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Who Can the Rockets Add to Put Them Over the Top?

Houston is nearly capped out, but Daryl Morey has a way of making magic happen

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Under all of the groaning about a fourth consecutive Warriors-Cavaliers Finals, Kevin Durant dropped a nugget when he was asked if the Rockets are close to catching the Warriors. “Anything could happen over the summer,” Durant responded after Game 7’s 101-92 win, “for both sides.” Cryptic!

Back in March, KD told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater that “yeah,” there’s a 100 percent chance he’s back in Oakland next season. So maybe not anything could happen. That goes for Houston, too, which will enter free agency on a tight budget if it re-signs Chris Paul and Clint Capela. (That’s the plan, per general manager Daryl Morey.) Because Houston didn’t pay the luxury tax this season, the front office will have a full midlevel exception to spend on someone, granting the team a little under $9 million to play with. But it gets more complicated if the front office wants to sign any outright free agent who is outside of that price range. Someone like Ryan Anderson could be moved to create space, though the Rockets would have to offload other assets to get rid of his deal.

Among the many what-ifs from Chris Paul’s absence in games 6 and 7 is not knowing if this roster has enough juice to close out the Warriors, and there’s no indication that Houston at its best can get better as is. There are obvious targets, not-so-obvious ones, and a few in between that Houston should court this offseason—if the front office can figure out how to afford them. Like KD said, anything could happen.

Here are some free agents that Houston could pursue, organized into ABBA-inspired tiers:

I Have a Dream Targets

LeBron James

Recruiting LeBron is kind of like shooting 3s in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals—even if you can create the space, that doesn’t mean the shot’s going to go in. But if you’re on LeBron’s list of potential destinations (which the Rockets reportedly are, along with the Lakers, Sixers, and Cavaliers), you have to try.

It’s not a question of fit with the King—Jonathan Tjarks wrote in December about how seamlessly he could be integrated alongside Paul and James Harden—so much as it is finding the cap space. There are a couple of backroad ways that it could work, like how CP3 arrived in Houston: Chris Paul picked up his player option on the condition he would be traded to the Rockets, which eased Houston’s cap burden.

Paul George

Morey was reportedly very active in pitching the Pacers when they were shopping George last offseason. Now he can appeal to the man himself. Especially with Trevor Ariza hitting free agency this summer (and with Ariza hitting zero of his nine 3-point attempts in Game 7), George would come in at the perfect time. Houston has already made strides defensively; with George, it could make the leap.

One of Us Targets

Tyreke Evans

After Houston was eliminated, Mike D’Antoni was asked why the Rockets didn’t stop shooting 3s. “We’ve got the right formula,” he said. “We’ve got to execute it.” His offense missed on a historically bad 29 of its final 30 3-point shots. If he’s really going to not change that strategy in game, D’Antoni needs more 3-point shooters. One that certainly would have helped was Evans, whom Houston was reportedly trying to acquire before the trade deadline. While Evans is a playmaker more than a sharpshooter and hasn’t always been great (or good) (or decent) from 3, he’s risen in that area dramatically the past few years. This season, only three players shot 39 percent from the perimeter while also averaging 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Two of them, Durant and Steph Curry, are Warriors. Evans is the third.

J.J. Redick

There’s no chance that Redick could come to Houston and make the kind of money he did with the Sixers this season ($23 million), but there was mutual interest at one point in time. When he joined The Bill Simmons Podcast last week, Redick said that he negotiated with Houston last offseason before Philadelphia entered the picture. But, per Redick, it didn’t work out because Morey wouldn’t offer him a fourth year on the contract.

Redick said in March that he wants to be in Philadelphia long term. Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo does have quite a bit of cap space leeway this summer, but if Philly somehow landed LeBron or George, there might not be enough left over for Redick. Redick will have to accept a pay cut to remain in Philly or go to Houston, and there’s no telling whether money, long-term security, or the chance at a ring is more important to him at this point in his career. But there are three things I do know to be true: He and former Clippers teammate CP3 are really good friends, Redick can shoot the hell out of a 3-pointer, and Morey and 3-pointers are really good friends.

Take a Chance on Me Target

Nemanja Bjelica

Minnesota’s reserve power forward is 30 years old, but takes a more modern approach on offense than anyone on the roster outside of Karl-Anthony Towns. He looks to space the floor more than midrange-hungry wings Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler do, and almost always opts for a 3-pointer or a drive inside. Think of Bjelica as an inexpensive, more defensively capable, Serbian Ryan Anderson on the perimeter. He shot better than Anderson this season, hitting 41.5 percent from 3, but on half the shots and fewer minutes. Bjelly, a restricted free agent, only makes sense if Anderson gets dealt.