Houston Rockets: Ranking every player’s trade value
When a team falls short of its aspirations, they explore every avenue to improve. Here is the trade value each member of the Houston Rockets has for 2021.
A player’s trade value and their talent is not a one to one relationship. For example, Kawhi Leonard is a fantastic player, but Luka Doncic is much cheaper and under contract for longer, so his trade value is higher than Kawhi’s, even if Leonard is likely the better player. Each member of the Houston Rockets will receive a grade in three separate categories to make up their overall trade value.
This is as simple as it comes. How good of a basketball player is he?
This is a little bit more complicated than production. A player’s contract isn’t just how much is he paid. Obviously, the smaller the amount, the better, but their production must be taken into account. A player’s contract grade is how many teams can fit this player into their budget. If LeBron becomes available, every team would fit him into their budget even if he is paid max money.
Demand is related to a player’s play style and how they fit into most team’s rosters. A player like P.J. Tucker, who can hit threes and defend multiple positions, is in demand by every team. Jeff Green, who thrived as a small ball center for the Rockets, hasn’t been nearly as good when he has played other positions and wouldn’t fit into many teams.
Next: Rockets Trade Value: No. 10 & 9
Rockets Trade Value: No. 10 & 9 (Tied) Production/Contract/Demand/GPA Chris Clemons: F B D 1.33 Eric Gordon: D D C 1.33
Chris Clemons is young and can shoot it but playing in only 33 games and averaging 8.8 minutes is not a good sign. Clemons does happen to be on a minuscule contract, and just about any team could fit his not fully-guaranteed $1.51 million contracts into their budget.
The demand for a player like Clemons is not high. Yes, he can shoot it, but at only 5-9, his defense makes him unstartable. Most teams have multiple players like Clemons in their G League affiliate. Clemons went undrafted for a reason, and it’s unlikely any team would give up anything to have the right to sent him to the G League.
Eric Gordon rewarded the Rockets for extending him for four years and $75.6 million in September of 2019 by having the worst season of his career. Gordon’s struggles were so pronounced that he provided negative value on offense.
He performed better in the playoffs, especially on defense, but his jumper still was lost. His contract is just about unmovable at this point, but due to his track record, a team might be willing to see what he has left.
The issue the Rockets face is that to offload Gordon, they won’t be able to get anything of value back because simply having his contract off the books is a positive for the Rockets. The demand for Gordon before 2019-20 was high. Now he’s simply a reclamation project.
Next: Trade Value No. 8
Rockets Trade Value: No. 8 Production/Contract/Demand/GPA Russell Westbrook: B F C 1.67
Russell Westbrook‘s trade value has never been lower. His production remains elite enough for him to be selected third-team All-NBA, but when checking under the hood, there are signs of decline.
Westbrook averaged 27.2 points per game but saw his passing and rebounding numbers crater to their lowest levels since the 2011-12 season. Westbrook will be 32 at the start of the next season and is still owed $84.8 million over the next two seasons with a $46.6 million player option for what would be his age 34 season. Only a few teams would even have the cap space to absorb his contract.
While the biggest detriment to Westbrook’s trade value is his contact, the demand for a player with his skill set has been waning. Westbrook is a perimeter player that cannot shoot from the perimeter.
The Rockets, in a desperate effort to maximize Westbrook, had to eschew a traditional center and commit to playing small ball full time. Any team acquiring Westbrook would likely have to do the same. In only a year, Westbrook’s trade value went from Chris Paul, two first-round picks, and two pick swaps to basically zero.
The Rockets would be lucky to get a first-round pick for Westbrook now. If they intend to move on from him, their only hope would be a phone call straight to Knicks owner James Dolan’s cell phone.
Next: Trade Value No. 7
Rockets Trade Value: No. 7 Production/Contract/Demand/GPA David Nwaba: D A C 2.33
The idea that David Nwaba coming off of an Achilles injury would have more trade value than Russell Westbrook seems odd, but these are strange times. Nwaba is by no means a star, but he can defend players across the perimeter and is coming off a season where he hit 42.9 percent of his threes, although in minimal minutes.
The real appeal of Nwaba is that his contract has a team option for $1.86 million for next season. A player coming off a serious injury can scare teams away, but a player option eases those concerns.
The demand for a player like Nwaba has never been higher. Last season he got time at shooting guard, small forward, and power forward, all while hitting over 40 percent of his threes. His demand grade isn’t higher because of the aforementioned Achilles injury and the reality that his 3-point shooting bump could be a small sample size blip.
If Nwaba shows he is healthy, he could fetch a 2nd round pick, and if he starts the season hot, that could grow into a first-round pick.
Next: Trade Value No. 6 & 5
Rockets Trade Value: No. 6 & 5 (Tied) Production/Contract/Demand/GPA P.J. Tucker: C A B 3.0 Austin Rivers: C A B 3.0
Based upon pure production in 2019-20, P.J. Tucker was definitely superior to Austin Rivers, but any team trading for them is getting them for 2020-21. Tucker turns 36 next season, and Rivers will be 28, which means their production would be expected to be more or less the same next season.
Rivers may not even be on this list for long as he has a player option for $2.369 million next season and might try his luck in free agency, which would be a massive blow to the Rockets.
