LOOKING AHEAD

Del Olaleye: 3 biggest roster questions for the Rockets in the offseason

Should the Rockets pay Clint Capela? Jason Miller

After 99 games the Rockets season is done, leaving a number of people with a “where do we go from here” feeling. After nearly 100 games of meaningful basketball there are no more Rockets games on the schedule. Free Agency is over a month away so improving the roster outside of trades will take a little time. Despite being a championship contender and one win away from a Finals appearance the Rockets roster could go through plenty of upheaval. There are questions about the starters and bench players alike. Here are some of the roster questions the Rockets have to answer as they try to gear up for another title run.

What to do with Chris Paul?

The answer seems simple. The unrestricted free agent was the catalyst for a Rockets team that was one win away from the NBA Finals. Bringing back the 13-year veteran will be a priority. The debate should be about for how long as opposed to how much. At 33 years old Paul may have two years of elite point guard play left. Are the Rockets willing to guarantee Paul max money when he’s 36 and 37 to keep him from considering another destination this offseason?

Is Trevor Ariza a part of the Rockets Future?

The swingman certainly didn’t leave a great final impression if he moves on from the Rockets in the offseason. His poor shooting in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals was historically bad. Ariza is 32 years old and may be looking for one last relatively big deal. What does an older “3 and D” guy command in free agency? Take a look at what the Rockets gave PJ Tucker during the 2017 offseason. Tucker was the same age as Ariza is now at the time of his signing. He got four years and $31 million. Are the Rockets willing to give Ariza a salary that averages just less than $8 million per season and for multiple years as well? Those salaries are moderate by NBA standards but signing multiple 30+ year olds to multi-year deals in two consecutive offseasons doesn’t appear to be the Morey way.

Is Capela at Max Money the right way to go?

Clint Capela’s continued growth on both ends of the floor helped change this Rockets team. It also made him a target of teams with money to spend . Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has made it clear that Capela along with Paul are top priorities this offseason. Capela at 24 years old is the only Rockets starter besides James Harden that is under 30. He is not only part of the Rockets present but has the ability to be part of their future long after most of the current rotation has aged itself out of championship contention. Does a team obsessed with beating the current version of the Golden State Warriors pay a player max money when his offense is generated by others? The Warriors are elite on the perimeter. Is Capela’s presence in the paint a great equalizer or should the Rockets try to match the Warriors on the outside?

There will be multiple elite wing players on the open market. LeBron James and Paul George being chief among them. Would you take Paul George, James Harden and Chris Paul for the next four years over Capela, Harden and Paul? That could be a question the Rockets are faced with if the math and money gets a little tight.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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