Now that training camp has opened and the 2015-2016 NBA season is less than a month away, the offseason is officially over. Coming off the heels of the best season in almost twenty years, the Houston Rockets re-tooled its roster in pursuit of a championship.
So, how did they fare?
The Rockets went into the offseason looking to add talent, particularly a creator that can alleviate some of the offensive responsibility constantly placed on superstar shooting guard James Harden. Given the Rockets track record of going after the biggest free agents in basketball (namely Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony) it was only natural that general manager Daryl Morey scheduled a meeting with the most sought-after free agent of 2015 – LaMarcus Aldridge. The Rockets weren’t able to lure Aldridge away from the San Antonio Spurs, one of the greatest franchises in all of sports, and were left to do some housekeeping of their own.
The first order of business for the Rockets was always to keep the team they had in the 2014-2015 season intact and improve upon that. That meant that several players were going to have to be re-signed and some salary cap magic was going to have to happen if talent was going to be added. The Rockets were quick to sign starting point guard Patrick Beverley to a $25 million contract over four years, and sign off-the-bench sparkplug Corey Brewer to a $24 million contract over three years. After initially renouncing their rights to veteran point guard Jason Terry, the ‘Jet’ was signed to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Then, the Rockets managed to hold on to KJ McDaniels for $10 million over the next three seasons.
By signing Beverley, Brewer, Terry, and McDaniels, the Rockets managed to take care of most of their talent, but what happened next was key for the growth of the team. The Rockets traded a package of role players like Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, and Pablo Prigioni to the Denver Nuggets for troubled point guard Ty Lawson. What seems like a gamble for the Rockets is actually a deal firmly in their favor. Despite flashes of talent, none of the guys the Rockets traded away were in Houston’s long-term plans and now the Rockets have a play-making point guard that almost led the NBA in assists per game last season.
Following the Ty Lawson trade, the Rockets signed shooting guard Marcus Thornton and their draft picks, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell. While it’s not clear how many minutes on the floor these players will see this season, these signings all bode well for the Rockets depth at various positions.
The biggest blow to the Rockets this season was the loss of Josh Smith in free agency to the Los Angeles Clippers. Smith helped orchestrate one of the unlikeliest comebacks in NBA history when Houston overcame a nineteen-point deficit towards the end of the third quarter in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Smith draining three pointer after three pointer (not his forte) was a huge reason for the comeback and his contributions would help the Rockets go on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Smith figured to be in the Rockets long-term plans, but alas, he took slightly less money to play for Doc Rivers and the very Clippers he helped destroy in the 2015 Playoffs.
The Rockets weren’t able to sign an All-Star like LaMarcus Aldridge, but the additions of Ty Lawson and Marcus Thornton, coupled with the re-signing of Beverley, Brewer, Terry, and McDaniels should not go unnoticed. It was always the Rockets intention to bring back most of their own players in an effort to build on continuity and chemistry, and Daryl Morey was successful.
NBA franchises can’t always hit homeruns in the offseason and there may not be a ‘big three’ in Houston, but the Rockets will be one of the deepest teams in the league – even without Josh Smith. This type of support around James Harden and Dwight Howard is exactly what the Rockets need to compete for the championship over the next few NBA campaigns, and this offseason made that happen.
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