signing him to a three-year deal from what was left in their mid-level exception (which would’ve put them into the luxury tax), the Rockets only have House’s non-Bird Rights. That means that this summer, the Rockets can’t go above the salary cap to sign House and can’t match any offer sheet above the minimum unless they use their mid-level exception— which they’d also probably like to use on Austin Rivers and/or possibly Kenneth Faried.
Additionally, the Rockets currently sit only $8.7 million under the luxury tax line ($132 million) with at least 5 roster spots to fill. So, outside of minimum contracts, cap space is very, very limited this summer.
Therefore, for the second summer in a row, Rockets’ brass will only have limited resources to replace what is essentially their only viable option at small forward outside of three-guard lineups.
To this vein, in his piece earlier this week, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rodney Hood, Garrett Temple and Wesley Matthews as players the Rockets could target with the mid-level exception to fortify their wing rotation.
Surely, the Rockets will explore other options as well. But this list gives fans a look at the kind of player the front office is targeting to put this current roster over the hump. So, let’s explore the viability of these candidates:
Rumours surrounding the Rockets’ interest in acquiring Caldwell-Pope to fill their wing void have been swirling around since before the Danuel House-era, so there’s more than just smoke here. Caldwell-Pope’s value around the league has plummeted in recent years due to the inconsistency in his defense and shooting (career 34.5 percent from three). However, Caldwell-Pope showed enough signs early in his career as a three-and-D contributor to garner maximum contract consideration just years ago. So buying-low on Caldwell-Pope’s talent this summer and attempting to mold it to fit the Rockets’ unique system is far from a pipe dream. If the contract isn’t unreasonable— which, unfortunately, isn’t exactly Klutch agencies’ signature— the Rockets should seriously consider chasing KCP.
With Matthews choosing to sign with the Indiana Pacers over the Rockets following his buyout from the New York Knicks, this seems unlikely. In his decision to join the Pacers, Matthews’ showed that he prioritizes playing more minutes to earn a big contract over competing for a championship. No reason to think he’d choose differently this summer considering the pay cut he’d likely need to take to sign in Houston.
Going into the playoffs, this would’ve been my number one choice on the list. A 37 percent career three-point shooter, Hood is a 26-year-old small forward entering his prime that once averaged 16.8 points per game for half of a season with the Jazz. Put him in the right situation next season, and he could be the league’s steal of the summer. However, coming off an impressive playoffs, Hood reaching near his ceiling doesn’t seem as far fetched as it did even three months ago. That surge, mixed with the Rockets’ limited flexibility, likely means they won’t be able to meet the inflated price for Hood.
This is easily the least-sexy name on the list, but theoretically, Temple is a great fit in Houston. Although he shot a meager 34 percent from three this season, Temple has a reputation as a solid catch-and-shoot guy, finishing above 37 percent in each of the last two seasons. Additionally, Temple is solid perimeter defender and is considered on of the better “locker room guys” in the industry— which is always a plus for a team with lofty aspirations. Naturally a two-guard, signing the 6’6” Temple for cheap and moving him to a full-time small forward would undoubtedly help the Rockets.
So what do you think TDS? Are there any realistic free agent wings that intrigue you outside of these four?