The Houston Rockets enter the NBA trade deadline with a host of veteran trade candidates. When the final whistle blew, the Rockets had only traded one of those veterans, Daniel Theis, and received zero draft picks.
The franchise’s trade deadline inactivity caused certain parts of the fanbase to erupt in dismay. There had been rumors of offers for Eric Gordon and Christian Wood and David Nwaba and D.J. Augustin could have potentially secured a second-round pick each.
Instead, all four stayed put and Augustin is reportedly set to be waived. The Rockets, clear sellers as they reside in the Western Conference’s cellar, cross the NBA’s trade deadline with as many future assets as they entered it with.
The question is why did the Rockets do next to nothing at the deadline?
The first reason has to do with luck, or a lack thereof. The two most valuable contracts owned by contenders were Ricky Rubio's $17.8 million and Joe Ingles’ $14 million expiring deals. The pair are out for the season with ACL injuries but their contracts were perfect salary matches to bring in a player like Eric Gordon.
The Cavaliers packaged Rubio’s deal to get Caris LeVert, a deal that filled a pressing need of theirs, and Ingles’ was shipped out in a perplexing move that saw the Jazz add Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juan Hernangomez.
With both contracts used in separate trades, the Rockets lost out on their best two opportunities to find a trade partner.
The second reason has to do with price. The Rockets wanted a first-round pick for Gordon and likely a bit more for Wood. A total of 32 players were moved across nine deals on deadline day. Through all the activity only four first-round picks and a single pick swap were moved, and the James Harden trade to the Sixers accounted for two of those.
Teams just weren’t willing to part with first-round picks in general. Part of it is because most contenders have so few of them, but another reality is that the Rockets didn’t have to budge on their price. When that happens, teams move to their next option, because there is a deadline.
The final reason was just eluded to, the Rockets, if they want to trade Gordon or Wood or Nwaba, can wait until the offseason. The NBA’s 2022 trade deadline just passed, but the trade deadline for Gordon and Wood isn’t for another year. Perhaps their value will diminish, or perhaps someone will meet the Rockets' asking price.
Doing nothing doesn’t mean you’ve done nothing. The Rockets decided doing nothing was better than settling. It remains a question if it will work out, but their deadline inactivity wasn’t a failure as much as it was strict adherence to a plan. Having a plan and seeing it through is what good front offices do. Doing something for the sake of doing something is how you end up like Kings.