Personnel Moves in Store for the Houston Rockets?

Jan 2, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after a play during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Could any personnel changes make the Rockets even more dangerous?

Many agree that the creation of super teams is negatively impacting the NBA and creating a lack of parity in the league. One way this could be fixed would be removing max contracts. As a result, players deserving of max contracts would easily surpass the current max with their market value.

Players like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, etc. wouldn’t be able to have another star on their team. This would create more depth in the league. However, we live in an era of basketball where it seems as that having one superstar alone, is not enough.

Daryl Morey has been known to want to build a roster containing two or three superstars with the goal of bringing Houston a title. He did so when he signed Dwight Howard to pair up with Harden, looking for the dangerous one-two punch. Things were going well so, he looked at the options of adding Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. This caused Chandler Parsons to flee to Dallas.

However, this year Morey has done something even better than just signing another superstar to pair with Harden. He reinforced his “Moreyball” method and created an incredible system alongside coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive scheme. James Harden is arguably one of the toughest players to guard in the league. Eric Gordon is re-emerging as a potential All-Star and Sixth Man of the Year with his stellar three-point shooting.

Teams crash and burn at the sight of a James Harden pick and roll because they don’t know how to space their defense correctly. If one little mistake is made, you can be sure that someone is going to be open on the perimeter. If not, Harden will be taking the man who switched, straight to the hole.

To say the least, it has been an exciting year for Houston fans as they watch their Rockets storm the league with their offensive prowess and the Beard’s historic numbers. So, what is the next step for the Rockets? What’s going to make them a “legitimate contender”?

I’ve created some fun trade and free agency scenarios that would supplement the team’s potential need for a big man during the Clint Capela’s absence.

Jan 2, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Montrezl Harrell (5) dunks the ball as Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most logical thing for the Rockets to do is to make no moves whatsoever.

Ever since Clint Capela’s injury, the Rockets have been able to remain strong and on the same course they have had this season. This is partly due to the fact that bench players are stepping up big-time.

Nene Hilario and especially Montrezl Harrell have been able to fill the center position well for the Rockets in since Capela has been sidelined, especially Harrell. On the season, Harrell has averaged 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds a game. However, ever since the Minnesota Timberwolves game where Capela was injured, Harrell has averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Most noteworthy, was when he scored 29 in a game versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Harrell is a young player with a lot of upside.

FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO NBA player projection system identifies similar players throughout NBA history and uses them to develop a probabilistic forecast of what a current NBA player’s future might look like.

It’s hard to predict Montrezl Harrell’s because the CARMELO system requires a player to have been in the league a certain amount of years. Due to Harrell being in his second year, he has not yet met this criteria. However, for the time being, they have Josh Boone (New Jersey Nets) in his 2007-08 year as the most similar player to Harrell. If this is accurate, Harrell’s future may not be looking too bright, but I disagree with this. He’s athletic, he moves well off the ball, and he can play above the rim.

These are all factors that can assist James Harden and the Houston Rockets in their fast-paced offense. I have no doubt that Montrezl Harrell will be able to keep us his level of play; moreover, prove himself as a solid role player in this league.

Apr 13, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Sacramento Kings center Kosta Koufos (41) dribbles against Houston Rockets forward Clint Capela (15) in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 116 to 81. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

There has been talk of the Rockets making trades, and doing so could add much needed rim protection to the roster.

There’s a lot of talk about the Rockets being in the market for a big man. If their front office decides that a trade is necessary and moves need to be made, they would probably need to make sure they didn’t dispose of any valuable pieces.

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This move is a good one to think about. As the media has discussed the Rockets interest in Kosta Koufos, I believe that it would benefit the Rockets a great deal. I’m a big fan of his game and the way he plays his role as a big.

He can protect the rim well, he can crash the boards, and he would be a great roll man for James Harden’s dangerous pick-and-roll. He would qualify as a big that doesn’t need to be ball dominant and would fit well into the Mike D’Antoni’s offense. This year, he is averaging 6.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest playing alongside DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein.

To acquire Kosta, the Rockets would have to give away some young pieces that the Sacramento Kings would use to build around Cousins. The Kings are looking to extend Cousins’ contract to over $200 million this summer.

Any other bigs worth trading for would make Houston have to give up some critical players in order for the aggregate outgoing salaries to be similar. Kosta would be the best option in my opinion, but this is strictly hypothetical. Therefore, I think they should keep utilizing Montrezl and wait for Capela’s return for the remainder of the regular season.

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) takes the ball to the basket during the first quarter as Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) defends in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If Morey decides to hold off during the season, his team could be an attractive destination for free agents this summer.

This summer, the Rockets will be able to keep their players that are important to the team’s impact. However, Bobby Brown, Tyler Ennis, K.J. McDaniels, and Nene may be looking for a change of scenery this coming 2017 offseason. Brown, Ennis, and Nene will be free agents at the end of this season. McDaniels’ fate will be determined by whether the Rockets decide to exercise their team option or not.

These players salaries combine for a total of $8.6 million. Furthermore, the increase in the salary cap would give them another $8 million. In total, they would be around $15 million under the $102 million league cap. This would be a great opportunity for the Rockets to sign free agents who could provide valuable roles in their roster.

Free Agent Options

Blake Griffin

As much as I dislike Blake Griffin, he could provide a lot of value to a fast-paced Rocket offense. It seems like Griffin will be looking for big money this coming offseason, so in order for him to come to Houston he would probably have to be willing to take a pay cut.

His ability to run the floor would be great in transition as he would catch lobs just like in Los Angeles. The Clippers run a lot of pick-and-rolls with Chris Paul and Griffin performed very well as a roll man. Having his ability as a roll man with Harden as the ball-handler could be a dangerous combination. As a result, the Rockets could even try to run a small lineup and have Griffin at the center position.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka would be able to play a good role for Houston. On the offensive end, he spreads the floor and has been improving his jumper. On the defensive end, he could prove to be an anchor for the Rockets around the rim. Additionally, his athleticism and rebounding ability would be great assets to the team. He is averaging 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and is shooting 37.9% from three-point range.

These are just two of many free agents this coming summer. Also, when you look at how much money the Rockets have, the free agents available, and the types of players they’re trying to find, it is difficult to find the perfect match.

It could turn out to be a quiet offseason and the Rockets. They could ultimately decide to bring back some of the earlier mentioned role players.

Frankly, it’s a great feeling to see Houston in a good position and as a top team in the NBA.

They have a good roster for their system. They also have a lot of flexibility in the pieces they are looking to move or acquire. It will be interesting to see what Morey comes up with when he decides it is time to make moves.

The Houston Rockets are poised to make a deep playoff run, but they could be even better. Through the years, Morey has earned the fans’ trust. Whatever he decides to do, it’ll most likely be the right choice.

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