The Rockets have been connected to several notable players in the weeks leading up to free agency, but league sources are increasingly identifying point guard Fred VanVleet and wing Dillon Brooks as the team’s top targets, according to Marc Stein at Substack.
While James Harden was once viewed as Houston’s number one free agent priority, there has been a sense in recent weeks that a return to Philadelphia has become the more likely outcome for Harden, which would require the Rockets to pivot to other targets. According to Stein, there have been “compelling signals” that the team will be a strong candidate to land both VanVleet and Brooks.
The Rockets may have an easier path to signing Brooks, given that his former team – the Grizzlies – has conveyed no desire to bring him back. Houston will likely face competition from rival suitors for the controversial forward, but it doesn’t sound like Memphis will be among them.
That won’t be the case with VanVleet, whom the Raptors are expected to attempt to retain. According to Stein, Toronto recognizes that it will likely need to offer the veteran point guard at least $30MM per year on a multiyear contract to keep him. With Gary Trent Jr. having picked up his $18MM+ player option and Jakob Poeltl considered a good bet to re-sign with the Raptors for a salary in the range of $20MM annually, per Stein, a lucrative new contract for VanVleet might push Toronto into luxury tax territory.
While it remains to be seen whether the Rockets will be able to pry VanVleet away from the Raptors, Stein says one league source considers Houston the favorite for Brooks. There’s a belief around the NBA that the Rockets are willing to make Brooks an offer that would exceed the $12.4MM mid-level exception, Stein adds.
Besides VanVleet, Brooks, and Harden, the Rockets also have interest in Poeltl, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Bruce Brown, Jordan Clarkson, Donte DiVincenzo, Dwight Powell, Rui Hachimura (RFA), Austin Reaves (RFA), and Cameron Johnson (RFA), a person with knowledge of the situation tells Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required).
That’s a long list, but the Rockets project to have more than $60MM in cap room and will want to have several fallback options in place in case they’re unable to sign their top targets.