With the NBA set to resume on July 30, the league is encouraging teams to sign replacement players amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 22 teams participating in the start-up are permitted to sign free-agents or convert two-way players into full NBA contracts. The only restriction — teams can only sign players who were on an NBA roster during the 2019-20 season prior to the suspension.
Now with the growing concern that a variety of players will decline the Disney invitation, the league has granted more leeway on how teams can reconstruct their roster. Instead of the traditional 15-man roster, each team can sign up to 17 players ahead of the NBA restart.
Sources: The NBA is planning to allow teams to bring up to 17 players per roster (including two-ways) into the resumed season. Previous estimate was 15-player limit.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 11, 2020
Although this is more of a precaution given the anomalous state of the world, the Houston Rockets should look to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their chances of winning an NBA title come mid-October. With several talented players available in the free agency pool, here is a look at three potential targets the Rockets should consider adding to their 2020 roster.
Best available free agent: DeMarcus Cousins
The past 24 months have been brutal for DeMarcus Cousins. Once the NBA’s best big man by popular belief, Cousins went from a guaranteed max contract with the Pelicans in 2018 to unemployed following his release from the Lakers in February. Injuries have derailed what could have been a Hall-Of-Fame career, but if healthy, Cousins may be the most significant addition to improve any team’s chances to win a title — especially for the Rockets.
Houston would be during themselves a disservice by not considering the four-time All-Star. Cousins is still the most talented player in the free agency pool and can provide Houston with enough size to battle the likes of Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic — should they cross the Rockets’ path en route to the NBA Finals. Small ball may rule the day, but wouldn’t it be nice to have the option to go big if needed? The playoffs are all about matchups.
In addition, the main factor that gave Houston the comfortability to trade Clint Capela and commit to small-ball was the play of Russell Westbrook. The nine-time All-Star was at his best when surrounded by a myriad of 3-point shooters to provide unlimited floor space when attacking the basket.
Unlike Capela, Boogie is far from the traditional center. At his best, he shot 35.4% from deep demonstrating he has the potential to stretch the floor. As the ideal big modern-day big man, Cousins could be the x-factor to push the Rockets over the edge inside the Disney World Resorts.
The Wild Card: Iman Shumpert
Houston cannot afford to lose either of their best perimeter defenders in Orlando. Should they be forced to play an extended amount of time without the likes of Robert Covington, Eric Gordon or Danuel House, it’s a guarantee the Rockets will not be returning to Houston with the Larry O’Brien trophy in their possession. DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green are around to help, but should the Rockets make a move to add some extra assistance to their defensive core, it would be in Houston’s best interest to reunite with Iman Shumpert.
When Shumpert was acquired in a trade deadline deal last February, the Georgia Tech prodigy did not make an impact in Houston. In 2019, he only appeared in 20 games for the Rockets, averaging 19.1 minutes of play due to his limitations on the offensive end. However, Shumpert is still the best defensive player in the free agency pool and re-established himself as a supreme lockdown defender with the Brooklyn Nets.
While recording 12 steals in 13 games played, Shumpert made a significant impact on the Nets’ defense. Brooklyn averaged a 106.0 defensive net rating when Shumpert was on the floor, an immense increase prior to his arrival at the start of the season (111.3 DEFRTG).
As a swiss army defender who can guard multiple positions, a reunion with Shumpert has the potential to make the Rockets one of the best defensive teams heading into the bubble.
Best Fit: Gerald Green
Iman Shumpert is not the only former player the Rockets should consider reuniting with ahead of the restart in Orlando.
The last time I spoke with Gerald Green, the Houston native was on the verge of a full recovery from his broken foot and excited about the possibility of rejoining the team for a post-season run. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, the Rockets traded Green in a four-team deal to acquire Rob Covington — where the Nuggets then waived the high-flying swingman in February.
Fast forward to today, there is no doubt Green is ready to return to the court. He is one of a handful of players in the free agency pool who can provide a team with instant offense coming off the bench, especially given his ability to score from beyond the arc — shooting a career 36.1% from deep.
If the Rockets were to expand their roster, Green would be their most suitable option. As a vital contributor to Houston’s success over the past two seasons, Green has already illustrated he can thrive within Mike D’Antoni’s system, and his reunion would be the best insurance policy should anything happen to Covington, Gordon or House.