The Houston Rockets, under general manager Daryl Morey, have been active participants in the trade deadline each season that Morey has been at the helm. This year; however, may be different. 2 weeks ago, Morey said that he is more unlikely to make a deal than he has ever been.
“There’s a few reasons,” Morey said. “Everyone (on the roster) is tied to the future. They’re all 23-ish, pretty much all our guys. We’d like to grow together. And we have a clear and present way to upgrade without trades with all the cap room. All those things add up to us being more stable.”
It’s beginning to look like all the off season movements will turn out to be good moves for Morey, as the Rockets have a young, talented core that seems far away from their peak. Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik all seem like they are good complimentary pieces to James Harden, who Morey acquired just days before the season began, and who Morey sees as a potential star to build the roster around.
But as the trade deadline approaches, rumors swirl about what the Rockets should do. It’s no secret that the position that’s the Rockets biggest weakness is the power forward spot. Both Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris have shown flashes of solid play, but more often than not, they have been inconsistent throughout the whole season. So let’s look at all the options that the Rockets could go after:
Power Forwards in the Running
Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, and Demarcus Cousins, are three power forwards that have been circulating the Rockets rumor mill in the last month or so. While all three player’s talents may be great additions for the Rockets as a whole, both Smith and Millsap will become unrestricted free agents this summer, while Cousins’s rookie contract doesn’t expire until after the 2013-2014 season.
Smith is arguably the most talented of the bunch; although he has yet to make an all-star team, there’s no question that he has always had all-star potential. There are questions marks on Smith as a teammate, as he recently was suspended by the Atlanta Hawks for conduct detrimental to the team after being thrown out of a practice by coach Larry Drew. Last week, Smith also was also in the headlines for stating that he believes he should get a max contract offer this offseason, a deal that new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry may not want to give. Since taking over last year, Ferry has cleaned house, trading away max contract guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, while also trading away the contract of Marvin Williams, while bringing in players with short-term contracts like Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, and Devin Harris.
It’s hard to determine what the Hawks would want back in return should the Rockets want to trade for Smith, whether they will be looking for small, short-term contracts for financial flexibility, draft picks, or a quality player. The best the Rockets could offer would be a package of Patterson, Terrence Jones/Donatas Motiejunas, and some first round picks, which may not be in the Hawks best interest, so a third team would have to be involved, or perhaps even a fourth.
But with the Rockets having enough cap space this offseason to sign a max contract free agent, they might be better just waiting it out and go after Smith in the summer.
Paul Millsap would fill a lot of holes at power forward for the Rockets. He is a good defender, a good rebounder, and has enough range offensively to space out the floor to the Rockets liking. In the past three seasons, he has averaged at least 15 points and 7 rebounds each season, and has shown that he can share the floor with a low-post center in Al Jefferson. Millsap, too, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it looks like the Jazz won’t pursue too hard after Millsap to keep him, as they believe Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have high ceilings.
The Rockets again, may be looking to include Patterson in the deal, along with perhaps, a first round pick, or a package deal that may include Patterson, Toney Douglas, and a first round pick for Millsap and Earl Watson/Jamal Tinsley. With a possible deal like that, I would prefer that the Rockets just go after Millsap in free agency rather than having Watson/Tinsley as the possible back-up point guard.
And then there’s Demarcus Cousins, who has the talent to become an all-star, but probably is the worst head case in the NBA. Cousins has averaged at least 14 points and 8 assists since his rookie year, and is signed through 2015-2016. While he might the offensive skill set for a big man that the Rockets are looking for, it’d be hard to see how Cousins could fit on the floor with Asik, unless Cousins can develop a consistent outside shot. Also, with Cousins’s potential, the Kings would demand a lot of value in return, so the Rockets may have to include one of their core players (most likely Asik) in the trade. With the Rockets already currently dealing with one head case in Royce White, it’d be hard to see the organization wanting to deal with another one.
Keep in mind that at this point, Morey is focused strictly on adding long term value to the team, as they have their young core set. If Smith or Millsap is acquired, there are NBA rules about extending contracts of players in trades limits the years that can be offered and their likelihood to forgo free agency, making such a deal risky. It wouldn’t even be a guarantee that the Rockets would be able to sign one of them to a long-term contract in acquired through a trade. The Rockets are better off going after a big name in the off season.
As for as the next month, the most likely moves would be to add a short-term, veteran piece, along the lines of trading for Marcus Camby in last year’s trade deadline. A good 3-point shooter, or a reserve power forward who has some low-post game would most likely be what the Rockets will be after.