The Houston Rockets are heading into the All-Star break sitting fifth in the Western Conference with a 34-20 record. And with 28 games remaining in the regular season, the Rockets could use another piece or two in their quest to be a serious contender.
Unable to make any further moves via trade due to the passing of the deadline, the Rockets can continue to improve their roster through the buyout market — a strategy in which Daryl Morey has consistently utilized to the best of his ability over the past few years.
With two roster spots available, Houston is seeking to add additional depth to their team, but most notably at the center position.
Although adding size to this ball club is much-needed, it is a feat that may be a little too difficult for the Rockets to accomplish due to their full commitment to small(er)-ball, as they have strayed away from the transitional big man role.
Yet, despite their most recent success, adding a player who can help solve the Rockets’ lack of size while still maintaining the small-ball flexibility should be Morey’s top priority in his attempt to make any last-minute amendments ahead of the playoffs.
The main objective that went into the Rockets’ decision to commit to small-ball was to create more floor spacing for the likes of Russell Westbrook. Without a big clogging up the lane, it has given the All-Star guard more freedom to attack the basket, as Westbrook has averaged 34.0 points per game since Mike D’Antoni made the change nearly three weeks ago.
For a team that is currently running a five-out offense, it is rare to find a 7-foot-1 center who can consistently shoot the 3-ball at a substantial rate — unless his name is Dragan Bender.
At 22-years-old, Bender was recently waived by the Bucks in order to make room for the newly required Marvin Williams. Although he has not lived up to his 2016 pre-draft comparison to Dirk Nowitzki, Bender’s ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc would make him a great addition to the Rockets.
In a small sample size during his short stint in Milwaukee, Bender proved he can stretch the floor on the offensive end, shooting 44.4% from deep. While spending most of his time with the Bucks’ G-League affiliate team, the Wisconsin Herd, he averaged 20.5 points while shooting 38.4% from 3-point range.
Although Bender would not make any contributions in helping the Rockets improve their play on the defensive end, his size could make it tough for any opposition to score from the inside when helping on the weak side next to P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington.
Last season, the Rockets managed to steal the services of Kenneth Faried following a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets. Despite not playing for over a month due to the lack of interest, the Morehead State prodigy thrived in half a season last year, as he averaged 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds — proving he still had a lot left in the tank.
For Morey to strike Déjà vu twice in the same market a year later, Jeff Green could pose as a potential option for the Rockets moving forward.
Similar to Covington, Green is a 3-and-D forward that could slide into whatever role is asked and excel. He was waived by the Jazz in late-December after averaging a career-low 7.8 points and 2.8 rebounds over 29 games this season.
His best game came in a blowout loss to the Raptors, where Green recorded 19 points (6-11 FG) and two steals in 15 minutes.
At this stage of his career, Green isn’t what he used to be, but he can bring an edge to the team while adding some versatility. With Covington in the starting lineup, he can be the continuation of the Rockets’ primary perimeter stopper of the second until, similar to the days of Trevor Ariza giving way to Luc Mbah a Moute during the 2018 season.
In a deal that sent Marcus Morris to the Los Angeles Clippers, it remains to be seen what will happen to Maurice Harkless as a member of the New York Knicks. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Knicks have expressed interest in participating in a buyout with Harkless, but the New York native is living a dream to play for his hometown team.
With the option still on the table, it’s more likely than not that Harkless will take the buyout in hopes of joining a contender. If the two parties decide to part ways, the Rockets should be one of several teams inquiring about his services.
For many of the reasons listed for Jeff Green (above), Harkless would be a tremendous addition for the Rockets, but at 26-years-old, he is younger and has not reached his full potential.
While standing 6’9”, Harkless would add some much-needed size to Houston’s lineup, but most importantly, would give the Rockets an additional defender who possesses the capability to guard positions one through five.
And for a team who’s defensive scheme is to switch everything off their opponents pick-and-roll, Harkless is the ideal player who can shift from guarding LeBron James atop the perimeter, to Anthony Davis down on the low-post.
Despite shooting a career 32% from the outside, Harkless’ 3-point shooting has seen some improvement this season, as the St. John prodigy shot 37.0% in 50 games for the Clippers this year.
A solid defender who can shoot the 3-ball while providing some size, the potential addition of Harkless may be enough to get the Rockets over the hump en route to that elusive championship title.