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8 players the Houston Rockets can land with Nene’s reduced contract

By Anthony Duckett
Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

With the Houston Rockets approaching the January 15th date in which Nene can be traded, let’s take a look at eight players the Rockets can land with Nene’s contract.

When the Houston Rockets signed Nene to a new contract, it was obvious he was signed for trade purposes. For starters, we know Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is one of the elite general managers in the NBA and is willing to creatively find ways to improve the roster.

But not only that, the initial contract was drawn up to inflate Nene’s outgoing value for trade purposes, so it left little doubt that Nene would be traded. Unfortunately, the league intervened and reduced his outgoing salary from $10 million to $2.6 million, which has significantly hindered the Rockets’ pursuit of Robert Covington.

Not only that, it eliminated the Rockets’ ability to land a slew of players who would instantly improve the team. Although the Rockets may not be able to land the players on the previous list we compiled, there are several players the Rockets can acquire with Nene’s reduced contract number. Granted, we don’t know if the Rockets are simply going to trade Nene as a means of getting below the luxury tax or if they’re going to pursue a solid contributor that may very well put them over it, but it’s a possibility that they may simply try to dodge it yet again like they did during the 2018-19 season.

One of the main drawbacks of Nene’s contract is that he can’t be traded before January 15th, which has left Rockets’ fans waiting and speculating who Nene will be traded for. But that date is fast approaching, so let’s take a look at eight players who the Rockets can land with Nene’s reduced contract.

Next: No. 8

Houston Rockets Torrey Craig (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Torrey Craig (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

8. Torrey Craig

Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig has two years and $4 million remaining on his contract, which is a fairly feasible number for the Rockets. At 6-foot-7, Craig possesses size that the Rockets could use, and he possesses above-average 3-point shooting ability, as he shot 32.4 percent from downtown last season. In the 2019 postseason, Craig upped his shooting to 47.2 percent from behind the arc, which is further proof that he should shoot the 3-ball.

Although Craig has taken a turn for the worst from downtown this season, the third-year forward could certainly benefit from playing alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden, as he’d surely be left wide open from 3-point range.

In addition, with the 2020-21 season being the last year on his contract, you’d have to think Denver would be interested in getting rid of him for cost savings, especially with the additions of Michael Porter Jr and Jerami Grant, which has played a part in Craig’s minutes dropping from 20 minutes per game during the 2018-19 season to 12.5 in the 2019-20 season.

Craig averages 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes and has the highest block percentage on the Nuggets this season, in addition to finished second in the same category last season, which the Rockets could use. The question is whether the Rockets would view Craig as a piece they could flip because this could get tricky considering how he’s already 29 years old and isn’t getting any younger.

Next: No. 7

Houston Rockets Josh Okogie (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Josh Okogie (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

7. Josh Okogie

The Houston Rockets have made it clear that their top target on the Minnesota Timberwolves is Robert Covington, who previously donned a Rockets uniform. But the Rockets face several complications in their pursuit of Covington, and barring the exception of Wolves General Manager Gersson Rosas helping out the Rockets, they’ll likely not be able to make this move.

A much less complicated trade target is Covington’s teammate Josh Okogie. Okogie isn’t necessarily a sniper from deep, as he’s a career 27.7 percent shooter from downtown, which will certainly have to improve. This may very well scare the Rockets away, and rightfully so, but what if the Wolves only ask for a second-round pick?

Okogie averages 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, which the Rockets could use. In addition, he’s a good defender, as evidenced by him finishing inside of the top 18 in the league in steal percentage during the 2018-19 season. Okogie also has career-highs in player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage this season as well, and you’d have to think the second-year player will only continue to develop and improve.

The Rockets will surely have better options than Okogie for Nene, but the 21-year-old is still developing and is under contract through the 2021-22 season, which would make it worth it for a second-round pick. The question is whether the Timberwolves would do such a deal, but it’s not like teams are beating their door down with inquiries in Okogie.

The Timberwolves would easily be tempted by the ability to land future draft capital while also shedding salary because they could easily cut ties with Nene. Do they view Okogie as part of their future? And if so, will he help lift them into contender status? The answer to those questions will be the deciding factor in whether or not they do such a deal.

Next: No. 6

Houston Rockets Wesley Matthews (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Wesley Matthews (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

6. Wesley Matthews

Wesley Matthews is an eleven-year veteran who possesses veteran leadership which the Rockets could use. The Texas native is a career 38.1 percent 3-point shooter and is currently shooting 35.6 percent from downtown this season, which is actually the lowest in his career, which further illustrates his ability to shoot from downtown. Matthews would have the green light to fire away from downtown, and he would receive an abundance of open looks, which would play into his ability to catch-and-shoot.

