Rockets free agent notes: Closing the door on Harden, a big board, early depth chart and contingency plans

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Free agency is upon us.

The Houston Rockets, after weeks, months and years of toiling at the bottom of the NBA’s barrel, are now in a position of real optimism and strength. In three seasons, the franchise has added a horde of young talent in Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Şengün, Tari Eason and most recently Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. They have completely revamped their coaching staff, bringing in Ime Udoka and six assistants – Cam Hodges, Ben Sullivan, Royal Ivey, Tiago Splitter, Garrett Jackson and Mike Moser. And most notably, they’re armed with nearly $66 million in cap space (per projections from salary cap analyst Danny Leroux) and could create even more cap space if they wanted to.

Free agency officially opens on June 30 at 6:00 PM ET, and there is a clear internal goal – to improve significantly.

“The goal is to bring in really good basketball players who can immediately impact our ability to compete and win basketball games,” general manager Rafael Stone said. Athletics. “And at the same time model how to be successful in the NBA for our very young players and work well with them. All of those things are important to us going into next season.”

With the free floodgates waiting to be opened just hours away, here’s the latest on the rebuilding Rockets.

• What once thrived on serious potential to lift the Rockets franchise back to relevance no longer is, as the door between James Harden and the Rockets has been slammed shut for good. What happened there is something you can read more about, with reporting from our Sam Amick and myself delving into the former MVP’s looming break with the Philadelphia 76ers and a future that no longer involves Houston. But as for the Rockets, it’s time to turn the page and focus on what their options are to build this roster into a potential winner…


Why James Harden’s reunion with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia went south

• Prior to the start of free agency, Houston’s brass traveled to Los Angeles to camp and prepare for a series of meetings that will take place over the next few days. Initially, they will meet with wing Dillon Brooks and center Brook Lopez, league sources say. They also hope to meet with Van Vleet and his representatives. In addition, the Rockets expect to meet with Kyrie Irving, these sources add, and they also have strong interest in Bruce Brown, who is said to have a good relationship with Udoka. In Brown’s case, Houston would be prepared to go over the mid-level exception to land his services, according to sources briefed on the matter. Other big man targets include Dwight Powell and Jakob Poeltl. Jordan Clarkson, who reportedly picked up his option for next season, is also of interest. A meeting with forward Kyle Kuzma has also been mentioned as a possibility.

Rockets Free Agency Big Board




SALARY 2022-23



Toronto Raptors

21.3 million dollars



Memphis Grizzlies

11.7 million dollars



Milwaukee Bucks

13 million dollars



Denver Nuggets

6.6 million dollars



Dallas Mavericks

34.1 million dollars



Brooklyn Nets

4.7 million dollars



Los Angeles Lakers

1.2 million dollars



Toronto Raptors

8.8 million dollars



Dallas Mavericks

11.1 million dollars



Boston Celtics

3 million dollars


• Because of their buying power in the market, the Rockets are confident of landing the targets they want. Having significantly more cap space than rival teams gives them an inherent advantage when it comes to pursuing hot commodities, although there is the reality that some players will opt for competitive environments or familiarity. However, the Rockets will prioritize shorter contracts and are willing to offer more money up front for players they are strongly interested in, league sources say. Non-tradeable areas of need identified are shooting and defense/rim protection.

• Finding an established point guard and addressing playmaking deficiencies has long been Houston’s most important task, but there is an important caveat. Similar to the Rockets’ draft preparation where they discussed potential scenarios where certain players would be off the board, it’s the same in free agency. There have been some discussions of top point guards choosing places outside of Houston. In that scenario, league sources say, one idea presented was to aggressively pursue a player like Brown — a wing defender with secondary ball-handling ability — and give Thompson and Green more players on the ball to help their development.

• Trade talks surrounding fourth-year forward Kenyon Martin Jr. have increased in number in recent days with the expectation that a trade this offseason is increasingly likely, league sources say. To be clear, Martin hasn’t requested a trade since this time last season, but with Houston still looking for opportunities to improve their financial flexibility heading into July, Martin’s combination of age, upside and salary make him an attractive candidate on the market.

• Stone has spent some time with Udoka over the past few weeks to gain a clearer understanding of his wants and needs. In conversations, Udoka’s preferred style of play has had an impact on the types of players the Rockets are looking for. An area that was also emphasized was those that can help improve the young players’ quality of life on and off the pitch.

• At the end of last season, it was communicated to the players in exit meetings that nothing was guaranteed going forward, such as playing time or rotation status. This is a team that has won just 42 games in two years. With change on the horizon, there would also be a need for a mental shift. Earlier this week, Udoka expressed a similar sentiment. The right will not fly in phase two.

Contingency planning (provided top goals are off the table)

Point guard: Jordan Clarkson

Reasons: The Jazz are one of the teams that have looked at Martin for a while, with Jazz boss Danny Ainge said to have been a fan of the 22-year-old’s upside. TyTy Washington Jr.’s value is likely diminished somewhat since he barely saw the floor after being drafted in the first round, but he’s still only 21 years old and would benefit from a less crowded point guard room. I could imagine Houston haggling over the extra second-round pick, but ultimately the Jazz feel the draft compensation is necessary to get a deal over the line.

Remember, Clarkson took up his option, but he can be signed up to an extension at any time as long as the parameters fall within the new CBA guidelines. I could easily see Houston offering something like two years, $32 million.

Center: Clint Capela

Reasons: Reports suggest the former Rockets big man is available again, and this was a possibility for a trade package similar to what the Jazz gave up to acquire John Collins earlier this week. It’s no secret that Atlanta is trying to throw money where they can, and the Rockets are also trying to move Martin. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

Way too early depth chart


A. Thompson

J. Green

K. Porter Jr.

J. Smith Jr.

A. Sengun

T. Washington Jr.

C. Whitmore

T. Eason

J. Tate

U. Garuba

J. Christopher

K. Martin

• Don’t get too attached to labels. For example, I grouped Whitmore under the “shooting guard” category, even though I know he played more in the frontcourt at Villanova. I just consider him a big wing at the NBA level. If his scoring and defensive potential are legitimate, Udoka could have an athletic, explosive talent on his hands that he could deploy against opposing second units as Whitmore eases his way into the league.

• The argument, which has been the argument for as long as I can remember, is going to be about the small forward. Remember, this is not how the team will look when training camp rolls around or even this Sunday night. And believe me, I have struggled with this idea for a long time. But I ended up settling on Porter – for now. I understand the thought of Eason, his defensive versatility and why that makes him happy for Udoka. But the most consistent word I heard about the new head coach has been shooting, and Porter was pretty much the Rockets’ best last season. He’s also a natural scorer who has the ability to create plays as a second nature, which should mesh well with Thompson’s natural game. I could also see Porter being used as a microwave scorer off the bench.

(Photo by Alperen Şengün and James Harden: Troy Taormina / USA Today)

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