The Houston Rockets will have enough cap space to add contributors to their rotation for next season. Who are some needs they have in free agency?
The Houston Rockets ended their 2016-17 season in extremely disappointing fashion with a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinals series. However, that shouldn’t take away from the entire season as a whole for Houston.
The Rockets bounced back both on and off the court this past season, going from 41 wins in 2015-16 to 55 wins while getting a lot of media praise. The 2016-17 campaign was a far cry from the drama ridden, effort-lacking 2015-16 season.
All of this is to say that unlike in the 2016 free agency period, the Rockets could very well be a team that players look to in order to contend for sustained postseason success. Of course, the Rockets don’t have a significant amount of cap space, but they will have the ability to sign a key rotation player this summer.
The Rockets can have about $11 million in cap space this summer, and the only free agent from the rotation will be Nene, who, as a combination of his age, injury history, and desire to stay in Houston, could very return on a cheap deal.
Of course, Daryl Morey could decide to make trades to free up cap space if he believes he has a real shot at landing a star like Gordon Hayward, but that seems unlikely. Regardless, for a team that is contending, the Rockets have a comfortable amount of cap space to improve their team this summer. With that being said, what should Houston be looking to do in free agency?
Improve wing depth
On the Rockets, Trevor Ariza is the only true wing capable of being a 3-and-D player. Of course, Ariza’s shooting fell off this season (just 34.4 percent on threes), and his defense is slipping as he gets older. That is why it is important for the Rockets to sign a capable, backup wing to lessen Ariza’s role in the regular season.
Sam Dekker is more of a power forward in Mike D’Antoni‘s system, where his 32.1 percent three-point shooting isn’t as much of a problem. Unless Dekker improves his shooting in the offseason, he will be slated as a stretch-4 next season, leaving the small forward position very thin in Houston.
Miles has a player option that he will decline in all likelihood, and would give Houston another shooter on the wing (he shot 41.6 percent on threes this season). Miles is not known for his defense by any means, but he is not a complete walkover on that end of the floor. Plus, Miles can slot in to the starting five in small lineups, further maximizing the Rockets’ offensive firepower.
P.J. Tucker is an unrestricted free agent and will most likely be left out of the equation as the Toronto Raptors must spend to keep Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka (along with Patrick Patterson). Tucker slots in more as a backup 4, where his shooting is more of a benefit to the offense.
Tucker is also a good defender, posting a 1.9 defensive box plus-minus and 1.77 defensive real plus-minus last season. Tucker would provide the Rockets with more depth at both small and power forward, while giving Houston a true lockdown defender in certain matchups.
Finally, Ingles is a restricted free agent that the Utah Jazz will most likely want to retain. Ingles is coming off his best season in the NBA, as he shot an incredible 44.1 percent on threes and was good on both ends of the floor.
Ingles posted a 1.8 defensive box plus-minus, and was 13th in the league in overall real plus-minus this season. Ingles is the most complete wing of the three discussed, but he would undoubtedly come at the highest price, one the Rockets may not be able to afford.
In the end, there are several options the Rockets can (and should) pursue in order to improve their wing depth.
Search for a rim protector
This need isn’t as drastic, as the Rockets have Clint Capela and in all likelihood Nene returning next season alongside Montrezl Harrell. That means the Rockets’ rotation at center will be crowded again next season, and even then the team lacks a mobile rim protector.
Capela showed flashes of excellent rim protection in the playoffs, but he hasn’t been able to sustain such performance throughout the course of a season.
That is where a mobile rim protector like Dewayne Dedmon would slot in nicely. Dedmon is mobile enough to switch the pick-and-roll and is able to scare away guards from driving to the rim.
This season Dedmon posted a 3.2 defensive box plus-minus and was second in the league among centers in defensive real-plus minus at 3.98. The man can defend. For that reason, he will command a pretty penny this summer, making it difficult for Houston to sign him.
A cheaper option at center would be Aron Baynes, who posted a defensive box plus-minus of 1.1 this season and was 10th in the league among centers in defensive real plus-minus at 2.93. He could slot in as a situational rim protector/defender at center.
If the Rockets can improve their wing depth and add a somewhat mobile rim protector, their hopes of longer playoff success can become a reality next season.