Houston Rockets 2021 NBA Free Agency Grades For Every Signing
As expected, it has been a slow and steady 2021 NBA free agency period for the Houston Rockets.
Even as a multitude of teams in the Western Conference came into the offseason with an eye on bolstering their team for a possible playoff run next season, the Rockets opted for a more conservative stance instead. The Rockets clearly do not have an aim at competing this upcoming season but rather are looking to build a formidable team for the long term.
Houston has already begun this process as the team plans to build around rookie Jalen Green and promising score-first guard Kevin Porter Jr.
Still, the Rockets were not completely quiet over the opening week of the free agency period as they made several key moves.
Contract: 4-year, $36 million deal
Following the departure of Kelly Olynyk over the offseason, the Rockets had a minor need for a backup center. And as was rumored ahead of the free agency period, Houston elected to come to terms with veteran center Daniel Theis on a four-year, $36 million deal, although the team did agree to a sign-and-trade agreement with the Chicago Bulls to facilitate this move.
One could make out this signing to be a head-scratcher one, as Theis may not fit in the Rockets’ plan to build around their promising players with young talents. More so, the former Boston Celtics starting center is not a reliable score-first big, nor can he overpower opposing centers in the low post.
However, Theis’ success with the Rockets will hinge on just how effective he will be in pick-and-roll plays with the team and whether he can be effective in disrupting such plays over on the defensive end.
Theis has not been called upon as much to be a scoring threat when in pick-and-roll situations over the past couple of seasons. He notably took part in 27.5 percent of pick-and-roll (man) plays during the 2019-2020 season, which was his last full campaign with the Celtics. Opposing bigs have not had to keep a close watch on Theis potentially being an offensive menace in such plays, which is noted by his 1.17 points per possession mark over the aforementioned season.
But as he often did with Jayson Tatum, Theis can be relied on to be the Rockets’ go-to screener this season. The veteran center has what it takes to tag along with Green and Porter to set hard screens and thus open up space for them on the court, which could create high percentage shot opportunities for the two guards.
On the defensive end, Theis’ relentless work rate can provide Rockets head coach Stephen Silas with a number of options on just how to get the best out of him on the defensive end. Theis is not afraid to take on defensive assignments against some of the more quicker guards in the NBA, and he is one who thrives off creating havoc in the low post.
For a $9 million average annual value deal, Theis will have plenty of work to do to play up to his contract, but he surely has what it takes to do just that.
Contact: 3-year, $15 million deal
Signing Theis has been the Rockets’ lone notable acquisition of the ongoing free agency period, but the team did make one other key move, which centered on re-signing David Nwaba to a three-year, $15 million deal.
The versatile scorer made the most of his playing time opportunities with the Rockets last season, which included an 18-point showing against the Dallas Mavericks.
One could make the case that the Rockets could have looked elsewhere for a more durable score-first talent who could also come off the bench, especially as the team does have a $5.0 million trade exception from the notable James Harden move. Still, his impact on the defensive side of the ball can not be overlooked, as he is coming off of a season where he posted a formidable 44.7 defended field goal percentage.
Nwaba’s two-way prowess can once again provide the Rockets with a much-needed spark off the bench this upcoming season.
Rockets free agency grade: B
If one were to evaluate the Rockets’ overall offseason moves, it would be fair to hand out an A grade to the team considering that they bolstered their youth corps with Jalen Green (draft), Usman Garuba (draft), Josh Christopher (draft) and Matthew Hurt (rookie two-way contract).
Looking solely at the Rockets’ free agency moves, a B grade would be a fair assessment. Houston did not have much to work with in free agency considering that John Wall ($44.3 million) and Eric Gordon ($18.2 million) will still be under contract for the upcoming season. More so, the Rockets have no real sense of urgency to build a playoff-contending team for the upcoming season.
In the big picture, the Rockets front office is setting the team up to be in a strong position to soon become a threat in the Western Conference. But for now, Houston is clearly in rebuilding mode, but the long-term payoff could come with notable success.