After signing big man Dwight Howard last offseason, the Houston Rockets vaulted into the upper echelon of the NBA elite, or so many thought.
One year and a disappointing first round playoff ouster later it became quite clear: Houston had a problem.
The Rockets averaged a stout 107.7 points per game last season, second only to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets defense, however, was a different story entirely. Despite holding opponents to a respectable 44.6 field goal percentage, the Rockets still allowed opponents to net 103.1 points per game, good for an abysmal 23rd place finish last season.
The Rockets clearly entered this offseason intent on upgrading the roster by landing a third big name all-star, but losing out on the likes of Carmelo Anthony (who was never leaving all of the that cash from the Knicks on the table) and Chris Bosh might have been the best case scenario.
Obviously Houston fans were itching for Bosh to make the move to the Space City, but the finesse forward found max money and the chance to be the man in Miami more enticing. Bosh appeared to be a no brainer as the perfect complement to Howard, a floor-spacer with defensive range and the ability to rebound.
In theory, Bosh’s game encompasses all of those traits, but a quick look at his statistics since joining the Heat suggest otherwise. Bosh’s rebounding average has dropped considerably since his time in Toronto, as his 6.6 rebounds per game in 2013 were a considerable decrease from his career average of 8.7. The Heat’s style of play had some impact on Bosh’s rebounding numbers, undoubtedly, as Bosh played out of position in small ball lineups and was positioned around the three-point line quite often.
Regardless, Bosh has shown an unwillingness to bang bodies with other big men down low, regressing into an average rebounder and a glorified spot up shooter since joining the Heat. Also, the emergence of Chris Andersen allowed Bosh to play away from the goal even further, and he admitted himself he didn’t like “banging in the post.”
Sure Bosh can space the floor, but he is not a dead eye three-point shooter, hitting on only 33.9 percent of his three-point attempts last season. While Bosh could have helped elevate the Rockets, at 30-years-old and with a regressed skill set, it is hard to picture him being worthy of a max contract for more than a few seasons. If the Rockets are set on acquiring a third star that’s fine, but Bosh is not that guy (Kevin Love, on the other hand, would be).
Tack on the trades of Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers and Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans, as well as the impending departure of starting small forward Chandler Parsons to the Dallas Mavericks, and the perception of the Rockets offseason seems further tarnished.
When you look at the big picture, however, the Rockets may have gotten better through subtraction.
Yes Lin and Asik were important rotation players, but paying a total of $30 million and absorbing a cap hit of roughly $16 million for next season was just too much. Asik provided great rim protection and rebounding off the bench, but he had no desire to stay in Houston after a breakout season in 2012-2013.
Lin was nothing more than an average player in the Rockets system. He is a suspect spot-up shooter, turnover prone (see his negative assist to turnover ratio of 2:3), and a liability on defense.
Neither player is worth their salary for the upcoming season.
Parsons, a huge component of the Rockets offense and arguably the best all-around player on the team, was a much bigger loss, no doubt. While many fans are not happy about his departure, there was no way that the Rockets could justifiably match Parsons offer sheet with Dallas. The three-year, $46 million deal will pay Parsons more than James Harden annually. Regardless of your stance on Parsons, he is not worth as much to the Rockets as Harden. Parsons may continue to improve his arsenal over the next two seasons, but the Rockets could not risk $15 million annually on a player they obviously did not envision as the third star they so desperately desire.
Replacing Parsons is 29-year-old free agent Trevor Ariza, acquired in the three-team trade that sent Asik to New Orleans and provided a valuable trade exception to the Washington Wizards. Ariza is coming off his best NBA season after averaging 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assist per game with Washington. While Parsons is hands down the better offensive player, Ariza is a far superior defender. Plus Ariza’s improved three-point shooting, which was an efficient 44.6 percent during last year’s playoffs, will not hinder the spacing that the Rockets offense is predicated on.
Ariza fits nicely into the starting small forward spot for the Rockets, and with a four-year, $32 million contract, he comes at a considerably cheaper price than Parsons. I’ll take the cap savings and improved perimeter defense over Parsons bloated offer sheet and suspect defense any day.
A starting five of Patrick Beverly, Harden, Ariza, Terrance Jones, and Howard is potent, especially with the added defensive impact Ariza provides and the continued development of Jones, Harden and Beverley. With the offseason moves the Rockets have made, or not made, the team has plenty of cap space to add valuable depth on the wings and find a capable rim protector to spell Howard. The Rockets haven’t taken a step back, as many have feared. No, this team is poised to contend next season while still maintaining financial flexibility for the future.