As they enter free agency, Rockets keeping all options open

Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love

While saying nothing, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey seemed to say just about everything about the Rockets right now.

“It’s very hard to predict what will happen when things happen tonight,” said Morey.

Because of that unpredictability, the Rockets are preparing for numerous scenarios when the NBA free agency market officially opens tonight at midnight Eastern time.

The Rockets will make their pitch to the agent of LeBron James, though it looks like a near certainty that he will return to Miami. They will have Carmelo Anthony in Houston on Wednesday and are preparing to make a Dwight Howard-style presentation to him. They have made offers to Minnesota for Kevin Love and will continue to be in that mix. They also have been mentioned in reports as having interest in Pau Gasol and Luol Deng and some former Rockets as well — Trevor Ariza, Jordan Hill and Kyle Lowry (In fact, Morey and Kevin McHale met with Lowry in Philadelphia as free agency opened, according to Yahoo! Sports).

But the Rockets are trying to remain as flexible as possible until they have to commit to a certain direction.

They haven’t traded Jeremy Lin yet, likely knowing that they need to be more certain of the need for cap room since that deal will cost them additional assets. If they strike out in free agency, Lin’s contract would represent the one salary large enough to be used in a major trade. The pick they received in the Omer Asik trade could be a major trade asset.

That’s why I wouldn’t panic if the Rockets don’t land one of the Big Three (LeBron, Carmelo, Love) this summer. This was a very strong team last year that will keep their core intact and they are in a good enough position to make a quality trade and one or more signings as well.

Notes

  • The Omer Asik trade was simply beautiful.

    Dave Hardisty Sports Talk 790 guest appearance with Lance Zierlein and Adam Clanton to discuss the Asik trade.

    Not only will the Rockets completely clear off Asik’s salary, but they reel in a very good draft pick in the process, one that is similar to the pick received from Toronto in 2012. When the Rockets traded Lowry for that pick, I compared it to swapping a gift card for cash. This is what the Rockets do over and over and over again — they flip a rigid asset that would be attractive to a small handful of teams for a more flexible one that would draw the interest of just about every team.

    Now holding that pick, the Rockets will be in the conversation with just about any rebuilding team looking to move a win-now asset for future considerations.

    Asik is a strong defensive center. He’s going to form a wall in New Orleans as the starting five next to Anthony Davis. But while Asik was a key defensive big for the Rockets, the team was 34-20 (.629 winning percentage) in games (including playoffs) where Asik played last season and 22-12 (.647) when he was out. He will be missed, but the role he played simply wasn’t big enough to move the needle that much.

    That trade was a big win on all three fronts (trade, draft and free agency) moving forward.

  • Morey was asked multiple times in the Rockets press conference on Monday if he was confident that Alessandro Gentile, acquired by the Rockets on draft night, would be on Houston’s roster next season. I can assure you that, given the Rockets’ state right now, not even they know the answer to that question yet… and not just because they don’t have a commitment from Gentile.

    The Rockets are about to go through a big month of change and every player in their impressive stash of international prospects is a trade asset right now, according to a source with the team. I feel confident one of Sergio Llull, Kostas Papanikolau, Clint Capela and Gentile — the four best in the crop — will be dealt this offseason and I wouldn’t be surprised if two of them are moved.

    As to their view of the prospects, the team feels Llull, Papanikolaou and Gentile are all ready to contribute in the NBA right now. All three are too significant of players overseas to be able to join the Summer League squad.

  • I’ve been encouraged by the Kevin Love possibility.

    Reports that Love shot down the possibility of re-signing with the likes of Cleveland and Phoenix seem to suggest some pickiness on his part, which could be to Houston’s advantage. The shorter his list, the better the chance Houston has of getting Minnesota to accept a deal.

    I originally wrote that to get Love it would at least take Parsons, and Yahoo! Sports reported this week that the Timberwolves have an interest in a sign-and-trade for Parsons if they can’t strike a deal with Golden State. But the word right now is that the Rockets plan on keeping Parsons and haven’t offered him in a Love swap. They’re likely trying to package every rebuilding asset they have to get Minny to bite, and the pick received in the Asik deal certainly helps in that regard.

    But is Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, the New Orleans pick, one or more of Houston’s picks, their choice of Houston’s international prospects and Jeremy Lin (salary) enough to beat out what Golden State can put together?

  • I love the pick of Nick Johnson in the second round.

    There’s no telling how well a rookie will do in the NBA, especially out of the gate, but this kid looks like a gamer. His primary weakness — being a two-guard with a point guard’s body — is minimized in a lineup next to James Harden, a two who plays the de facto point guard for the Rockets.

    Meanwhile, his strengths fit perfectly. The Pac-12 Player of the Year is a tough, hard-nosed defender with excellent athleticism and a solid outside shot. He’s no stranger to big games, as Morey called him the “most productive player on the best team in the country.”

  • The Houston Chronicle cited a team source last week saying that the “Rockets likely will receive only a future second-round pick for Lin, not a first-rounder like the got for Asik.”

    That seemed way off at the time and almost looked like the Rockets were fishing for a better deal through the media.

    Consider the market. Since then, the Atlanta Hawks traded Lou Williams, who like Lin has just one year left on his deal. The Hawks had to give up top prospect and 2013 first round pick Lucas Nogueira to Toronto to unload that salary and the Hawks didn’t completely clear the books. They got back John Salmons, who has $1 million guaranteed for the next season.

    Williams will make $5.45 million next season. Lin has a cap hit of $8.4 million and will actually be paid $15 million in salary next season.

    Lin’s marketability makes his situation a little more unique, but if the Rockets are able to trade Lin with no sweeteners for pure cap room and net a second-round pick in the deal, Les Alexander needs to erect a Daryl Morey statue in front of the Toyota Center.

    Toronto (if they lose Lowry), Orlando and Philly seem like possible destinations for Lin.

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