The Houston Rockets have a bunch of important decisions to make this offseason. The team will have to make the right ones if they intend to contend for the Western Conference championship again next season.
The Rockets, who had their surprising season come to an end a couple of days ago, finished with their best regular season record (56-26) since the 1996-1997 season — which was the last time the team reached the Western Conference finals. The Rockets also claimed their first division title since 1993-94.
The Rockets had a terrific playoff run, but that is when their deficiencies truly showed up. They whipped up on their arch-nemesis Dallas Mavericks, winning the series 4-1, and then came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals. The Rockets also took Game 4 of the Golden State series (128-115) before seeing their season come to a crushing end in Game 5 (103-90).
Houston topped the 100-point plateau in 12 of their 17 playoff games and averaged the second-most points among all playoff teams (108.8). However, they struggled mightily on the defensive in all three playoff series. The Rockets gave up 110.6 points a game (second most) and permitted their opponents to surpass the century mark 14 times.
During the regular season, Houston averaged 103.9 points a game (No. 6 in the NBA) and surrendered 100.5 points a game (No. 17 in the league). According to Basketball-reference.com, the Rockets posted the 12th-best offensive rating in the league (107.0) and had the eighth-best defensive rating (103.4).
The Rockets have eight players currently under contract for the 2015-16 season — James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Clint Capella, Joey Dorsey, and Nick Johnson. Harden finished second in the MVP race and showed that he can score any number of ways. Harden had his best regular season and postseason of his career. Howard appeared in just 41 regular-season games but averaged a double-double (15.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg) for the fifth straight season. In the postseason, Howard posted 13 double-doubles as he rebounded the ball extremely well. Motiejunas and Jones — when he is healthy — form a solid duo at power forward.
Houston has seven potential free agents with three players being unrestricted and two being restricted free agents. Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Jason Terry will become unrestricted free agents on July 1 while Patrick Beverley and K.J. McDaniels are restricted free agents. Pablo Prigioni’s contract is partially guaranteed and Kostas Papanikolauo has a team option.
The Rockets also have two draft selections in the upcoming draft. Houston owns the No. 18 overall pick (acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans) and the No. 32 overall pick (acquired from the New York Knicks).
With the Rockets having as much as $9.4 million in salary cap space available, according to ESPN, what will the offseason hold for the team?
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Smith, Terry, and Brewer want to return to the Rockets.
“I like the future if we can keep all the pieces together,” Smith said. “I like what the future holds for us.”
“You never know in free agency what may occur. The city of Houston and this team has definitely embraced me for my individuality and the way I play the game. It would be great to do something special for the city and for this team.”
Smith, 29, resurrected his career in Houston and had his best postseason in years. Smith seems to be at his best when his minutes are limited to 25 to 27 minutes a game, which means he must be willing to take a significant pay cut in order for it to make sense for the Rockets to bring him back.
The 29-year-old Brewer was terrific coming off the bench for the Rockets after being acquired from Minnesota. He averaged 11.9 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds in 56 regular season games with Houston. He is also a very good wing defender. Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported that Brewer agreed to decline a player option when he was traded from the Timberwolves.
Terry, 37, has said he would definitely be back for his 17th season. The question is will he be with the Rockets? Terry shot the ball from distance the best he has in years — making 39 percent of his three -point attempts in the regular season — and was seen as the leader of the locker room.
“He’s (Terry) been a great veteran to our team, a great voice in the locker room, a great voice on the court wherever it may be,” Howard told ESPN during the playoffs. “He’s been consistent all year. He’s done an excellent job bringing myself and James [Harden] closer as teammates and also as leaders of this team.”
The biggest question seems to be how much of a pay cut will Terry be willing to take in order to return to the Rockets?
Beverley will likely return to the Rockets, but former Rocket Chandler Parsons is pushing the point guard to join him in Dallas, according to the Dallas News. Beverley is injury prone, not a good shooter, and does not have the ability to create offense for himself or his teammates. However, he is an excellent defender and had a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year.
Analysis: Expect Smith, Brewer, Terry, and Beverley to return as the long as the price is right. McDaniels and Papanikolauo may be back to fill out the roster, but it seems unlikely that Prigioni, 38, will return.
Houston is not a great shooting team as they are currently conformed and really don’t have an offensive playmaker outside Harden and Smith, when he is the “good” Josh. The Rockets love the three-ball, making and attempting the most shots from long distance in the league. They are a good offensive rebounding team and get to the line a bunch.
The Rockets biggest weaknesses are turnovers, fouling, and defensive rebounding.
Their biggest need is a power forward who can score and rebound and a second ball-handler. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Kevin Love could be in play for the Rockets.
[Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]