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Wednesday July 2, 2008 8:58 AM

Bargain Hunting


Assessing Fit, Value Within Free Agent Crop

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer
HOUSTON - The NBA's annual free agent bonanza is underway. The key term this year: fiscal responsibility. Don't be surprised to see teams spend the majority of their offseason focusing on bargain shopping rather than big names. For one thing, there's only a modicum of genuine star power in this year's free agent class. But perhaps more important: There just aren't too many clubs which possess the kind of cap room necessary to splurge on a lavish free agent shopping spree.

Count the Rockets among those who will have to exercise restraint while attempting to improve their roster this offseason. With only the mid-level exception (expected to be in the $6 million range) at his disposal, General Manager Daryl Morey's task is to find the best possible combination of fit and value.

So with that in mind, let's take a realistic – sorry, that means no talk of high-priced players like Gilbert Arenas -- look at the list of unrestricted free agents in an attempt to divine the players who might be on the Rockets' radar screen right now (stats listed are from the 2007-2008 season).

1. The Fan Favorite

Corey Maggette (22.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, .812 ft%)

Judging by the poll results on the Rockets.com homepage, Maggette is the overwhelming choice of the fans. To be sure, he would seemingly fill one of the team's more pressing needs. The Rockets have made no secret of their desire to find an athletic, slashing wing and few fit that description quite as well as the explosive ninth year veteran from Duke. His ability to get to the line – and convert at an 80% clip once he's there – makes him mighty attractive to any team in the market for instant offense.

So what's the downside? There are a few issues, actually. First and foremost, he won't come cheap. The Clippers guard made $7 million last season and figures to have no shortage of suitors this summer. So it could prove difficult to squeeze him in with nothing but the mid-level exception; especially since the Rockets are also keen to re-sign Carl Landry.

Then there are his perceived on-court shortcomings. Fair or not, Maggette has developed a reputation as a somewhat selfish player since ball movement tends to go on the endangered list the second the rock finds its way into his hands; Brandon Roy, he's not. On the other end of the floor, well, let's just say Maggette is not going to win any awards for his defense anytime soon. And did we mention that, on average, he's missed more than 16 games per year throughout his career?

Hey, there's a reason these guys are available on the open market.

2. The Championship Pedigree

James Posey (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, .380 3p%)

His numbers don't jump off the page. But consider this: No other player in the NBA has collected more championship rings over the course of the last three years than James Posey (He has two: One as a member of the '06 Miami Heat and one with the newly-crowned champs from Boston). Obviously Posey was not the driving force behind either one of those teams, but it's likely that neither club could have claimed its title without his clutch contributions.

A prototypical "glue" guy, Posey makes his mark with tremendous defense and timely three point shots. The question is: Would he fit right in, or would his skill set be a bit redundant with Shane Battier already filling a similar role on the Rockets roster?

3. The Question Mark

Mickael Pietrus (7.2 ppg, 1 spg, .361 3p%)

One year ago Pietrus would have been a much hotter name on the free agent market. His Warriors were coming off their electrifying playoff run, and the French forward seemed to be a player on the rise. One season later, Golden State is back to being an also-ran, and Pietrus is searching for answers after watching his minutes and numbers tumble across the board.

No one questions Pietrus's athleticism and he is a willing defender who possesses the tools to one day excel in that role. But if he's not running the floor or spotting up for corner treys, he doesn't give you much value offensively since he can't create off the dribble. In other words, the price will have to be right before the Rockets say "Bienvenue!" to Mickael.

4. The Savvy Vet

Brent Barry (7.1 ppg, 1.7, apg, .429 3p%)

There's no mystery regarding the Rockets' interest here -- The club contacted Barry to kick off the free agent recruiting period. There's also little ambiguity about what the Spurs guard brings to the table: Veteran experience and lights-out three point shooting. Those qualities never go out of style. True, Barry no longer possesses the bouncy athleticism of his youth, but this past postseason (Remember Game 4 vs. the Lakers?) he showed he can still make an important impact off the bench.

5. The Big Man

DeSagana Diop (2.9 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.1 bpg)

What you see is what you get: A 25 year old back-up center who will give you some blocks, some boards and absolutely no offense. But if you assume that means he'll come cheap, think again. Teams always pay for a premium for big men -- even one dimensional giants like Diop -- and word around the league is that Mark Cuban is willing to open up his wallet in order to bring the former Mav back to Dallas.

6. The Homecoming Crew

Bostjan Nachbar (9.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .359 3p%)

There probably wasn't a single soul in Houston who would have predicted the possibility of a Boki return when the Rockets' former first round pick was sent packing in 2004. But to his credit, Nachbar has turned himself into a solid NBA player capable of contributing; especially on the offensive end with his sweet outside stroke. Defensively, however, that's another story. Nachbar is a classic tweener who's not quite quick enough to guard the majority of the league's small forwards, and absolutely overmatched when asked to hold his own against physical power forwards.

Robert Horry (2.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg... aww, who are we kidding? There's only one number that matters: 7. As in 7 championship rings)

Actually, come to think of it, there is another number that matters when discussing Horry: 38. That's how old Big Shot Rob will be when the new season begins. Horry has gone on record as saying he'd like to play in Houston if he doesn't re-sign with the Spurs, but what does he have left in the tank? He was a non-factor for San Antonio this past season and showed little to indicate a possible resurgence in 2009.

But would the Rockets consider splurging on a good luck charm if the price was right? For a team that's dealt with more than its fair share of misfortune over the last few years, a little dose of lady luck could prove to be the best bargain of all.