With the NBA trade deadline approaching, a lot of movement is expected around the league. It’s strategy time: Contenders load up for postseason runs, purgatory teams look for upgrades on the margins, while rebuilding teams look to the future – often exchanging productive veterans for younger counterparts, draft assets, or cap flexibility.
The 2021-22 Houston Rockets fall into this latter group. It is going to be an exciting trade deadline, so we will all have to do our best to keep up. To help, here is a handy guide:
“How to approach the chaos of the trade deadline…as a Rockets fan!” **
The Houston Rockets currently sit as the third worst team in the association. Wins and losses are not their main priority right now. As a result, they will likely be moving some of their veteran, ready-to-contribute-now players to contending teams. That could mean guys like Eric Gordon and Christian Wood, as well as DJ Augustin, David Nwaba, or Daniel Theis might be on their way out of Houston. Conversely, the younger guys on the roster are off the table. As a rebuilding team, the goal should be to let the rookies grow together and build toward the future.
There is one caveat, though: should a young, franchise cornerstone type player – say a Luka Doncic or a Ja Morant – become available, the Rockets would be wise to float some offers that way. I know, I know: Jalen Green still has four years left on his contract, compared to the options above whose contracts are a lot closer to term. But with some draft compensation heading the Rockets’ way, the NBA has proven to us time and time again that no trade is impossible:
The most likely veterans to be moved:
1. Eric Gordon:
Eric Gordon is currently having the best season of his entire career, efficiency-wise. That fact alone should make him one of the most desirable wings on the trade market. But calling Eric Gordon a pure scorer would be doing him a disservice; he’s someone who can put the ball on the floor and make plays for others, as well as exhibit great, switchable defense on various player archetypes around the league.
An ideal move for Eric Gordon would be one where the Rockets receive either draft compensation or a young prospect from a team with playoff aspirations. This would be a win-win deal, something Rafael Stone has touched on multiple times.
A trade partner that makes a lot of sense are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are in the fight for one of the final playoff seeds. Looking to get back there while Karl Anthony Towns’ contract is in play, the T-Wolves would welcome a proven playoff performer like Eric Gordon.
On the flip side, they also have an intriguing young player by the name of Anthony Edwards. Edwards has shown flashes, but has no playoff experience and is averaging worse shooting splits across the board compared to Eric. He is also playing worse defense, making it fairly likely that such a swap could happen.
The Timberwolves would only need to add about 5M worth of salary filler in this deal. Guys like Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels should easily do the trick.
Of course, a 3 for 1 deal would mean the Rockets would be above the roster spot limit. They would have to waive Augustin or Armoni Brooks, but shouldn’t be forced to do this without some additional compensation. A protected first round pick from the Wolves will be plenty.
2. Christian Wood:
Christian Wood has one of the most unique skillsets in the league, as a 6’10” forward/center who can put the ball on the floor and shoot the outside shot. His length allows him to be both a lob threat and a rim protector. He is also just 26 years old, so it would take an ambitious offer to pry him away from the Rockets’ hands.
One team Wood would fit on like a glove is the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose coach, J.B. Bickerstaff, is known to run multiple big men on the floor at the same time. The Cavs are currently allotting significant minutes to rookie Evan Mobley, who is, in many aspects, similar to Wood. But, he is less experienced AND, according to the stats per Synergy, not as good a 3-point shooter as Christian Wood.
In an offense with several bigs, shooting is key for floor spacing, so it would only make sense that the Cavs pursue a more experienced, floor spacing big in exchange for their inexperienced 19-year-old.
The salaries, however, don’t match straight up. Not to worry – young guard, Collin Sexton, is on an expiring contract and out for the season. He can be the perfect salary filler to make the trade work.
How this deal has not yet been executed is rather puzzling.
The remaining veterans (Augustin, Nwaba, Theis)
The remaining veterans should have a smaller market, but that shouldn’t stop Houston from pursuing a trade. They can still acquire some young pieces from some contending teams in exchange. So lets quick fire a few:
1. Daniel Theis
A Theis-Wiseman straight swap just feels right. Wiseman has yet to play for the 2-seed Warriors, and Theis is an experienced replacement level big that could be a difference maker in the playoffs. This would also save the Warriors 1M in salary, decreasing their gigantic tax bill.
2. DJ Augustin
The Kings’ GM, Monte McNair, is said to be on the hot seat should he not make the playoffs this year. Well, DJ Augustin could be just the guy to save McNair’s career. With this trade, the Kings exchange an inefficient rookie for a sharpshooting point guard. Augustin’s leadership could lead their second unit and edge them closer to playoff contention.
3. David Nwaba
The Hawks, after making the Western Conference Final last season, have found themselves struggling to make the play-in tournament, mainly due to their poor defense. David Nwaba, a defensive specialist, could assist on that side of the ball. As compensation, the Hawks would lose young prospect DeAndre Hunter – someone who’s been plagued with injuries all year.
The Buyout Market:
Besides trades, the Houston Rockets should also approach the buyout market as a way to bolster their ranks. As a low expectation team, they could pounce on young, likely buyout targets that might surface because of long-term injury. Some examples are guys like Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Patrick Williams, Michael Porter Jr, Jamal Murray, etc, whose current teams may not want to waste a roster spot on players who cannot play the game of basketball at the moment. Not all of them fit in with the Rockets’ plans exactly, but they are all nice, young players who are capable of contributing in multiple ways in the future.
To sum up, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Rockets to be big dealers this deadline. This always turns out to be one of the most exciting times of the year for NBA fans…so buy some drinks, stock up on some snacks, lock yourself inside your parents’ basements with a Wi-Fi router and a healthy connection to Twitter, because the weather forecast predicts plenty of Woj Bombs in the upcoming days.
**Do not take any of this seriously. This is a parody piece on the typical Lakers Media overvaluing of their players.