The Houston Rockets won the trust of free agent big man Dwight Howard last summer and with that could be considered the winners of the 2013 offseason. Kevin McHale's crew teamed the big man with shooting guard James Harden, subsequently won 54 regular season games and appeared ready to make a deep playoff push.
Instead, Houston fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Portland Trail Blazers, so excuse general manager Daryl Morey if he's getting a bit greedy. The Rockets are now teeing up maneuvers to make a splash in free agency by landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.
Howard's decision to sign with the Rockets last summer was faith that this would be a possibility. That Morey pulled off a steal of a trade for James Harden a year prior probably gave the big man confidence that Houston wouldn't be satisfied once he joined forces with the All-Star guard. If Houston can grab another top free agent in 2014, it could thrust the franchise into elite territory.
Draft picks: No. 25, No. 42
Free agents: Chandler Parsons (RFA), Francisco Garcia, Jordan Hamilton
Cap space: $4.7 million
C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik
Houston can run out a formidable starting lineup, but there will be holes to fill if it opens up the cap space to sign another max contract player. If the Rockets do go after a max player, the team will need to trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who both have backloaded, but expiring contracts. That would leave even more room for additions at point guard behind Patrick Beverley and at power forward and center, where in this scenario there wouldn't be a defensive presence on the roster outside of Howard.
Perhaps the most glaring hole in the current roster is at power forward, where Terrence Jones showed signs of being a double-double threat but at times was a liability on the defensive end.
A smaller issue: finding shooting depth from guard to power forward. While the playoff emergence of Troy Daniels might be an answer, Houston's midseason trade and failed integration (so far) of Jordan Hamilton could be something for Morey to think about. This could be alleviated if Donatas Motiejunas, Jones and Hamilton develop into more reliable rotation players.
Chandler Parsons is also technically on the market, though the Rockets are expected to re-sign him after the pursuit of a max player ends.
Given the rumors of Houston's interest in James and Anthony, it's hard to see who else the team would consider adding to the roster. It's not to say the Rockets' pursuit of James and Anthony are impossible. James would have to believe his options with the Big Three in Miami are more limiting than playing in Houston. Should Houston open up cap room, James could decide that joining a new core of Howard and Harden would give him the first chance to play with a more-than-established big man and a player who has the legs to take pressure off of him.
Perhaps Anthony leaving the Knicks is more realistic than James jumping ship with the Heat. Though the Chicago Bulls will seemingly be in the mix for Anthony as well, he could be plugged into Houston's roster as a dangerous shooter who would thrive in a role where he didn't have to create all of his own shot opportunities.
And if the Rockets aren't able to sway James or Anthony to join them, Howard Beck reports that Chris Bosh is also on the radar. Just like the other scenarios, Houston would need to open cap space by moving Asik and Lin.