The Houston Rockets head into the offseason with a new coach, Mike D’Antoni, and a lot of things to figure out.
Houston was a major disappointment this season, as they finished the season at 41-41. The Rockets did make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, though they were bounced from the Western Conference playoffs for the third time during that stretch.
Houston was the fourth-highest scoring team in the league, averaging 106.5 points a game, but struggled mightily on the defensive end; the Rockets finished 25th in the league, as they allowed 106.4 points a contest. Houston was also 20th in the league in rebounding, 16th in assists, 19th in three-point shooting and tied for the league lead in turnovers with Boston.
Top 2015-16 dunks ⬆️????https://t.co/A4N5LGXu8p
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) May 12, 2016
Houston currently has eight players with guaranteed contracts for next season, along with two others with non-guaranteed deals: Michael Beasley and Andrew Goudelock. Veteran center Dwight Howard has a $23.28 million dollar player option for the 2016-17 season that he is not expected to exercise. However, Rockets free agent-to-be Jason Terry told Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson on SiriusXM NBA Radio that it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Howard would leave Houston.
“I wouldn’t rule (a return) out. He has yet to opt out. Again, it’s just going to depend on if you get the right coach in there. At this point in his career, he’s not going to be the focal point offensively. They’ve made that clear. He’s gonna have to, if he remains in Houston, buy into the role fully, commit himself to setting screens, rebounding, running the floor, blocking shots and working on his free throws, obviously.”
Veteran Josh Smith, who returned to Houston in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers in January, is also slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Terrence Jones ($3.5 million) and Donatas Motiejunas ($4.4 million) will be restricted free agents, if they are tendered a qualifying offer.
Depending on what Howard does, and what the team decides to do with the four players with non-guaranteed contracts, Houston is expected to have between $12 to $44 million in cap space, according to Basketball Insiders. The Rockets do not have a first round selection this season, due to the Ty Lawson trade, though they do have two second round picks — No. 37 and No. 43.
If Howard does indeed opt out of his contract, the Rockets will need to replace him with a quality big man, perhaps Al Horford as rumored. Otherwise, the Rockets should go hard after a backup point guard and a backup power forward that can shoot, according to Kevin P. Smith of Real GM. Smith added that both Beasley and Goudelock will likely be back, and that Houston will probably tender qualifying offers to Motiejunas as well as to Jones, given their small cap holds.
Beasley was excellent in his 20-game stint with the Rockets this past season after coming over from China. The 6-foot-10 forward produced one double-double and averaged 12.8 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor.
Jones was inconsistent this past season. The 24-year-old power forward tallied double-figures in 21 of his 50 games, but he also had several DNP — coach’s decision. In addition, he also did not record a double-double for the first time in his career. Jones, who is extremely talented, averaged 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting a career-low 45.2 percent from the field. Fansided expects the Washington Wizards to express an interest in Jones.
Motiejunas was limited to 37 games this past season as a result of injuries. The 7-footer averaged 6.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.8 minutes of action.
Houston will likely pursue some of the big-name free agents – Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, and Horford among others — in an attempt to find someone to fit in with James Harden. Landing Horford is the Rockets top goal this offseason, per Sean Deveney of the Sporting News.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) May 11, 2016
If they can’t land any top tier free agents, Houston could go after point guards Brandon Jennings and Jerryd Bayless as backups to Patrick Beverley, as Smith noted. For help in the front court, the Rockets could pursue Ryan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic. Other possibilities include Marvin Williams, Jeff Green, Derrick Williams, Marreese Speights, and Al Jefferson.
Jennings struggled this season for the both the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. He is a shoot first point guard though he is a good distributor. The 26-year old appeared in just 48 games, producing his worst stat lines of his career.
Bayless, like Jennings, is a more of a scorer than playmaker, which would suit the Rockets just fine as Beverley is not much of a factor on the offensive end at all. The 27-year-old is only a 41.5 percent shooter for his career though he did make a career-high 43.7 percent from beyond the arc last year.
Anderson is one of the best stretch-4s in the league today. He had a nice bounce back season this past year, averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 36.6 percent on three-pointers. The 28-year-old is also not a strong defender or rebounder.
Teletovic had his best season of his 4-year career. The 30-year-old, who can stretch the floor with his shooting, averaged 12.2 points and made 2.3 triples a game in 2015-16.
Marvin Williams had his best season since the 2008-09 season last year with the Charlotte Hornets. The soon-to-be 30-year-old averaged 11.2 points along with 6.4 rebounds while shooting 40.2 percent from the three-point line. Williams has made over 46 percent of his three-point attempts from the corner the past two years.
Green struggled last season with the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies last year. The 29-year-old combo forward can score but is a below average three-point shooter.
Derrick Williams had a fantastic season with the New York Knicks last year but is not a threat beyond the line, either is Jefferson or Speights.
Bleacher Report believes Miami Heat free agent Luol Deng would be a great fit with the Rockets.
Houston had a lot of chemistry problems this past season. Still, J.A. Adande of ESPN reports that free agents will be more likely to consider Houston because of D’Antoni’s history of helping his players land big contracts.
D’Antoni comes to the Rockets after spending the last year-and-a-half with the Philadelphia 76ers as the associate head coach. The 65-year-old has a 455-426 career record in 12 seasons with the Denver Nuggets, Suns, Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers. He has led his teams to six playoff appearances, producing a 26-33 record.
[Photo by Chris Szagola/Associated Press]