At 6-foot-4, Matthews has the size to contribute on the defensive end of the floor, which the Rockets desperately need. Although Matthews no longer fits his former reputation of being a lockdown defender, he still has the ability to play solid defense. Matthews is only playing 24 minutes per game on the Milwaukee Bucks this season, which are the fewest in his career. This isn’t necessarily surprising considering that the Bucks signed him to shoot the 3-ball and to play defense, as he’s the classic 3-and-D guy.

This season, Matthews has a true shooting percentage of 55.5 percent, which is actually his highest since the 2014-15 season. He’s also on a one-year minimum deal, which means the Rockets would be able to cut ties at the conclusion of the season, which would save them money and a future roster spot. As Matthews isn’t a part of Milwaukee’s core or future plans, you’d have to think there wouldn’t be much of an asking price since he’d otherwise be a free agent at the end of the season anyway.

Next: No. 5

Houston Rockets Malik Beasley (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Malik Beasley (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

5. Malik Beasley

Malik Beasley is certainly someone the Rockets could use, as the 23-year-old is shooting 38.6 percent from downtown, which is a tad bit lower than the 40.2 percent he shot from 3-point range during the 2018-19 season. It goes without saying, but the Rockets could certainly use this skillset, as they lead the league in 3-point attempts with 44.2 heaves from downtown.

But they would have a hard time convincing the Denver Nuggets to move Beasley, in part because of his stellar 3-point shooting ability. But like Torrey Craig, Beasley’s minutes have dropped from 23.2 during the 2018-19 season to 16.3 minutes per game this season, which has caused his scoring outputs to also decrease from 11.3 points per game to 6.9 points per game.

Surprisingly enough, Beasley’s $2.7 million makes him a legitimate possibility for Nene and he’s only getting 6.6 field goal attempts in the Mile High City this season, which begs the question of whether the Nuggets really need him.

Beasley is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, which may ultimately cause the Rockets to pass on him because they face the potential likelihood of getting outbid in the offseason. But if it’s about going all in and maximizing on the legendary duo of Westbrook and Harden, then this is the type of move that the Houston Rockets would be wise to make.

From the Nuggets standpoint, the only incentive they’d have to move Beasley is the fact that they’ve been unable to get him to agree to a contract extension, as the fourth-year guard rejected their offer of three-years and $30 million prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, as first reported by Bobby Marks of ESPN (subscription required).

Next: No. 4

Houston Rockets Josh Hart (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Josh Hart (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

4. Josh Hart

When the New Orleans Pelicans traded Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, they made it clear that they wouldn’t accept any trade package that didn’t include Josh Hart. It’s easy to understand why the Pels were insistent on landing the 24-year-old Hart, as he possesses good size at 6-foot-5 and is also a career 35.5 percent 3-point shooter.

Hart is having a career year in New Orleans this season, as he’s averaging 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per campaign, not to mention his true shooting percentage of 55.5 percent, which is an improvement from last season. In spite of Hart’s efforts, the Pelicans haven’t quite lived up to the preseason expectations placed upon them. If you recall, many were predicting them to make the playoffs, which has been derailed in part because of the absence of Zion Williamson.

Hart is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season, which may factor into general manager David Griffin’s decision to make him available. Since the Pelicans are several pieces away from being a contender in the tough Western Conference, you’d have to think it would be tempting for Griffin to ship Hart away in exchange for draft picks.

On top of that, Griffin has shown himself to be one of the best in the league, especially as it pertains to using draft picks. Hart is a good defender, which is evident by the fact that he had the third-highest defensive win shares on the Lakers last season, behind only JaVale McGee and LeBron James. Hart has also duplicated those efforts, as he ranks third on the Pels this season in defensive win shares as well.

But considering the Pelicans’ non-contending status, Hart should be a real possibility for the Houston Rockets as it’s not like his presence alone will make the Pelicans contenders.

Next: No. 3

Houston Rockets Bryn Forbes (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Bryn Forbes (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. Bryn Forbes

San Antonio Spurs guard Bryn Forbes is a sniper from downtown, as he’s a career 39.8 shooter from deep and hasn’t shot any worse than 37 percent since his rookie season. During the 2019-20 season, Forbes is shooting 37.3 percent, which is actually a step back from the 2018-19 season in which he shot a blazing 42.6 percent.

But aside from that, the 26-year-old guard is averaging 11.7 points per game over the course of the last two seasons, which would be a welcome addition for the Houston Rockets. In spite of that, Forbes’ minutes have gone down this season, which raises the question of whether the Spurs would take calls on the 6-foot-2 guard.

