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Smook A. 06-22-2014 02:55 AM

[Chron] While angling for big fish, Rockets keep draft options open

For a team that will not be on the clock until the 25th pick, draft preparations could seem tedious, even pointless. But while it might appear the Rockets' front office is spending time on players it will not select, it can escape those feelings by moving on to free-agency preparations, which also can be tedious and even pointless but more promising.

If nothing else, while the Rockets can be certain they won't leave the draft with one of its presumed top prizes, free agency at least offers that hope.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and his staff have roughly split time between draft evaluations and free-agency preparations. Both could be unnecessary. The vast number of prospects the Rockets will evaluate they will not have the opportunity to draft and they cannot know yet which free agents will hear their pitch.

But there is a much greater chance of a team-changing addition in free agency than through the draft, with the Rockets preparing presentations for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and many others.

After that, their plans are far more uncertain than last season, when the grapevine was clear Dwight Howard would be more than receptive to the Rockets' overtures.

Anthony is expected to opt out of his contract by Monday's deadline, but James was careful not to tip his hand about his plans. Chris Bosh's free agency could depend heavily on James', but Bosh has been even more outspoken about his preference to remain in Miami.

Cap-room problem

The Rockets also do not have last year's clear road to max contract cap room. They have been confident for several months they could clear much of the cap room necessary by dealing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik without taking back contracts, according to individuals with knowledge of their plans. Unlike the December effort to trade Asik, they would not be seeking comparable talent in the deal, potentially making it much easier to complete a trade.

That would not open enough cap room for a max contract for Anthony or James, though with a few other moves (or additions in a sign-and-trade) they could get close, especially to James' max.

Last season, however, the Rockets wanted to go into talks with those questions answered, dealing Thomas Robinson before the meeting with Howard to remove cap room as a potential stumbling block.

Also unlike last season's focused pursuit of the top free agent, the Rockets will aim in a variety of directions.

They also have not given up hope of landing their third star in a trade. The Rockets have made trade proposals to Minnesota for forward Kevin Love that remain on the table, though the Rockets do not have the kind of top pick or potential All-Star to offer in return.

Unlike their trade of Kyle Lowry in 2012 to get the kind of draft pick needed to be the centerpiece of a major deal, the Rockets would be more hesitant to give up that kind of talent for an uncertain, even unlikely, future trade than when they were deep into rebuilding.

This offseason is more about landing the additions to take the next step, which would make a prospect drafted likely to follow the bulk of Morey's draft choices as a player to develop slowly.

The other pattern of most of Morey's drafts has been that the later the pick, the more experienced the player.

Some of that could be because he has not chosen early in the draft, when the top prospects are often one-and-done college players. But from Aaron Brooks, his first pick, to Isaiah Canaan, his most recent, in Morey's nine drafts with the Rockets (including the draft in which he was the general manager-in-waiting working under Carroll Dawson) he has tended to take older players.

He also has defied his reputation for relying on analytics, with Canaan and some of his best second-round finds - Chandler Parsons and Chase Budinger - chosen because of traditional scouting evaluations despite relatively poor grades in analytic measures.

Successful selections

Morey's picks generally have merited their draft position with Parsons, Brooks, Terrence Jones, Budinger and Patrick Patterson all becoming starters.

But none, other than second-rounders, have greatly exceeded the pick it took to get them.

Morey never has selected in the top third of the first round, only once drafting before the middle of the round when he took Jeremy Lamb with the 12th pick.

Royce White, taken with the 16th pick in 2012, was by far the biggest bust, having never played for the Rockets after they gambled with one of three first-round picks that season. Parsons, taken with the 38th pick, Brooks and Patrick Patterson probably were the most successful selections.

"There are very few of our picks that have done nothing," Morey said. "Even 'guys that didn't work out,' like Joey Dorsey (a 2008 second-rounder) is on his second title in Europe and one of his best players in Europe and Marcus Morris is a very good player on a very good Phoenix team."

That does not mean Morey does not second-guess himself, even without indulging in comparing his choices to every player taken later.

"If you looked at it that way, every team is a failure," Morey said. "The player taken third or fourth would have to be better than 56 other guys. We look at it as did you do as well or better than you normally would expect with that spot.

"I beat myself, too, like 'How did we miss this or how did we miss that?' But there is nothing productive in that. You try to learn what you can. Then you move on and keep working."

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