Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
A day after we examined the Spurs' offseason, which consisted primarily of standing pat and bringing back last year's roster, we're looking at the Rockets, the NBA's most active team this offseason. Only four players that were Rockets last year are back in Houston this season -- Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons, and Greg Smith. As opposed to the Spurs, who didn't consummate a single trade over the summer, the Rockets completed an NBA-high seven swaps.
Both R.C. Buford of the Spurs and Daryl Morey of the Rockets are viewed as forward-thinking executives willing to explore creative methods of roster-building. So the difference between their summers is more a result of where their respective teams stand, rather than a huge divide in philosophy. While the Spurs were a few games from a championship in 2012, the Rockets haven't played in a postseason game since 2009. Houston not only lacked a star, but also didn't have many guys in place that could even be considered core pieces.
However, one thing the Rockets did have coming into the summer was "assets" such as cap space, expiring contracts, future draft picks, and young players. Morey set out to gather those assets and turn them into stars or core players with the same aggressiveness that I make moves in NBA2K13, finalizing two trades before draft night and another series of deals during July's free agency period. By the time the dust settled, many of last year's Houston starters, such as Kyle Lowry or Samuel Dalembert, were gone, but the Rockets had the pieces to put together a very attractive package for a difference-making player.
Many pundits, myself included, considered the Rockets to be the best bet to land Dwight Howard from the Magic this offseason, since Houston was the only suitor that could offer Orlando a combination of cap relief, young players, and future picks. However, the team's ability to take on the Magic's bad contracts was compromised a little when the Rockets unexpectedly landed a pair of restricted free agents: Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
Asik was probably the least surprising of the two signings. There was no guarantee that Chicago wouldn't match Houston's offer sheet for the big man, but the Bulls appeared more interested in retaining Taj Gibson long-term and were willing to let Asik walk. Lin's offer sheet, on the other hand, was thought of as a lock to be matched, but when the Knicks shocked the world and passed on it, the Rockets had suddenly committed nearly $17MM in cap space to two players who had 27 NBA starts between them.
Whether or not the Asik and Lin signings affected the Rockets' ability to land Howard, they certainly affected the team's flexibility, and led to the club amnestying a fairly productive veteran player in Luis Scola. Heading into training camp, the Rockets' roster was a little confounding, with its myriad power forwards and its lack of virtually any veteran besides Kevin Martin.
Morey wasn't done yet though. The GM finally landed his star mere days before the regular season began, trading Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks to the Thunder for a package that included James Harden. The move vindicated Morey's asset-gathering, considering all three of the picks were acquired in trades (two earlier in the offseason), as was the pick that was used to draft Lamb in June. And even after the Rockets locked up Harden to a pricey five-year extension, the team still has the assets and the cap flexibility to pursue a maximum-salary player at the trade deadline or in free agency.
The Rockets are a young team, and aren't about to challenge for a title right away, but they do appear to be ahead of where they were last year. The 2011/12 team wasn't quite good enough to earn a playoff spot and didn't have many long-term pieces in place. This year's roster, however, features a handful of potential core players (Harden, Asik, Lin, Parsons), has room for growth, and retained enough pieces to make additional moves when the opportunity arises.While Morey's rebuild may not have gone exactly according to plan, the emergence of players like Harden, Asik, and Parsons early in 2012/13 suggests that it was unfair of critics to pile on over the summer when Morey failed to land Howard. Even with the necessary pieces, a team can't land every one of its trade targets, but gathering those draft picks, young players, and expiring contracts ensures a club will be in good position when a star player becomes available. That was the case with Harden, and there's no doubt Morey continues to work aggressively toward similar deals in the future.