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Rockets’ future should have more of a drafty feel

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The Rockets are going an intriguing route in spite of the fact they almost certainly will look brand new come Year 2 of the Kevin McHale era.

The asset-oriented, future-conscientious Houston Rockets could find themselves with three first-round draft picks in what is expected to be a loaded 2012 NBA Draft this June.

Or they could end up with none.

If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would be in. The odd thing about that is that would then give their first-round pick this summer to New Jersey, which came about via the ill-fated Terrence Williams deal a year and a half ago. That kind of crazy predicament pretty much sums up Houston’s draft situation.

So, which picks do the Rockets own in this year’s first round?

–       Houston owns the Knicks’ first round-pick, which is top-5 protected through 2015. Currently, New York is a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. I see the Knicks making the playoffs this year, which would give Houston their pick, which should be nice since they won’t be a high playoff seed, or even middle-of-the-pack. New York’s should be a middle-lottery one instead of one at the back end that the Rockets have been used to the last few years.

–       The Rockets obtained the Lakers’ 2012 first-round pick via Dallas in the Derek Fisher deal. The pick is top-20 protected, which means the Rockets are actually rooting for Dallas to keep moving up the standings. Dallas is currently 6th in the West at 26-20 overall. It’s 50/50 whether Houston actually obtains this pick this year, which they only get if the Mavericks are one of the top 10 teams in the league. The pick is top-20 protected through 2017. After that, it’s unprotected.

–       As stated, if the Rockets don’t make the playoffs this year, they’ll keep their first-rounder. If they do qualify, it goes to New Jersey. Odds are Houston is playoff-bound barring some bizarre collapse.

Best-case scenario, the Rockets, of course, get all three. Yes, that means, ideally, being sellers at the trade deadline in order to do what it takes to get at least one pick in this year’s draft should have been the best move. Is it really worth it to qualify for the last spot in the playoffs, lose your first-round pick, while also likely falling to the Thunder or Spurs in the process? What’s gained? You could argue more is actually lost, considering Houston, at the moment, boasts a lot of significant issues that would make it difficult for a lengthy playoff stay.

In my opinion, I do think the Rockets get two of their picks. I think the Knicks make the playoffs and Dallas finishes on a late run and winds up one of the better teams in the league, awarding Houston New York’s and Dallas’ first-round picks while surrendering their own. I just don’t envision a free-fall that keeps Houston out of the postseason, ultimately a bittersweet result.

That particular situation (having the Knicks’ pick and the Lakers’) would give Houston a decent lottery pick (likely around 8-11 or so) and one in the 20’s. Players that could be available to the Rockets in the lottery include 6-foot-5 guard Jeremy Lamb (UConn), 6-foot-4 combo guard Austin Rivers (Duke) and 6-foot-10 power forward Jared Sullinger (Ohio State). In the 20’s, GM Daryl Morey and his scouts could be looking at 6-foot-5 combo guard Dion Waiters (Syracuse), 7-foot center Fab Melo (Syracuse) or 6-foot-4 guard John Jenkins (Vanderbilt).

Houston’s needs will come down to wing help (first and foremost, assuming Courtney Lee and Kevin Martin do not return), backcourt help (assuming Goran Dragic is not re-signed) and maybe center help even if Samuel Dalembert’s option is picked up. For instance, a draft of Rivers and Melo would make sense.

Top to bottom, this draft is dynamic. And deep. That means it’s right up Morey’s alley as someone who craves assets, youth and depth, which is why I doubt you’ll see him trade multiple picks for a higher one. In this draft, you could probably find relatively equal talent throughout. Aside from Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis, the surefire No. 1, there are few game-changers who I don’t think Morey sees worth giving up picks for.

The reason why we’re discussing the NBA draft when it’s still three months away is that Morey’s actions at the trade deadline (giving up expiring deals and a second-rounder for Marcus Camby and a first-rounder) do nothing to ensure his fun on his ultimate playground, the draft. Was getting Camby and that low first-rounder worth the second-rounder and now probable one-and-done playoff appearance when it cost you a lottery pick in one of the deeper drafts in memory?

It still will probably all end up well for Houston. The Rockets will likely end up with two first-round picks and get quality, explosive talent in return. However, they could have had three first-rounders; the more, the better when you want to continue remodeling the team and reshaping the culture for a big jump from year one to year two of the Kevin McHale era. And for those saying the playoff experience would behoove a young team, keep in mind that this current roster won’t be the same come the start of the 2012-13 season. So why worry about that when you’ll be going a totally different direction this summer?

Ah, yes, direction. You can be sure the Rockets will be a completely different outfit come next fall. Though the way they’re going about it is highly intriguing, if not downright questionable.

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