NBA Draft: “Uh . . . Houston, We Have Lift-Off?”

Goran Dragic
Dragic will be in for a big payday once the free agency period rolls around.

The Houston Rockets surprised a lot of people last season. In his first season as head coach, Kevin McHale did a fine job with a team that wasn’t destined to do much. They finished above .500 (34-32) and just missed the playoffs. This team will have a lot of decisions when draft day and free agency roll around. So how can this young team improve upon this season? Let’s take a look.

I didn’t expect the Rockets to finish anywhere near .500, much less above it, but I give a lot of credit to McHale for getting these players to buy into his system. McHale has always been a “player’s coach” and isn’t afraid to stick behind his players. I liked when he coached my hometown Minnesota Timberwolves because I think the players responded to him, despite not having much talent. But Houston faces a pivotal offseason. Point guard Goran Dragic becomes a free agent and might be demanding a lot of money. He played extremely well in the last part of March and all of April. Former starting point guard Kyle Lowry had a great start to the season before becoming seriously ill. Lowry is still under contract for next year and possibly 2013-2014 (if the team accepts his option), so the Rockets are going to need to choose who they want: Dragic or Lowry. It’s nice to have two solid point guards, but I think Dragic showed us that he can be a solid starting point guard.

Kevin Martin’s $12.4 million contract is up after this next year so the Rockets have to fill that position, especially if they don’t give Courtney Lee a qualifying offer this offseason.

They don’t have a solid small forward whom they can rely on. Chandler Parsons did a pretty solid job in his rookie season and I think that he is more reliable than Chase Budinger. Maybe Parsons is the answer there? But I am not 100% sure.

They have a lot of power forwards: Marcus Morris, Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson. Morris was a disappointment this season, Scola was very reliable but he is getting paid $9.4 million a year and the Rockets might want to move him on draft day, not to mention he is 32 years old. Patterson has a lot of potential, but has not had much of a chance so far in his young career.

The only center the Rockets have is Samuel Dalembert and he is getting paid $6.6 million a year. I could the Rockets looking for a center in the draft or free agency.

If you want to check out the rest of Houston’s contract situation, click here.

So with two picks in the first round (14 and 16), who might the Rockets draft? Let’s take a look.

I mentioned the three positions that the Rockets need to either build (add depth) or acquire in earlier paragraphs. Drafting a center would be the best thing for the Rockets, if there are any available. I think Tyler Zeller and Meyers Leonard will come off the board before the Rockets select. That leaves them with Fab Melo and Festus Ezeli. So I think they will look elsewhere. Combo-forward Jeremy Lamb would be a nice fit for the Rockets. A lot of people forgot about this kid because he was inconsistent at times and he will need to work on that when he gets into the pros. He could start at two-guard as soon as next year when Martin’s contract is up. With their second first round pick, I could see the Rockets reaching for Melo, but I think they will go in a different direction. Duke’s Austin Rivers or Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie (another power forward) could be on the Rockets draft board. I think the Rockets might trade their first round pick and a player (Scola or Lowry) to move up in the draft. But for the sake of my time, I am not going to figure that out. Ultimately, I think the Rockets will take Iowa State’s Royce White with the 16th pick in the first round. He would be an upgrade from Parsons and can do a bit of everything. It might be a bit of a reach, but I think it will pay off in the long-run.

Free agency is where the Rockets can immediately improve. The Rockets have tried to move Martin for some time and it could end up happening this July. I think the Rockets need to “Go big or go home” this offseason. Shooting guard Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent, but the Rockets should target him. If they can’t get a center in the draft, Dallas Maverick center Ian Mahinmi is a free agent. He might not be the sexy name, but he plays hard and can defend. He would be an upgrade from Dalembert and will come at a cheaper price. Other names to look-out for are Kenyon Martin, Chris Kaman, and Spencer Hawes.

The Rockets have some big decisions to make this offseason and can also make some serious improvements.

The playoffs are not far from their reach, they just need to reach a little higher.


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