NBA free agency is in full swing, but the Houston Rockets are on the outside looking in. Arguably, that’s exactly where they ought to be.
The Rockets’ rotation is, for the most part, filled out. In all likelihood, they’re not going to make any major splashes this summer, even as some of us (i.e., me) dream of a three-way Kevin Durant deal that sends most of the Brooklyn picks away in exchange for Scottie Barnes.
That probably won’t happen. Maybe it shouldn’t. The Rockets may very well be better off staying the course.
Still, that doesn’t preclude them from taking a look at the remaining free agents. Even a flyer on a guy who’s unlikely to crack the regular-season rotation is worth taking. Unlikely is distinctly different from impossible. The Rockets should be aggressively mining for diamonds in the rough at this stage of their rebuild.
Here are a few guys that might shine in a different environment.
Many expected the Rockets to pursue a backup big man in free agency. Slowly, the marquee names have been coming off the board.
Mo Bamba is staying in Orlando. Nic Claxton will remain with Brooklyn. Isaiah Hartenstein, much to our fanbases’ chagrin, is a Knick.
The dream of landing a strong backup for Sengun that’s on the Rockets’ developmental timeline is effectively dead. It feels likely that Usman Garuba will soak up the backup five minutes in small-ball looks. Could the Rockets target a third-string big instead?
If so, Moses Brown could be an intriguing option. At 22, he’d at least have an opportunity to be part of this team’s future.
I’ll be generous and say that Brown is not the most polished player in the NBA. What he is, on the other hand, is a rebounding machine. In 2020-21, Brown averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in just 21.4 minutes per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He’s averaging a whopping 15.75 rebounds per 75 possessions in his career to date. Of course, there’s a reason I’m using per possession stats: Brown doesn’t get a lot of run.
He provides very little on offense. He’s a capable drop coverage defender on defense, but he is, as has become the parlance, barbeque chicken on switches.
He’d also be a third-string big on the Rockets, so all of those concerns are minimal. If his game evolves, the Rockets benefit. If it doesn’t, he’s another body at the end of the bench. There’s no good reason not to snatch Brown up on a small contract.
Unlike with Brown, there’s really nothing in Bonga’s statistical profile one can point to and use to justify signing him. Bonga is a pure upside gamble.
When Bonga came into the league, he was regarded as a point guard. By now, he’s probably a small forward. To the pessimist, that’s a bad sign.
Don’t be a pessimist: it’s bad for your health.
So what if Bonga isn’t the highly-coveted point guard with a wing’s frame? He could be a wing with some point guard skills. In today’s positionless league, that’s still a highly valuable archetype.
Again, we’re looking at a third-string acquisition. Bonga isn’t likely to usurp Tari Eason, let alone Jae’Sean Tate, in Silas’ rotation.
With that said, if he does, it will be for good reason.
I’m going to be honest here: I have not watched Kessler Edwards play very much basketball. If I saw him in public, and even noticed him, it would only be to think “Wow, that kid is tall”.
Like many Rockets fans, I was practically allergic to the Nets last year. I watched them, in the sense that I watched them tumble down the standings in hopes of the Rockets landing a lottery pick through their misfortune.
What I do know is that Edwards is 21. He’s also a strong, athletic combo forward according to the scouting reports I’m shamelessly leaning on to write this. He shot 35.3 percent from distance in 2021-22. That’s not great, but it only needs to trend upwards a little before it’s a good mark.
Plus, something tells me that a little internal competition would suit Tari Eason. He strikes me as the type of guy who’ll thrive with his feet to the fire.
If the Rockets aren’t interested in Edwards, I won’t complain. I hardly even know his game. Still, signing any affordable 21-year-old makes a certain amount of sense for this club.
One of these things, obviously, is not like the other.
Some Rockets fans will bristle at this notion. I get it. The 2013-14 playoffs were traumatizing for all of us.
Sometimes, it’s better to stick with the devil you know.
Of course, the Rockets wouldn’t be landing the same Aldridge that eviscerated them so many years ago. That man is long gone. Instead, they’d be signing a veteran with an immense wealth of NBA experience.
Aldridge has been a franchise player. He’s also watched as a teammate (Lillard) surpassed him on his own team’s pecking order. He’s played in Gregg Popovich’s system. Most recently, he overcame a heart condition to return from a brief retirement.
Whatever any young Rocket is going through, there’s a decent chance Aldridge can relate. He’s also a Texas native (albeit, from Dallas) which is kind of fun.
Functionally, he could also be as good of a third-string big that the Rockets can find this summer. If Aldridge is ready to advance into the veteran mentorship stage of his career, the Rockets should give him the opportunity.
If you had to sign one, who are you taking?
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