NEW YORK - The Houston Rockets added a prospect Thursday night and then turned around and added a guard. Both moves could be seen as a way to help Houston in free agency.
Houston picked power forward Clint Capela with the 25th overall pick of the NBA draft and added Arizona junior guard Nick Johnson at No. 42 in the second round.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey was excited about the picks, specifically touting Capela's potential.
"Clint Capela we thought had the highest upside out of the top few guys in the draft," Morey said. "The wingspan is second to Anthony Davis. He can rebound, block shots at a high level. First division France. Great kid. We had him into Houston early in the process. The draft is about upside, and we think he has the chance to be a high level guy in this league."
In three seasons at Arizona, Johnson scored over 1,300 points and shot over 42 percent from the floor. He shot nearly 37 percent from behind the arc last season as he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 16.3 points and 4.1 rebounds to lead Arizona to the Elite Eight and the Pac-12 title.
"It's a great organization," Johnson said. "They are a playoff team. They have a great group of guys. I was excited. I'm speechless."
Johnson, who described himself as a combination guard, said he plans to latch on to starting Rockets guard Patrick Beverley and learn from him.
"I think we have a lot of similarities," Johnson said. "His grit and grind that he really plays with is something I have in my game. I think I can come in from day one and be that person that he is being. That defensive player, that energy guy."
Johnson, who is expected to play on Houston's summer league team, also has a tie to coach Kevin McHale, who played with Johnson's uncle, the late Dennis Johnson, in Boston.
"It just feels right," Johnson said. "With my uncle being his teammate for as long as he was and me growing up watching the old Celtics tapes with my uncle and him being on it and him being that player that was, it just feels right. It feels good."
The 6-foot-10 Capela averaged 9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year playing for Elan Chalon in France. But the 20-year-old Capela is expected to remain overseas next season, which should help the Rockets save some money as they try to clear cap room to make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in free agency.
"We're focused on making an improvement to a 54-win team," Morey said. "I think if we don't do anything, we would win more than that. We are in the difficult last stages of trying to become at least a second round, third round and hopefully, a Finals team. That's the hardest step to make, but we are trying to make it this summer. I think if we make the moves that we think put us in the next tier up that puts us in the top two or three teams."
Houston has already dealt backup center Omer Asik and cash considerations to New Orleans for a protected future first round pick, The Associated Press reported earlier this week. The Minnesota Timberwolves had traded the 53rd overall pick -- Italian forward Alessandro Gentile -- to the Rockets for cash considerations, Morey said.
"If you look at the draft, we feel like we got two guys that can help us right now in Nick Johnson, very accomplished player who could potentially come in and crack our rotation, and Gentile, who is another guy who could come in and crack our rotation," Morey said. "Capela is a little bit down the road, but not too far."
The Rockets also could be looking to trade point guard Jeremy Lin to free up cap space.
The Rockets added Dwight Howard a year ago, but were ousted in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season.
Howard had a solid first season in Houston, averaging 18.3 points, and was fourth in the NBA with 12.2 rebounds a game. James Harden embraced a bigger leadership role in his second season in Houston and again led the team in scoring. The Rockets got an up-and-down season from Lin, who lost his starting job to Beverley.
As for Capela, he said he wants to play in the NBA this year and the Rockets know that.
"It's like a dream," Capela said of being drafted. "When I watched the NBA from France, it was like a dream. I want to prove I can play here against the best players in the world."
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