Forbes’ contract expires after this season, which is something that may excite Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. This is because there would be no future ties or commitments that the Rockets would have to make to the fourth-year guard. This could also prompt the Spurs to shop around and see what they could get for Forbes, and they’d have to be excited about receiving draft capital for someone they possibly don’t plan on keeping beyond this season anyways.

We all know that the Spurs are one of the best in the league when it comes to maximizing their draft picks, which is evidenced by them drafting Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili with non-lottery draft picks. The downside to Forbes is that his size prevents him from being an elite defender, but he makes up for it on the offensive end, as evidenced by the fact that he’s the Spurs’ third-leading scorer behind only DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge this season.

Next: No. 2

Houston Rockets OG Anunoby (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets OG Anunoby (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)

2. OG Anunoby

OG Anunoby has been a solid contributor for the Toronto Raptors over the course of his three years in Toronto. Anunoby has stepped up this season in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, as he’s averaging a career-best 11.1 points per game and a career-high 5.9 rebounds per game. In addition, he’s a career 35.6 percent shooter from 3-point range and is shooting a career-best 37.1 percent from downtown this season.

In addition, Anunoby’s player efficiency rating is 12.9 this season, which is also a career-best. On top of that, his true shooting percentage is 58.1, which is not only an improvement over the 2018-19 season but also a team-best among players who have played at least 800 minutes this season.

Anunoby is also a stellar defender, as he currently ranks 12th this season in defensive win shares, which is the classic 3-and-D player that the Rockets need. But the Raptors don’t necessarily have any incentive to move him at this juncture, as he’s under contract through the 2020-21 season and becomes a restricted free agent afterward.

That’s where it gets tricky for the Raptors because by that point, they would have already made a decision on Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol,  and Fred Van Vleet, as each of their contracts are set to expire at the end of this season, which begs the question of whether they view the trio as part of their future. If they do give the trio of Gasol/Lowry/Van Vleet an extension, where does that leave Anunoby?

Unfortunately for the Rockets, the Raps will likely be pressured to make a decision on Anunoby next season as opposed to now, which is why it’s unlikely Toronto does this. Granted, the Raptors would receive some salary relief, as they could just waive Nene and not be responsible for any of his bonuses, but Anunoby is on a fairly team-friendly deal, so the Rockets would need to sweeten the pot with additional assets.

Do the Rockets have the young, intriguing pieces that would interest Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri? It seems unlikely unless Ujiri covets Isaiah Hartenstein, and even if he does, it’s unlikely he’d take this package over the 22-year-old Anunoby. Through 37 games this season, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 30 minutes per night, which are the fourth-most on the Raps, so we know he’s a large part of what they do on both ends of the floor.

But if there’s one thing we’ve all learned about Rockets GM Daryl Morey, it’s that we should never count him out of a trade possibility.

Next: No. 1

Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets John Collins (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. John Collins

Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins would be an amazing fit for the Houston Rockets, as his 6-foot-9 frame would be a huge size boost for a Rockets team which certainly needs it. On top of that, Collins is a shot blocker, which is evident in his 2.2 blocks per game, which ranks fifth-best in the league. In addition, Collins has a player efficiency rating of 20.8, which would be the third-highest on the Houston Rockets this season.

As if this weren’t enough, Collins is also an elite rebounder, as he’s averaging 10.1 rebounds this season, which would also help a Rockets team with essentially only two elite rebounders in Clint Capela and Russell Westbrook. Although this is a heap of praise for Collins, the biggest trait the Rockets would love about Collins is his ability to shoot the 3-ball, as he’s shooting 36.5 percent from downtown this season and averaging 17.7 points per game, which makes him even more valuable.

The question, however, is why exactly would the Hawks punt on Collins and trade him away. They likely wouldn’t, but if there is a reason why they would, it’d simply be because of the fact that they’re several pieces away from contending, even in the Eastern Conference. Would the Hawks prioritize future draft picks over the 22 year-old forward?

On top of that, Collins becomes a restricted free-agent after the 2020-21 season, which is one year before Trae Young also becomes a restricted free-agent. Would the Hawks want to spend big money on the tandem of Collins and Young? If it’s up to Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, he certainly would, as evidenced by his comments on how the Hawks young tandem is the best pick-and-roll duo in the league.

Lloyd Pierce said he thinks Trae Young and John Collins are the best pick and roll duo in the league.

— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) December 17, 2019

Next. 4 Stats set Rockets apart from rest of the West

However, it’s not like it’s gotten the Hawks anywhere thus far, as they have the worst record in the league, in spite of the fact that the East has gotten significantly weaker over the years. This would make it worth it for the Houston Rockets to make the call. Just don’t expect the Hawks to cave in, but if they do, the Houston Rockets would be instantly better with the addition of Collins.

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