P.J. Tucker is a fantastic role player, and at only $7.96 million for one more season, any contender would gladly add him to their roster. Tucker can fit in as a small-ball five, a stretch four, or even a three and D wing. His offensive game is limited to bombing from the corners, but that has become one of the most coveted skills in recent years.
Rivers has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him out of high school and college, but he has found a niche as a solid bench piece. Any team that needs guard depth would gladly add Rivers to their rotation, and at $2.3 million, he’d fit into just about any team’s ledger.
The fact that Tucker and Rivers are high upside trade targets limits the return they can fetch before a season starts. However, if these two are swung midseason, the Rockets could pry a first-round pick from a team that won’t be in the lottery.
Next: Trade Value No. 4 & 3
Rockets Trade Value: No. 4 & 3 (Tied) Production/Contract/Demand/GPA Danuel House: C A A 3.33 Robert Covington: B B A 3.33
The Houston Rockets had to give up a first-round pick and Clint Capela to fetch Robert Covington but that ended up being a move they needed to make. With Covington as the Rockets’ center, Russell Westbrook surged, and the Rockets looked dangerous, but then the season came to a halt.
After the restart, Covington’s defense went to another level. As great as Covington’s defense was, his 3-point shot was inconsistent. The same cannot be said of Danuel House, who has continued to be deadly behind the arc in his time in Houston. House is essentially a 3-point specialist, which every team is looking for, but he is not such a threat behind the arc that it makes up for his deficiencies elsewhere on the court.
Danuel House’s contract is a gem. Owed $3.7 million next season and $3.8 million in 2021-22, the 27-year-old House would be a hot commodity if made available. Contending teams always need more shooting, but they very rarely have much cap space.
House is cheap and has two consecutive seasons mixing volume and efficiency behind the arc. The Rockets could get a first-round pick and possibly some more from a contender for House, but a team that takes more threes than twos probably wants to keep a player like House around.
Covington is not as cheap as House, owed $12.1 million and $12.9 million in the next two seasons, but his defensive versatility is what NBA GM’s covet. Covington’s price likely won’t exceed what the Rockets paid for him, but he’d still fetch a pretty penny if made available.
The Rockets could fetch a first-round pick and likely an interesting young player, but it’d mean giving away their defensive linchpin.
Next: Trade Value No. 2
Rockets Trade Value: No. 2 Production/Contract/Demand/GPA Ben McLemore: B A A 3.67
Ben McLemore has always been able to hit threes. The only problem for him was that he never took enough of them. In Houston, he found a perfect home. He was encouraged to bomb with reckless abandon, and in the process, it took his game to another level. McLemore hit 40 percent of his threes on 6.4 attempts.
Those types of numbers lead to big paydays, and McLemore is only on the books for a not fully-guaranteed $2.8 million next season. Every team with postseason aspirations is looking for cheap 3-point shooting. The main concern with McLemore is that after a stellar regular season, he was anonymous in the playoffs.
Contending teams covet 3-point shooting, but they also covet two-way players. McLemore hasn’t shown much interest on the defensive end throughout his career, which is what limits him to a specialist role.
The Rockets should look to cash in on McLemore this offseason after a career year. He could net an intriguing young player or a first-round pick from a team looking to add 3-point shooting. The likelihood of McLemore repeating his 2019-20 season from behind the arc is slim.
Still, another team closer to a championship will surely roll the dice on a player that can provide the type of spacing and production that McLemore does.
Next: Trade Value No. 1
Rockets Trade Value: No. 1 Production/Contract/Demand/GPA James Harden: A+ A A 4.0
Who else were you expecting? James Harden is one of the five best players in the league. If he became available, every team in the league would see who, what, where, and when would be necessary to procure his services.
Harden’s offensive prowess is unparalleled in the league, and this postseason showed that, when engaged, he is a staunch defender. No spring chicken, Harden still has two to three more elite seasons left that lines up perfectly with the two remaining years plus a player option left on his contract.
The reality of the max contract is that it means the top 15 players in the league are almost always underpaid. Harden, even at over $40 million a season, is still a bargain and the scarcity of players of his caliber makes him all the more valuable.
Harden makes any team a playoff team and any half-decent team a contender. The Rockets’ second-round loss to the Lakers had more to do with the strength of the Lakers than it had to do with the deficiencies of James Harden. The question is, what could the Rockets get in return for Harden?
The return for Harden would surely eclipse the return for Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. It would mean multiple first-round picks and pick swaps, an established All-Star, or an up and coming stud like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
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The reality is, no team likely has the assets to even make a move for Harden. Harden is somehow so valuable that it makes him almost untradable.
The predicament Houston finds itself in now is unique. They have a player that all but guarantees success and a roster not quite good enough to win a championship.
Players of Harden’s quality are the most coveted players in the league, and no team should willingly move on from them, but the Rockets also have nothing on the horizon that will improve a roster that hasn’t been able to reach the finals.
There is no good option forward for one of the most successful franchises of the past five seasons. Stand pat, and they’ll be a first or second-round playoff exit. Move players for future assets, and Harden will still drag you to the playoffs.
Move Harden, and you won’t get a fair return plus you’ll stink, and your picks are off in another teams’ war chest. The Rockets are stuck with this roster. Outside of a few minor moves, these are the going to be the 2021 Rockets.