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2024 NBA Offseason Preview: What’s Next For The Rockets?

The Rockets are an intriguing team heading into the NBA offseason.

The Houston Rockets appear to be a young team on the rise. That makes this off-season of utmost importance to see if they can take another step forward to being a playoff team. They last reached the postseason in 2020. In the three seasons from 2020-21 to 2022-23, Houston combined for a miserable 59-177 record.

2024 NBA Offseason Preview: What’s Next For The Rockets?

Season Recap

While they did not qualify for the Play-In Tournament last season, the Rockets still took a huge step forward. Their 41-41 record was a 19-win improvement from the previous season. While Fred VanVleet was seen by many as a free agent overpay, he helped to stabilize the point guard position. Another free agent signing, Dillon Brooks, gave the team more ruggedness on the defensive end.

In his age-21 season, Alperen Sengun began looking like he could be a perennial All-Star starting next season. He finished third in Most Improved Player voting. After a somewhat slow and inefficient start, 22-year-old Jalen Green really stepped up his game as the season went on.

Selected fourth overall in the 2023 NBA Draft, Amen Thompson made the All-Rookie Second Team. All-Defensive teams may be in his future. Cam Whitmore, the 20th pick of the 2023 NBA Draft, averaged 12.3 points in just 18.7 minutes per outing.

While Houston showed vast improvement, it wasn’t always crisp on the offensive end. Their 113.7 offensive rating ranked 20th out of 30 teams. They finished the season ranked 27th in field goal percentage, 23rd in three-point accuracy, and 20th in free throw percentage. They lacked an interior defender that could intimidate the opposition, and nobody averaged even a block per game. These may be areas the Rockets look to improve in the offseason.

Projected Cap Space And Draft Picks

  • Over The Cap

While Houston isn’t quite over the cap in guaranteed salaries, they go over due to the non-guaranteed contracts of Jock Landale, Jeff Green, and Jae’Sean Tate. The most they will be able to hand out to an incoming free agent is the $12.9 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception.

3rd Overall Pick

Primary Targets 

Houston also owns the 44th overall pick in the second round. They received some lottery luck as their first-round pick (acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the James Harden deal) moved up to third.

While there’s a lot of noise surrounding the Rockets trading the pick, Sheppard would be a wonderful fit. As a freshman at Kentucky, he shot a ridiculous 52.1% from deep while also sporting a 2.25 assist-to-turnover ratio. Risacher is a taller wing that can make an impact at both ends of the court. He is actually the favorite to go first overall to the Atlanta Hawks. Clingan would be the defensive anchor in the middle that the Rockets have been missing (although they did trade for a then-injured Steven Adams last season).

Pending Free Agents And Possible Departures

The three notable names here are Green, Holiday, and Tate. Turning 38 on August 28, Green’s team option is for $8 million. A key reserve for the 2023 Denver Nuggets championship team, he averaged 6.5 points for the Rockets in 2023-24.

The 27-year-old Holiday spent the season as the backup point guard to VanVleet. He shot 38.7% from three-point territory last season, right around his career mark of 38.0%. The 28-year-old Tate’s player option is for around $7.5 million. His minutes have decreased in each of the following three seasons since he was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2020-21.

Trade Pieces

As already mentioned, there are many who believe the Rockets will not make the third pick and instead trade it. Houston may decide to pick up Tate’s team option in order to include his salary in a deal. He may be out of the rotation if the Rockets have a fully healthy squad. Eason has been productive in his two seasons since being selected 17th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. He underwent season-ending leg surgery though and didn’t play after January 1. Houston had an 11-game winning streak without him in March.

Realistic Off-Season Targets

Trade

There have been rumors of the New Orleans Pelicans moving on from Ingram. They reportedly talked to the Rockets, but Houston wasn’t keen about including Sengun in a deal which is certainly understandable. Houston was courting Bridges at the trade deadline last season. A deal would have likely included Green, who the Rockets may not want to include in talks for Bridges again after Green’s improved play at the end of last season. The Nets do not have a pick in the draft and could want back the third pick which was originally their choice.

A trade rumor that has gained steam is the Rockets acquiring Smart on draft night. A deal could include Houston dealing the third pick and gaining the Memphis Grizzlies ninth overall pick. The 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year, Smart would definitely be of use to the Rockets. The problem is that he is a below-average shooter from deep which is Houston’s greatest need.

Free Agents

While the Rockets can’t go high-level shopping in free agency, they should be looking for shooting and a backup point guard behind VanVleet (especially if Holiday leaves). Marshall shot 38.7% from beyond the arc last season although that is an outlier so far in his career (28.6% in the first three seasons). Houston could look towards a reunion with Gordon who played six-plus seasons with the team. He connected on 37.8% of his three-point attempts with the Phoenix Suns in 2023-24. While Burks slumped after joining the New York Knicks (at least until the end of their playoff run), he made more than 40% of his threes each season from 2020-21 to 2022-23. Harris started 27 games for the Orlando Magic last season while making 37.1% of his three-point tries.

Morris has shot nearly 40% for his career from downtown. He was a full-time starting point guard in 2021-22 with the Denver Nuggets (Jamal Murray was shelved) and in 2022-23 with the Washington Wizards. Payne had better than a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in 2023-24.

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