For the fourth time in five seasons, the Houston Rockets have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets now have an interesting offseason ahead of them. Without cap space and a draft pick, they currently have few ways to improve their roster.
Houston at least has its starting lineup of Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela under contract for one more season.
Nene Hilario, C, UFA (player option for 2019-20 season)
Iman Shumpert, G/F, UFA
Gerald Green, G/F, UFA
Austin Rivers, G/F, UFA
Kenneth Faried, F/C, UFA
Danuel House, G/F, RFA
Vince Edwards, F, RFA
UFA = Unrestricted Free Agent, RFA = Restricted Free Agent
Eric Gordon, G - under team control through 2019-20
P.J. Tucker, F - under team control through 2020-21
Gary Clark, F - under team control through 2021-22
Isaiah Hartenstein, C - under team control through 2020-21
Chris Paul, G - under team control through 2021-22
James Harden, G - under team control through 2022-23
Clint Capela, C - under team control through 2022-23
The Rockets don't have a pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. They owe their first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers and their second-round pick to the New York Knicks.
How have the Rockets drafted in recent years? They haven't had a lottery pick since 2012, when they selected Jeremy Lamb 12th overall.
Since Lamb, the Rockets have selected only Clint Capela and Sam Dekker in the first round of the NBA Draft.
According to Basketball Insiders, the Rockets have $116.2 million committed to their roster for next season, more than half of which is owed to Chris Paul ($38.5 million) and James Harden ($38.2 million).
That leaves the Rockets without any cap space to work with entering free agency.
Biggest offseason storylines
Where do they go from here?
Many teams have the one obstacle they are ultimately unable to overcome.
For this Rockets team, it's been the Warriors.
Four eliminations in five years to one of the best teams ever assembled isn't necessarily an indictment on this franchise, but they've made moves with Golden State in mind and come close to getting past the three-time champs.
Now, without any draft picks or cap room, this Rockets team appears to have reached an impasse.
Houston's GM Daryl Morey is one of basketball's more brilliant minds and could find a way to navigate a seemingly-impossible situation, but he'll have to get clever. The past few offseasons have consisted of major moves, but the team could try something different.
As the window for this team becomes smaller and smaller, you can't expect them to stand pat.
Development of young players
We know the big names: Paul, Harden, Gordon, Tucker and Capela.
Of the above five, only Capela (25) will be under the age of 30 on opening night next season.
With a lack of financial flexibility and no draft picks, Houston might have to find the answer to its problems on the roster. Among the players that saw limited to no action in the Conference Semifinals were Isaiah Hartenstein (21), Chris Chiozza (23), Gary Clark (24) and Danuel House Jr. (25).
Could the Rockets shift their focus to the development of some of the aforementioned young talent, who are already familiar with the team's system and have spent some time alongside the centrepieces of Paul, Harden, Gorden, Tucker and Capela?
While none of the team's youngest players are projected to be major stars, one could step in to fill the void of the numerous players that may no longer be on the roster next season. Given the team's limitations, it might be reliant solely on this prospect.
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