The trade buzz surrounding the Houston Rockets suggested a team that was hungry to compete for postseason play. The Rockets were expected to use the trade deadline as a means of addressing their roster needs - i.e. long-range shooting and rim protection.
We'd heard names such as Quentin Grimes, Clint Capela, AJ Griffin, Alec Burks, Kelly Olynyk, Nick Richards, Daniel Gafford, and others. It's been well-reported that the Rockets sought a deal with the Brooklyn Nets for Mikal Bridges, the two-way extraordinaire who was shipped to Brooklyn in the Kevin Durant deal at the deadline last year.
However, all trade chatter has simmered down, of late, which is likely a sign.
The Rockets were willing to dump meaningful assets for a significant upgrade, hence the Bridges interest. However, they were likely never going to part with key assets for a fringe improvement.
They can just turn to the buyout market for that, especially since the new CBA will prevent a handful of contending teams from signing several buyout options, based on their tax apron.
And no acquisition would be more impactful than the return of Tari Eason anyways, who adds long-range shooting, elite perimeter defense, hustle, and high-level rebounding.
The Rockets don't have to make a splash move at the trade deadline.
The Rockets would be foolish to dump the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round picks for role players, as those picks figure to be lottery picks for the next several years, as the Nets are a rebuilding team led by the aforementioned Bridges, who isn’t a primary option.
Brooklyn also has Ben Simmons under contract through 2025, who occupies $40.3 million in cap space next year, hindering them from using that salary to make roster upgrades.
The Rockets don’t need to dump the Nets’ first-round picks to address their roster needs. They can sign Bismack Biyombo off the junkyard right now and he’d be their best post defender.
As for the long-range shooting, they can easily trade for Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin, who is playing nearly the same amount of minutes as Rockets fan favorite Boban Marjanovic, as Griffin is averaging 7.3 minutes, while Marjanovic averages 5.3 minutes per contest.
Griffin made over 39 percent of his long-range attempts last season, on 3.6 tries, and has surely not forgotten how to shoot. And the asking price won’t be high on him, as the Hawks have tanked his value by not playing him and preventing him for showing his capabilities to the rest of the league.
So, to recap, the Rockets can address their shooting woes by shipping off a late second-round pick for Griffin, while addressing their interior defense by nabbing Biyombo.
And still walk away from the deadline with their full stockpile of premium assets, including the Brooklyn Nets’ unused draft picks. Although it may seem unpopular for fans who want to see the team go all-in at the deadline, the smart play for Rockets GM Rafael Stone is to hold onto the Rockets’ premium assets.
They can still address their needs.