Every summer, small market franchises gear up to lure big-name free agents to sign with them for the long-term, only to be out-bid by the larger, more popular teams that can afford to pay luxury taxes. No matter how much cap space a team has, top free agents are almost always swayed by the Los Angeles Lakers’, New York Knicks’ and Miami Heat’s of the NBA. This summer, look for the Houston Rockets to be among the top destination for potential free agents.
The Rockets have done well to improve their team lately, while also maintaining assets and a ton of cap space for this summer’s free agency class. After trading for James Harden prior to the 2012-2013 season, the Rockets not only managed to get younger, but they also have a centerpiece that should be attractive for other stars to play alongside. The Rockets also managed to sign Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks, and pluck Omer Asik from the Chicago Bulls, allowing them to be competitive this season without spending much money to do it.
Houston currently only has $39.7 million on their books for the 2013-2014 season, with about $4.8 million is team options for emerging starter Chandler Parsons and reserves Carlos Delfino and Greg Smith. The Rockets can also decline Toney Douglas’ $3.1 million qualifying offer and let him become an unrestricted free agent, which is a high possibility. Parsons will likely land an extension, but Delfino and Smith are somewhat expendable.
Even if the Rockets sign Parsons for somewhere around $5 million per year, they would still have enough cap space to pursue a top free agent like Josh Smith, Dwight Howard (if he chooses to test free agency) or Andrew Bynum (if he’s healthy). Or the Rockets could continue to plug along with role players and save their cap space for the loaded free agency class of 2014 that could potentially feature big names such as Luol Deng, LeBron James, Paul George, John Wall and Carmelo Anthony.
To give the Rockets even more flexibility, they have two first round draft picks this summer – a top-three protected pick from the Toronto Raptors and a top-20 protected pick from the Dallas Mavericks – that they can dangle as trade assets to land a big star that’s already under contract.
Given the Rockets pursuit or Howard last season and their aggressive nature of landing Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, anything is possible with the Rockets. Expect them to be a major player in free agency this coming summer.