Despite numerous calls for them to break their explosive backcourt duo, the Houston Rockets made it clear to everyone in the league that they have no intention of moving Russell Westbrook and James Harden this fall. Instead of immediately giving up on their two superstars, they are planning to surround Westbrook and Harden with a better supporting cast that could strengthen their chances of fully dominating the loaded Western Conference and bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy next season. As of now, one of the areas where they need major improvement is the center position.
Though they are currently buried deep in luxury tax hell, there are plenty of quality big men that could be available at a cheap price in the 2020 free agency, including Nerlens Noel of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Noel may have spent most of his career coming off the bench, but he has shown huge potential to become a permanent starter in the league. According to Mandela Namaste of Bleacher Report, signing a high-floor, marginally high-ceiling player like Noel this fall could help the Rockets unlock their “Finals potential” in the 2020-21 NBA season.
“As a rim-running center, the Kentucky alum is a perfect fit for the alley-oop tosses of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. He’s also an incredibly versatile defender, becoming the only qualified player in the league to average 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes this year. Houston has tried numerous adjustments in pursuit of a title throughout the Harden era, yet it is still without a Finals appearance since 1995. With Harden and Westbrook set to make over 60 percent of the team’s total salary next year (the exact figures remain unclear due to COVID-19-related financial losses), the franchise can only make marginal roster moves.”
Bringing Noel to Houston wouldn’t cost the Rockets a fortune. As long as they can assure him of a starting role and more playing time, a veteran minimum contract may be enough to convince Noel to leave the Thunder for the Rockets in the 2020 free agency. Though he’s far from being an All-Star caliber big man, signing the former No. 6 overall pick makes a lot of sense for the Rockets.
His arrival in Houston would allow the Rockets to have a better matchup against teams with dominant big men like Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks). Becoming the Rockets’ starting center next season would also be beneficial for Noel. If he performs well in his first year as a Rocket, it would greatly help him in landing a decent contract when he becomes a free agent again in the summer of 2021.