Offseason Outlook: Houston Rockets

Trevor Ruszkowski / USA TODAY Sports Images

Trevor Ruszkowski / USA TODAY Sports Images

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

Coaching Search

Jeff Van Gundy apparently sits atop the list of Rockets coaching candidates, but interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff will seemingly get a look, at least. Owner Leslie Alexander wants to make sure Van Gundy, who hasn’t coached since 2007, would update his offense, but GM Daryl Morey indicated that he won’t make system a priority in the search, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Dwight Howard‘s future

The decision on a coach will reportedly play a role in any future Howard might have in Houston, and a coach committed to the outside game would seemingly reduce the slim chance the former All-Star center would stay. Still, Howard’s best days were under Van Gundy’s brother Stan in Orlando, where the big man’s presence inside was key to opening space for 3-point shooters. Offenses predicated on movement would ostensibly coax the ball out of the hands of James Harden and allow more touches for Howard.

It’s nonetheless difficult to envision Harden and Howard continuing to coexist, with one Rockets player telling The Vertical’s Michael Lee that they don’t hate each other but simply can’t play together. One team source who spoke with Calvin Watkins of described the chemistry between the star duo as “cordially bad.” Howard is 30 and simply not what he used to be, but the new client of Perry Rogers is still expected to opt out and seek a max deal that would pay him $30MM next season. The Rockets apparently aren’t completely opposed to re-signing Howard, and Morey certainly seems open to it, but it would surely have to be for less money than the max, and at least four other teams are apparently better bets.

Two power forwards poised for restricted free agency

Howard isn’t the only one seemingly on his way out of Houston. The Rockets already pulled off a trade to send Donatas Motiejunas to Detroit, but the Pistons voided the deadline swap. Now, Motiejunas is up for restricted free agency, along with fellow power forward Terrence Jones. Motiejunas returned to Houston’s starting lineup shortly after the trade that wasn’t, and while he proved he could be a consistent presence on the floor after missing most of a calendar year with back trouble, he averaged only 15.7 minutes per game in 21 starts down the stretch. His inability to come anywhere close to the 36.8% he shot from 3-point range last season bodes poorly for his future in Houston, and while he excelled in Houston’s lone playoff win this spring with a 14-point, 13-rebound performance in Game 3 against the Warriors, he otherwise averaged 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in that series.

Jones started 71 games for the Rockets in his second year in the NBA, but he fell out of the rotation this season, his fourth since becoming the 18th pick in 2012, and he didn’t play at all in the postseason. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Houston pass on making a qualifying offer to Jones, thus allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency. The Rockets will probably make a qualifying offer to Motiejunas, but they assuredly won’t be afraid to rescind it if that’s what it takes to sign someone else.

Free agent targets

Clearing Howard, Jones and perhaps Motiejunas would give the Rockets about $40MM of cap room to play with, more than enough to sign any free agent. They, like so many others, will go after Durant, and they’ll use Harden, his old teammate, as a selling point, but a reunion appears unlikely. The focus would shift to the next most attractive free agents if Durant says no. Stretchy big man Al Horford and his emerging 3-point game at his max of about $26MM would fit well in Houston. Combining Horford with stretch four extraordinaire Ryan Anderson at around $14MM sounds even better, but that might not be enough for Anderson. The Rockets would have snagged Pau Gasol in the nixed 2011 Chris Paul trade, so perhaps Morey will revisit that idea. Houston could go cheaper and sign Jared Dudley to play the four, leaving money to upgrade the bench.

Potential trades

Houston would surely love to unload Corey Brewer, who had a dreadful year and is still under contract for two more seasons, but that’ll be a tough sell. Better potential for a deal exists deeper on the bench, where young players K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could become expendable if the Rockets commit fully to win-now mode. Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley have contracts in the middle of the salary scale, the sort that often make for easy trade fodder, but neither appears destined for a new home unless the Rockets are forced to give them up to accommodate a trade for a star or a second max free agent signing.

Draft outlook

  • First-round picks: None
  • Second-round picks: 37th, 43rd

The Rockets already have three top-40 picks from the last two drafts with guaranteed deals for next season, so unless they offload some of them, it’s tough to see the players at No. 37 and No. 43 both making Houston’s roster come opening night. Look for Houston to trade at least one of its picks.

Other decisions

Michael Beasley was superb after signing a two-year contract in early March, and keeping him on his non-guaranteed minimum salary should be an easy choice. Fellow March signee Andrew Goudelock didn’t have nearly the same sort of impact, so he’ll be expendable. Midseason trade acquisition Josh Smith failed to come close to the production he gave the Rockets during last year’s stint with the team, so he’ll probably be an afterthought at best for Houston in free agency this summer. Jason Terry‘s versatility has value, but he turns 39 in September and the team reportedly wants to explore other options before doing any would-be new deal with the combo guard.

Final take

The Rockets endured a profoundly disappointing season this year, but they still have one of the game’s pre-eminent stars in Harden, and this summer they’ll have not only the chance to hire the right coach but also the flexibility to make significant roster changes and land another star. Houston can rise as quickly as it fell.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000


  1. The cap hold for Howard if he opts out will be the maximum salary for a veteran of 10 or more seasons. The number shown here is an estimate based on the projected cap figure.
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5 thoughts on “Offseason Outlook: Houston Rockets

  1. This D12 is not the same D12 that thrived under SVG. Even if Jeff Van Gundy is hired, they should pass on Dwight and let someone else desperate enough to pay him snag the guy. Terrence Jones should be a goner by all logic (Morey’s an enigma though).
    Should Van Gundy be hired, I wonder about the future of James Harden. Seems like there’s only so far he can take the franchise and he didn’t shy away from trading away Steve Francis in the past in a package that brought him a player he thought superior (though it’s hard to argue T-Mac’s superiority over Stevie Franchise).

      • I’m no fan of Dwight’s, that’s for sure. But I’m not sure about the next coach though.

  2. Arthur Hill

    They’ll probably have to give up a draft pick to entice someone to take Corey Brewer. The irony is the 12th pick this year almost certainly would have worked, but they gave that up when they made the playoffs.

    • Corey’s frustrating to watch but so was the whole team most of the time. He’s still useful if thrust in the right situation (one that doesn’t require him to shoot 3s) and his contract isn’t that bad. Look for Morey to package him with one of this year’s rookies or the draft pick unless the new coach is really sold on him for some reason.


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