Plan A is Dwight Howard. That much is clear. The Rockets will plan their summer around making a pitch to Lakers center Dwight Howard at the start of free agency. He’s been the object of Morey’s desire for quite some time and for good reason. But while that snowball in Hell gains shape, Dwight jumping ship is highly unlikely. Skipping town doesn’t make financial sense.
So what will Houston do as Plan B? They could sign Josh Smith outright to a long-term deal. Smoove would vastly improve the team, but then, that’s it – that’s your group through the Harden era. Not much room to move upward.
Just because you have money doesn’t mean you must spend it. That’s a good recipe to stay bad for a long time. Just ask the Pistons who famously broke the piggy bank for Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon and still haven’t recovered. At the same time, you can’t sit on your hoard in perpetuum. You have to make plans to spend the dough at some point.
Rather than signing Josh Smith, I think Plan B should be to pursue a 1 year placeholder. Something like trading for Pau Gasol or targeting Andrew Bynum on a massive, 1 year contract. That would let the team improve but keep its flexibility. They could then target Lebron the next summer or whoever else may become available via trade. The point is, it is better to hold onto your chips–even if it takes time–rather than splurge on the option which you know has a limited ceiling (Smith.)
Regarding Gasol, some would argue, “why bother? He’s too old for this nucleus.” That’s missing the point. He wouldn’t be brought in as a long term solution. His purpose would be to complement this set foundation of James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Omer Asik, helping them improve by helping them gain experience. How? Because if the team is better, then the team goes deeper in the playoffs. Those extra reps and failures mean everything in the long-run.
That’s the beauty of having a nucleus. Remember last year when, after the team blew away its chances at the postseason–but still held onto mathematical hope–Matt Bullard remarked on every broadcast that making the postseason was essential because of the experience it would give our players? I took exception to that logic. We didn’t even know if any of those players would be back, so ‘experience’ was meaningless. It’s like hoping to buy new rims for a car you plan on trashing. Lo and behold, no one from that team–save Parsons–is back.
It’s different now. That aforementioned quartet is here for the long run. That’s exciting, but more importantly it means things like ‘experience’ matter. Not every major piece on the team has to be a part of the long-term solution. Look at the Jazz with Stockton, Hornacek, and Malone or the Pacers with Miller, Jackson, Smits, and the Davis brothers. Both of those squads had revolving doors of small forwards through the 90′s. But the other cogs stayed together and their bond strengthened.
The Rockets have some time. Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik won’t be due raises for another two years. Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Robinson will be under cheap control in the meantime as well. While they can afford to do it, they should be patient and make the smart move.