Rockets miss out on key free agents, but keep an eye on the trade market

Daryl Morey usually has something up his sleeve in the trade market. Rockets.com

Lebron James is a Laker now. Paul George is returning to Oklahoma City. Once again another free agency period where Houston’s front office has asserted aggressiveness in acquiring a superstar, and once again the Rockets have nothing to speak of (Chris Paul and James Harden were both acquired via trades, and Houston’s most productive free agent in recent memory would be Eric Gordon). Instead of lamenting another failed attempt at luring big name free agents to Houston, however, Rockets fans should be more worried about how their team plans to recover from their in-house losses if they plan to remain a Western Conference threat next season.

So far the Rockets managed to resignPaul and fan favorite guard Gerald Green. Clint Capela remains a restricted free agent, but it’s widely assumed that Houston will match any offer made. Their core therefore remains mostly intact, with the exception of forward Trevor Ariza.

Ariza made the surprising decision to to leave Houston and sign with the Phoenix Suns this weekend, leaving a gaping hole in the Rockets starting small forward position. While his departure is nowhere near the magnitude that Paul of Capela’s absence would create, Houston fans shouldn’t sleep on what Ariza brought as a starter to a Rockets team that won a franchise record 65 games last season.

Ariza’s durability will certainly be missed. Since the 2014-2015 season, Ariza missed a total of 18 contests out of 328 in his latest stint as a Rocket, averaging over 33 minutes per game each season. That level of reliability is tough to find in an 82-game season.

Aside from his durability, Ariza was most well known as a clamp down defender that could shoot a reliable 3-pointer. He suited Houston’s system well by shutting down his assignment defensively and setting himself up in the corner for kick out 3-pointers. He didn’t quite light up the scoreboard, but a veteran defensive specialist with range will never be short on suitors during free agency. This time, it came at Houston’s expense.

Should Houston have made a more concerted effort to lock up Ariza? The answer is simply no. It was assumed after their Western Conference Finals exit that Ariza would be willing to take a pay cut to help assemble a superteam. Word got out soon after that Ariza would be looking for a max contract, however, and that was quite simply not an option the Rockets could logically consider.

The question now centers on General Manager Daryl Morey’s remedy to the situation. Reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute looks to be the most logical heir to the starting rotation spot, but he remains a free agent and Houston would not be able to bring him back at the bargain they sign him at last season. Doing so would deplete the Rockets bench depth, a key factor in their success last season.

Where Houston falls short in free agency, however, they excel in their trade savvy. As a result, this looks to be the most likely route the Rockets. Rumors are already circulating regarding Houston’s interest in Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler, a very capable replacement. Expect more of the same in the coming days.

Without Ariza, the Rockets remain among the elite teams in the Western Conference, if not the entire league. It will be interesting however to see who eventually is tabbed as Houston’s starting small forward in just a few short months.


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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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