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Houston Rockets: Ranking the contenders with the most assets

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 18: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles the ball against LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter at Staples Center on February 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 18: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles the ball against LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter at Staples Center on February 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
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Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics, Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics, Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets trade contenders #4 to #1

The final four teams all need an upgrade and have the assets to make a major move. Part of the reason these teams have assets is that traditionally they’re franchises that build through the draft and don’t make swings for superstars and have offloaded a superstar for assets themselves.

#4: Denver Nuggets: 15-13 Draft Picks: Own 2021, 22, 26, 27

The Denver Nuggets have endured an up and down season but they are armed with possibly the best player in the league in Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets can be finals contenders this season but it shouldn’t be lost that their core of Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. are all under the age of 25.

The only reason why the Nuggets aren’t higher on this list is that their future’s so bright that they can afford to be patient with this roster. However, spending one first-round pick for P.J. Tucker, or a bit more for Oladipo, is the type of move a franchise with this much potential should be doing.

#3: San Antonio Spurs: 16-11 – Draft Picks: Own all picks

The Spurs are in most need of an upgrade, as their net-rating is actually negative, and a move for P.J. Tucker or Oladipo could see them solidify their playoff aspirations. Lineups this season that feature LaMarcus Aldridge have been absolutely brutalized and moving on from him could be in the best interest of the Spurs.

Aldridge is on an expiring contract and his salary lines up nicely with Oladipo. The Rockets could pry a few first-round picks in an exchange of expiring contracts and turn the James Harden trade into six first-round picks.

#2: Indiana Pacers: 15-14 – Draft Picks: Own all picks

What pushes the Pacers above the Spurs is that this team by virtue of being in the Eastern Conference has a much better chance of avoiding the play-in game and getting the full bang for their buck on a trade. It’s a lot easier to be aggressive in a trade when you’re confident that you’ll get seven chances to advance in the playoffs.

The Pacers’ net-rating has them pegged as the 11th best team in the league but they could use a little jolt to their playoff push. Victor Oladipo won’t be heading to Indiana but P.J. Tucker and others should be enticing to the Pacers.

The Pacers, as a franchise, seem to be fine with being a good but not great team so they might decide to keep their picks and conduct business as usual, which should see them finish where they usually do.

#1: Boston Celtics: 14-14 – Draft Picks: Own all picks

The team that is in most need of an upgrade and has the assets to make a move are the Boston Celtics. The team has gone 2-5 over the past seven games and their net-rating of +0.8 paints the picture of a team that is simply average.

The Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals three of the past four seasons but it’s looking very unlikely that they’ll make it that far this year. P.J. Tucker would fit their system and Oladipo could be a real difference-maker.

The Celtics have opted to keep their assets year after year and their unwillingness to push their chips in is finally coming back to haunt them. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum locked into long-term deals the Celtics need to use their assets to build a championship-caliber roster. If the Celtics don’t give the Rockets a call before the deadline then their content with being an average team as they have the most need and the most ability to swing for the fences.

The Rockets outlook

The Rockets, if they become sellers, will find a robust market full of teams in need of upgrades and with assets to spare. Rafael Stone has shown an ability to make fantastic forward-thinking moves and this deadline offers him another opportunity to restock the Rockets’ asset cupboard.

Should the Rockets extend Victor Oladipo?. Next

In years past it has been the Rockets who have been active at the trade deadline but this year they should be helping someone else bolster their playoff rotation. The trade deadline is fast approaching and the team that makes the right moves here could be the one that lifts the Larry O’Brien trophy.

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