The Houston Rockets announced this week that they would not exercise their option to extend the contracts of guard Courtney Lee and the four rookies from the 2009 draft, center Hasheem Thabeet, forward Jordan Hill, guard Johnny Flynn and guard Terrence Williams. The Rockets had the option available to extend them one year beyond their rookie contracts, but had to make that move before a league-imposed deadline.
Everyone except Lee will be unrestricted free agents. Lee will be restricted, meaning the Rockets could match any offer for him, which is not an uncommon tactic teams use allowing other teams to set the market for a player.
Clearly, this move is designed to free up cap space for the summer, which should include some of the biggest names in basketball. The Rockets clearly want to go after one if not two max-dollar free agents next summer.
It's no secret that the Rockets covet Dwight Howard like the rest of the NBA, but the wild card is Deron Williams. The former draft pick of the Utah Jazz, now with the Nets, is someone the Rockets have tried to acquire through trade for quite some time and no doubt they are hoping (and praying and wishing on a star) that they might have the opportunity to pair Howard with Williams as the blockbuster tandem they have been lacking since Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
The chances of them landing Howard or Williams let alone both are extremely slim. Free agents tend to want to go where other great players already are or to one of the big destination cities like New York, LA, Miami and Chicago. With the Nets moving to Brooklyn, it's hard to imagine it will be easy to pry Williams away from the Nets even if he grew up in Texas.
And even if they do, they have an emerging star in Kyle Lowry playing the same position. Does he have the star potential of Williams? Maybe not. Williams has already been an all star and will continue to rank among the best guards in the league while healthy. He also has great size at the point guard spot that Lowry doesn't have.
But even if they don't bring in Williams or Howard, their cap space and flexibility thanks to general manager Daryl Morey give them a ton of options. Flynn wasn't going to return anyway. Terrance Williams, for the flashes he has shown, has been buried on the bench since the start of the season. Hill is a top pick that has never really lived up to his potential despite all the tools. And Thabeet is, well, Thabeet.
This move is relatively low risk, but potentially high reward and the one real keeper from the group, Lee, is restricted. Typical stuff from Morey.
One thing is clear, however. The Rockets want to be players in the big-name talent sweepstakes, something that has Les Alexander's mark all over it. They are still one of the most valuable franchises in basketball, but Alexander wants to win. Always has. Clearing this space with these moves could be the catalyst taking a team mired in mediocrity to a perennial playoff contender if they play their cards right.
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