This is the most important off-season in Daryl Morey's 6 year tenure with the Rockets. Come hell or high water, he has to make drastic improvements to this roster and get the team back to being a contender or at least in the playoffs on a yearly basis. Over the last several weeks we've looked at who the Rockets might draft with their two 1st round picks, but at the spot they're picking, the players they select likely won't make an immediate impact. The next option becomes trade, but despite having the assets, Morey has swung and missed on several attempted deals for a star player like Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol over the last several seasons. No doubt Morey and the Rockets will try to acquire a star with a trade, but given their recent track record, maybe they'd have better luck using free-agency.
Looking over the Rockets roster (currently 1.9 million over the cap), they'll have Marcus Camby (11.2 million), Courtney Lee (2.2 million), Goran Dragic (2.1 million), and Chase Budinger (854K) all coming off the books, giving them about 14.5 million dollars in cap space to go after a star. Of course, if they decide to re-sign Dragic, at least half of that cap space will be gone. Free-agency isn't super deep this year with stars, but if they decide to go that route; here are a few to target.
Deron Williams (Player Option) - This would obviously mean moving Lowry and letting Dragic walk, but maybe Lowry could bring back a decent player or pick in return. The Rockets have tried to trade for Williams before he became a Net; if he opts out, they will again. On the chances he'll opt out, he said recently to ESPN New York, he's still undecided. If Williams believes they'll be able to trade for Dwight Howard, I'll think he'll stay, otherwise I think he'll leave. At that point, Dallas would be the favorite since that's where he's from and it'd give him a chance to play with another superstar. Most likely, the Rockets best chance to land him is the same as Brooklyn's; they need to land Dwight Howard or another star in a trade to lure Williams here.
Eric Gordon (Restricted) - I'm guessing the New Orleans Hornets will match, right now they have a 5.1 million qualifying offer out. Gordon would give the Rockets a younger version of Kevin Martin who has 1 year left on his deal and the Rockets will be looking to move. Gordon is a little small for the 2-guard spot, and pretty much a 1-dimensional player, but he'd still be an improvement over Martin. Both players were injured most of last season, but during the the 2010-2011 seasons, Gordon averaged 22 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and shot 45% from the field; Martin averaged 23 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and shot 43% from the field. I wouldn't offer Gordon crazy money (making it even more likely that the Hornets would match), but he'd improve this team.
Roy Hibbert (Restricted) - The Pacers will match, but the Rockets should make an offer just like they did for Marc Gasol last off-season. Hibbert isn't Dwight Howard or even Andrew Bynum, but the Rockets are desperate for a center and there aren't many to go around in today's NBA. Hibbert's points, rebounds, and blocks per game have gone up every season of his career, and he shot .497% this season; a new career high. My biggest question with him isn't his talent or even his health; it's his desire. I'm not saying he doesn't compete, but at times he's too passive. Has a tendency to pass the ball too much instead of using his size and overpowering his defender.
Andrew Bynum (Team Option) - No chance; Lakers will lock him up or trade him for Dwight Howard.
Tim Duncan & Kevin Garnett (Both Unrestricted) - Too old and both will likely stay with their current team.
Gerald Wallace (Player Option) - He's not going to leave 9.5 million dollars on the table. His points per game and field goal percentage have declined, he'll be 30 when the season starts; I'll pass.
Not much out there. Most likely they'll need to use a trade or get lucky in the draft. Cross your fingers.