No team has been more active this offseason than the Houston Rockets. Leading up to the draft, they stockpiled picks in hopes of trading for Dwight Howard, and they’ve continued that push well into free agency. Thus far, they have been unable to create a package enticing enough for Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan to pull the trigger. Reports have suggested that the Rockets would be willing to take on a slew of bad contracts (Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, and Glen Davis) in order to acquire Howard. Recently, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has dispelled this notion, and as the Los Angeles Lakers have stepped up their efforts to acquire Howard, the Rockets may strike out in their grand plan.
As of last night, the New York Knicks have confirmed they will not be matching the Rockets’ offer sheet to Jeremy Lin. From a marketing perspective, Lin is a home-run signing, his arrival almost coincides exactly a year past Yao Ming’s official retirement. Lin will likely start at point guard for the Rockets, after they shipped out the unhappy Kyle Lowry as well as let Goran Dragic sign with Phoenix. While Lin had his share of struggles, his successes stemmed from running point in Mike D’Antoni’s open, fast-paced style of offense. The Rockets will ideally run a similar style of play this season, and Lin will be surrounded with a lot of young, athletic players. He is only 23 years old, so there is plenty of room for growth, but expect a season of inconsistencies from an extremely young team, led by an inexperienced point guard.
The next likely domino to fall for the Rockets is the signing of Omer Asik. There have been mixed signals from the Chicago Bulls’ camp on whether or not they will match the offer sheet, and if they do elect to pass, Houston will have one of the better defensive centers in the league. The Rockets used the Gilbert Arenas provision that allowed them to offer a “poison-pill” structured contract to both Lin and Asik, but does not as adversely affect their books as it would the Bulls.
Lin and Asik are likely the only sure-things for next season’s roster. So given these moves and Morey’s unsuccessful search for a bonafide star the past few offseasons, if they aren’t able to acquire Howard, how will the Rockets fair next season, and should Rockets fans be upset they missed out on Howard?
Next season, the Rockets will go through a lot of growing pains as most of their players in their rotation are younger than 25. But they have a ton of potentially good players in Lin, Asik, Royce White, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones, Donatas Montiejunas, and Marcus Morris. The Rockets will also likely find themselves in the lottery again next season and own a future Toronto Raptors lottery pick, allowing them to collect even more talent.
While the NBA Summer League is generally no indication of future success, you would still rather see your young players succeed than not. Thus far, Lamb, Jones, White, and Montiejunas have all played well and allowing this core of players to develop together could prove very worthwhile down the road for the Rockets. Each player has a different skill set, and as they play more, they should mesh well together.
Given this, should the Rockets put all their efforts into acquiring Howard? While Howard is a superstar, the cost of trading for him will strip the team of almost all it’s assets. A team of Lin-Howard-Asik with whatever combination of Magic players they are forced to take back is not a championship caliber team. Morey has always targeted stars, but at a certain point, the cost of acquiring one outweighs the reward. Rocket fan’s will ultimately be frustrated with missing the playoffs for consecutive seasons, but trading for Howard may be a short-sighted move, especially given Howard’s comments that he would not sign an extension.
So Rocket’s fans as well as NBA fans, if you’re Daryl Morey, which route would you take? Going all in for Howard or building the team internally?