Houston Rockets fans are used to seeing center Yao Ming in street clothes after the past few seasons, and if there's a failing of GM Daryl Morey's plans the last few seasons, it's been that he hasn't been able to secure a credible backup plan at the five for Yao. He was ever-so-close to pulling off a trade for Tyson Chandler last offseason, but instead Chandler moved on to the Mavericks.
So what will the Rockets do in the paint this offseason? Yao and Chuck Hayes are both free agents, and while the free agent class doesn't have much in the way of star big men, there are a lot of quality options that the Rockets could pursue. Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle goes into a few of them in his latest piece:
The Grizzlies' Marc Gasol and the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan will be restricted free agents. Both teams have said they will match offers their centers receive, but the new CBA could bring an immediate or phased-in hard salary cap that could make it difficult for Memphis and could give Los Angeles pause to match offers.
Increased salary-cap restrictions also could make Dallas' Tyson Chandler, who will be an unrestricted free agent, available. The Rockets had a deal in place to get Chandler last summer. Though that fell through, it does indicate the Rockets' interest.
They also had talked with Utah reserve Kyrylo Fesenko, who returned to the Jazz but will be an unrestricted free agent. Sacramento's Samuel Dalembert will be a free agent also able to bring needed size and defensive presence inside.
Free agents Yao Ming and Hayes have said they want to return, and Morey said he would like them back. However, Hayes and Yao have been with the Rockets long enough, longer than any of their teammates, to know how unpredictable things will be.
There's a significant subset of Rockets fans that don't want Yao Ming back at any price simply because he all that likely to stay healthy. However, it's hard to let a player of Yao's talent walk in free agency unless he is dramatically overpaid somehow, and with NBA owners focusing on crying poor in advance of the looming lockout, that sounds like an unlikely combination.
Still, it's hard to imagine the Rockets successfully luring Jordan or Gasol to Houston considering the public statements made about them by their front offices. Chandler would sure look good, as would Dalembert.
For more on the Rockets free agent machinations, check out The Dream Shake.