Houston Rockets first-round draft picks Royce White, left, Terrence Jones, center, and Jeremy Lamb pick up their jerseys at a news conference on Friday, June 29, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
HOUSTON --The Houston Rockets say the three players they acquired in the draft will be "a big part" of their future.
Whether that means they'll be cornerstones of the roster or assets to package in a trade remains to be seen.
The Rockets used all three of their first-round draft picks without making a subsequent deal Thursday, selecting Connecticut guard and Norcross grad Jeremy Lamb (12th), Iowa State forward Royce White (16th) and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones (18th).
Speculation grew this week that Houston was collecting picks aimed toward a blockbuster deal, possibly a push to lure Dwight Howard away from Orlando. After trading Samuel Dalembert on Wednesday, the Rockets need a big man even more now, a need general manager Daryl Morey said will likely be filled in free agency.
On Friday, Lamb, White and Jones donned Rockets baseball caps and posed for photos with Morey and coach Kevin McHale on a dais, a sign that all three will be here for a while. But Moray also acknowledged that the Rockets will continue to hunt for deals and be active when free agency begins on Sunday.
"We have interest in top-level talent, but we've been very straightforward about what we need to do to get back to being a championship team," Morey said. "We've got to look at adding top-level talent, through free agency or a trade, or we've got to add guys like to my right, who have the ability to be top-level players in the league.
"There's no way to live up to whatever was chattered about, prior to this," Morey said. "Obviously, whenever there is a top talent in the league, that we can add and get us closer to being a contender, we're going to be involved and try and look at it."
The Rockets were still maneuvering Friday, extending a qualifying offer to guard Courtney Lee, according to a person with direct knowledge of the move. Lee averaged 11.4 points, 1.5 assists and shot 40 percent from 3-point range (87 of 217) last season, and the Rockets can now match any offer Lee receives in free agency.
While they struck out on making the much-anticipated major move Thursday night, the Rockets felt like they picked up a trio of players with star potential.
The 6-foot-5 Lamb averaged 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals last season. The previous year, he helped the Huskies win the national championship, scoring 12 points in its 53-41 title-game win over Butler at nearby Reliant Stadium. Lamb also has valuable international experience, after representing the U.S. in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships last summer.
But Lamb says Connecticut's disappointing 2011-12 season taught him the most valuable lessons he'll need in the pros. The Huskies followed up their championship season by going 20-14 and bowing out to White's Iowa State squad in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I had a really interesting college career," Lamb said. "One year, won the national championship. One year, didn't do anything. The whole college experience, winning games, losing games, being on the top, being on the bottom, you can learn a lot from it."
The 6-8, 260-pound White was one of the most intriguing players taken in the first round. He was the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring (13.4 points per game), rebounding (9.3 assists per game), assists (five per game), steals (1.2 per game) and blocks (0.9 per game) last season, an indicator of his versatility.
He also comes with uncertainty. White originally enrolled at Minnesota and before he played a game, he was arrested for shoplifting two shirts valued at $100 and assaulting a security guard at Mall of America. He pleaded guilty and was suspended. A month later, police questioned him about the theft of a laptop, prompting him to withdraw from school.
White has overcome an anxiety disorder and has a fear of flying. Morey said the Rockets viewed White is a "top-5" talent in the draft and the team got comfortable with him after an extensive background check. McHale was reassured by Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, who played for Minnesota from 2003-05, when McHale worked in the Timberwolves' front office and later became the head coach.
"It's been up and down," White said of his personal journey to the NBA. "It kind of started kind of down. That seemed to be a good spot for me, because I've been on the rise, or the climb ever since, and I'm still climbing, with (Thursday) being a big jump for me."
White caught a 6 a.m. flight to Houston for the introductory news conference. He says his fear of flying has been overblown, though he acknowledged that it's still an issue.
"Here's how it goes," White explained. "I'm scared (going) to the airport, I'm scared going up, I'm uncomfortable in the air and I feel like a million bucks when we hit the runway."
The 6-9, 252-pound Jones was one of six players from Kentucky's national championship squad from last year to get drafted. Jones averaged 14.0 points and eight rebounds over his two seasons with the Wildcats. Jones said playing for John Calipari and dealing with the intense, day-to-day scrutiny that comes with playing in Lexington will help him make a smooth transition to the pros.
"The whole thing is just 'NBA-style,'" Jones said. "Kentucky gets you the most NBA-ready as any school can get. The media of Kentucky and then Coach Cal, it's a great experience, the whole deal."