We are only a few days away from the 2023 NBA draft, and of course, the Houston Rockets have another high draft pick this off-season with the number four overall pick. That, however, is only one part of this all-important off-season. For the first time in years, the Rockets will be looking to spend money in the free-agent market.
When you are the team with the most cap space in the NBA, north of $60 million, you will be involved with every free agent from James Harden to Landry Shamet. That has been the case for the Rockets, and the latest rumors have involved high-dollar veteran point guards at the top of the free-agent markets. The Rockets have been rumored in possible free agent deals for Harden, Kyrie Irving, and the latest, Fred VanVleet.
The rumors started to heat up when a report showed that new head coach Ime Udoka prefers a veteran point guard. Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype writes:
New Rockets coach Ime Udoka is believed to covet a veteran point guard, according to league sources, and VanVleet is among a wide list of targets for Houston this offseason.
The Rockets have officially moved to phase two of their rebuild. They are looking to improve significantly from the previous three seasons, but that doesn't necessarily mean they need to spend big money on any free agent this off-season, especially a guard approaching 30 years old. Here is why the Rockets should not overspend this free agency period on any point guard, especially VanVleet.
Why signing VanVleet or any big-name point guard to a long-term deal is a mistake
As I mentioned earlier, the Rockets’ front office and new coach Ime Udoka expect the team to be improved this season beyond being one of the worst teams in the league. The Rockets have had the worst or near the worst record for three seasons running.
Even with the higher expectations, the Rockets are not at the point where a player like VanVleet is needed. Dont get me wrong, VanVleet is outstanding. He could be the missing piece on a championship-contending team like the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. VanVleet is not the type of player, especially entering his 30s, that a young team like the Rockets could benefit from.
A player like VanVleet can be an excellent complimentary player but is not the playmaker coach Ime Udoka is looking for next season. The most assist VanVleet has averaged in his career, to be fair, was last season when he averaged 7.2 assists on a team with Pascal Siakam and Scotty Barnes. Is a little over 7 assists enough to warrant paying a soon-to-be 30-year-old point guard north of $30 million a season?
The Rockets are at least a year or two away from seriously competing for a top playoff spot in the Western Conference. This upcoming season would be a success if they even compete for a play-in spot. That should be their goal for this season. Tying up $30-plus million a year for three or more years in VanVleet is not a smart basketball or business decision.
VanVleet also shot under 40 percent from the field, something he has done two times in three seasons, and he has never shot higher than 41.3 percent in any season. He has been a decent three-point shooter, but that also dipped last season as he only shot 34.2 percentfrom the field, the worst of his career. If the Rockets were to sign VanVleet to a long-term deal, he would be 33 or 34 and making over $30 million a season. That is a recipe for disaster when it comes to your cap.
It's not just VanVleet the Rockets should stay away from this off-season. It is Harden and Irving as well. Again, all of these players are good to great and would make the Rockets better immediately, but how much better and good enough to warrant four years at max money is another story. If the Rockets were further along in their rebuild, you would absolutely consider bringing in a former All-Star, but the Rockets are not there yet.
The Rockets should be cautious with their cap space and look to players like Josh Hart, Seth Curry or even go after Mike Conley, who is in the last year of his deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Conley is in his mid-30s but would be more willing to come off the bench if the Rockets draft Amen Thompson.
The Rockets need to play it safe with their cap space and not tie up big money for veteran free agents on a long-term contract. We saw what happens when you sign star-level players again on a rebuilding team. It usually doesn't end well. Just ask the Washington Wizards.