The strength of the Houston Rockets this season (34-30, 7th in the Western Conference) has been the play of their back-court with James Harden getting most of the accolades next to Jeremy Lin, but they want to add a bit more strength and firepower down low, hoping to succeed in pursuing after Dwight Howard, or settling for Josh Smith and Andrew Bynum as the alternatives.
At the moment, the Rockets’ only inside presence is Omer Asik, while young Thomas Robinson is someone they’re hoping can become a bit more of an inside presence next season and in the near future. Still, Asik doesn’t add much to the offensive game, which is based on spacing around the perimeter while James Harden and Jeremy Lin make defenses squeeze with their penetrations. Asik is averaging 10.3 points per game and 11.8 rebounds. He’s certainly a keeper, but finding someone who can turn the Rockets into a contender will probably be someone who can score in the paint.
Their first target, having plenty of cap space to sign the most expensive of free agents, is Dwight Howard. While Howard isn’t having the season of his dreams with the Lakers, most would still agree that at 100% both physically and mentally mean that he’s the best center in the NBA. His numbers, 16.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, are certainly something the Rockets will happily take, hoping that Howard, for some reason (and there are a few), won’t re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But there are contingency plans – Josh Smith, and to a lesser extent, Andrew Bynum. Bynum hasn’t played a single minute of basketball this season, and will become a free agent and it’s very unlikely that he’ll re-sign with the Philadelphia 76ers after spending a year simply switching hairdo’s instead of playing basketball. The good news for interested teams is that Bynum might not command the kind of contract he might have had he been healthy this season. The bad news? No one really knows if he’s worth the risk of paying him an 8-figure salary in 2014 and onward.
Josh Smith, who probably won’t be staying in Atlanta, is looking for a max contract. Something like $89 million for 5 years, or $120 million for 7. Truth is? Despite not being of the upper echelon of superstars in the NBA, he’ll probably get that deal somewhere. That’s the way the market works. The Rockets can afford to give Smith that deal, although that’ll only be as compensation for not getting the one player they really want. Smith, when not settling for jump shots, which is something Kevin McHale will have to get out of him if he’s to succeed next to him, is one of the best power forwards in the league, on both ends of the floor.
He’ll be turning 28 when next season begins, and he isn’t the type of player to be boosted by a contract year season – Smith actually played better in the previous two. If Howard isn’t available, Smith is probably the best thing the Rockets can get as they look to be more than a borderline playoff team next season.
They got on the map, and probably into the postseason, by bringing in Jeremy Lin and James Harden in the offseason, making themselves not only better, but more interesting on a national and international level. With someone like Dwight Howard and to a lesser extent, Josh Smith, they’d be one of the best teams, contenders, in the Western Conference.