Six Moves The Houston Rockets Should Make
Normally teams try to play somewhat coy when it comes to what they’re looking for in free agency. Like a new car buyer, they don’t want to appear too desperate, as a desperate buyer is nearly guaranteed to be worked over by the marketplace. In the case of the Houston Rockets, what they need is the worst kept secret in the NBA. If they don’t land a starting center in free agency or via trade before the 2011-12 season starts, it’s going to be a blue Christmas in Houston for sure.
Sign/Acquire Marc Gasol
The homerun for Houston would be to add Marc Gasol to the mix, preferably via sign-and-trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. They could make him a front-loaded offer outright and hope the Grizzlies don’t match, as Gasol is a restricted free agent, but the reality is Houston needs to unload some of their redundant frontcourt talent. The Grizzlies have said they will only re-sign Gasol if he wants to be there, and sources close to the situation have told HOOPSWORLD on a number of occasions that Gasol is ready to move on.
The Rockets could offer up a package that starts with Luis Scola, who wouldn’t be a bad fit next to Zach Randolph in the Grizzlies’ frontcourt, and add the Grizzlies’ pick of backcourt players like Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic or Jonny Flynn. They could even include one of the young front court players they drafted over the summer or throw in Jordan Hill, whom they have been looking to move ever since they got him from New York. In short, the Rockets could give the Grizzlies enough pieces to help compensate for the loss of Gasol, while also clearing up some of their own redundant talent issues.
If the Rockets swing and miss on Gasol, you can bet their next step will be to try and lure Nene away from the Denver Nuggets. This is a less likely scenario, as the Nuggets have every intention of using the bulk of their considerable cap space to re-sign Nene, who has also told HOOPSWORLD that he absolutely wants to be back in Denver this season. Barring some bizarre change of course, Nene is not going to be an option for Houston, no matter how much they would like for him to be.
There is an argument to be made the Rockets could put together a package for Denver like they could for Memphis, but there is a difference. First of all, the Nuggets don’t have a great front court talent beyond Nene, as the Grizzlies do with Randolph. So even if Nene wanted out of Denver, as Gasol seems to want out of Memphis, the Rockets don’t have the critical piece they would need to send back – namely, a starting center.
The wrinkle in this discussion would be Nene deciding Denver isn’t his first choice, something CBS Sports’ Ken Berger suggested earlier today, so perhaps there could be a window for Houston is Nene has, indeed, had a change of heart.
What About Tyson Chandler?
Dallas Mavericks free agent center Tyson Chandler was a huge part of the reason why the Mavericks were finally able to get over the hump and win a championship last June. He brought a level of leadership on and off the court that the team has been missing, and he also gave the Mavs some much-needed toughness on the defensive end. Just as importantly, unlike most of the Mavericks’ recent centers, Chandler can catch a lob pass from Jason Kidd and turn it into two points.
The reason Houston is less likely to consider Chandler has nothing to do with his impressive run with the Mavericks last season and more to do with the fact that it was a contract year for him. You see, Chandler is one of those players who steps up for a contract year but then tends to step back once the immediate future is secure. When it’s not a contract year Chandler tends to spend a lot of time on the sidelines with one injury or another, and that’s something the Rockets really don’t need after spending so much time waiting for Yao Ming to get healthy.
If the Rockets could sign Chandler to a one-year deal with a team option on the second year, they would be all in. Since that’s unlikely, count Houston out of the Chandler sweepstakes unless they just can’t get anything else done. Even with sand in his shoes he’s a better option than Hasheem Thabeet, the only center currently on the roster.
Bring Back Shane Battier
While the center position is by far Houston’s biggest need, they have also been looking for a small forward to replace Shane Battier, whom they traded to Memphis for Hasheem Thabeet at last year’s trade deadline. Chase Budinger did an admirable job stepping in as the starter, but the Rockets would like to have a more established player in the starting lineup . . .especially on the defensive end.
Don’t imagine that Battier will give the Rockets any kind of discount, as they did not consult him at all about the trade before sending him across the country while his wife was too pregnant to move. Battier wouldn’t ignore a call from the Rockets, but he understands that this will be his most lucrative contract and he needs to get paid. His first choice is to stay in Memphis, but he will also field calls from teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers.
The Rockets have also had some level of discussion about Andre Iguodala and Rudy Gay, neither of which are said to be available, so the Rockets may come back around on Battier when some of their other options dry up. He was certainly the heart and soul of the team during his tenure as a Rocket.
Another option that would be extremely attractive for Houston would be the prospect of bidding for the services of Rashard Lewis, should the Washington Wizards decide to use the amnesty clause to waive him. Lewis, a Houston native, is a lifelong fan of the Rockets, and nearly signed there as a free agent before he signed with the Orlando Magic. If the Rockets could pick him up for something like $5 million, with the Wizards picking up the rest of his deal, that would be a great fit for both sides.
Under Rick Adelman the Houston offense was all about flexibility and versatility, using players at multiple positions to maximize their effectiveness and create mismatches. Sources close to the situation tell HOOPSWORLD that Kevin McHale is basing much of his offensive scheme off of things Adelman already had in place, so a player like Lewis, who can play either forward position and facilitate as well as score, would seem to be ideal for Houston.
The wrinkle, of course, is that the Wizards may very well decide not to amnesty Lewis. He has only one fully guaranteed year left on his deal and he has become very close with John Wall and other members of the Wizards’ young core. He’s been hanging out and playing with them during the lockout and has no intention of asking to be traded or amnesties. It seems Lewis is content to spend some time in Washington, and considering how much game he still has left the Wizards might decide he’s worth the money.
Re-Sign Chuck Hayes
One thing the Rockets could and should do that is completely within their power is to re-sign Chuck Hayes. Hayes has been the very definition of versatility and dependability for the Rockets, defending the center position better than any other 6’5″ player could and rarely missing a game. He is as hard a worker as you’ll find in the NBA, and his blue collar work ethic is something that the Rockets would love to see rub off on some of their young big men. The Rockets are in trouble if Hayes is still their starting center on opening night, but they could do a lot worse than keep him around for defensive duty in the front court.
Make no mistake – 2011 free agency is a make-or-break time for the Rockets. If they start the season with Chuck Hayes and Hasheem Thabeet as their center rotation we can expect to see major changes from the front office on down come next summer. Houston fans are tired of losing, and they’re tired of Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s inability to add the key free agents he has targeted over the years. If Morey can’t deliver a starting center and a playoff spot, he should be looking for a new job come April.