Strike one — Carmelo Anthony made it pretty clear early on that whatever he ends up choosing as his next destination it would not be the Houston Rockets.
Strike two – when LeBron James chose Cleveland it was assumed around the league and by the Rockets that they could clear out the cap space (trade Omer Asik to the Pelicans and Jeremy Lin to the Lakers) and they would give Chris Bosh a near max deal to join James Harden and Dwight Howard. Nope. Pat Riley came in with a max offer for Bosh and he took it to stay in a place he is personally and professionally happy.
The Rockets planned well, they were in the right positions, but free agency just didn’t break their way.
So now what in Houston?
They still may be able to draw a quality free agent, but not somebody as good as they just missed on. Here are five guys they can target.
• Luol Deng. The former Chicago Bull and short-time Cavalier is the best fit of the guys left in my opinion — but the Rockets are also out of the running for him, according to Marc Stein at ESPN. Deng appears headed to Miami.
• Trevor Ariza. This is the guy Houston now seems to be targeting. For my money (and it’s not my money) the Rockets would be better off with Chandler Parsons at the three and waiting to find a four, but Ariza is one option if they want to go a little smaller. He could be costly as the Wizards want to keep him and he’s everybody’s backup plan. He is a good defender who last year shot the ball well all over the court on his way to 14.4 points a game and a .590 true shooting percentage.
• Greg Monroe. This would be a bet on potential, that he could develop into an All-Star level player. The problem is he is an expensive gamble — it likely takes a max or close to it offer to pry him out of Detroit, and the Pistons still could match anyway (Monroe is a restricted free agent). Monroe has a versatile offensive game — at the elbow he can score and make good decisions he is solid in the post and runs the floor well.
• Wait. Being patient sucks. Both for fans and owners. But sometimes it is the best option. The Rockets are in position to go after big free agents in the coming years, or to make trades — as long as they don’t screw up their flexibility by overpaying for a second tier guy. Wait out the market, wait for next year’s free agent crop. The Rockets should improve after a year together and some playoff experience (if not, Kevin McHale should worry) and with Parsons back in the fold this is a dangerous team. Don’t mess up what you have just to get something.