The calm before the storm?

UPDATE at 9:30AM: The Rockets have traded Chase Budinger to Minnesota for the #18 pick in Thursday’s draft.

Word broke late Sunday night that the Rockets were exploring ways to acquire both the #5 and #8 picks in Thursday’s draft, hoping to then send those two selections over to Orlando for center Dwight Howard in what would be the boldest move in recent NBA history.’s David Aldridge reported last night that, according to a source, there was “not a chance” Howard would resign with Houston if traded there.  That news comes as expected and won’t deter Houston general manager Morey.  We’ve known all along that Howard’s preference was Brooklyn so it’s predictable that these scare tactics would come forth from his camp.  The simple fact of the matter remains that if acquired, the acquiring team can offer the free-agent-to-be the highest raises and years under the rules of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.  If anything, Aldridge’s report confirms that for Howard—as would be the case for any rational individual—money is a concern.  Were it not, he would not have waived his option last year and would have just waited to sign with his preferred Nets outright this summer.

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in columns


For the past several years, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been trying to package assets together to make a big deal on draft night. The 2012 draft is no different.

Sources say that Houston has discussed deals with several teams in the top 10 about moving up in the draft. And the Rockets might have found two willing partners.

Although sources stressed that no deal is imminent, Sacramento (No. 5) and Toronto (No. 8 ) have let Houston know that their top-10 selections are available. Sources say that the Rockets, in turn, have made both of their first-round picks available (No. 14 and No. 16), but the key to any trade going through could be point guard Kyle Lowry.

The Raptors have been especially fond of Lowry, who has been regarded for months as a borderline untouchable in Houston but more recently has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Whether the Rockets are indeed prepared to part with Lowry, as talks with the Kings, Raptors and other teams continue, figures to be one of the bigger stories of draft week.

What’s clear from the Rockets’ end, sources say, is the player they’re fondest of in the upper reaches of the draft: UConn big man Andre Drummond. Many scouts believe Drummond has the second highest upside of any player in the draft behind consensus No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, but the 7-foot, 279-pounder would almost certainly still be available at No. 5.

Drummond, as the second youngest player in the draft at 18, registered an impressive 7-foot-6 wingspan at the NBA draft combine earlier this month. Personnel experts regard him as an elite athlete and shot-blocker who moves laterally especially well. But Drummond’s inconsistent play as a freshman, combined with questions about his passion for the game, have caused his draft stock to take a slight hit in recent weeks.

The tipoff that the Kings are likely to deal the No. 5 pick between now and Thursday night, sources say, is the handful of players they’ve brought in who are expected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. Sources say two of those players in particular — North Carolina’s John Henson and St. John’s Moe Harkless — are high on the Kings’ draft board.

Henson has already worked out for the Kings and Harkless is scheduled to work out on Monday. Sacramento has also tried to get several other candidates for the middle of the first round, including UConn’s Jeremy Lamb and Washington’s Terrence Ross, into town for 11th-hour workouts.

UPDATE (12:48 a.m. ET): Upon hearing of Sunday night’s developments, one rival general manager told that he believes Houston’s real aim is acquiring two top-10 picks this week to turn around quickly and offer both to the Orlando Magic as part of a considerable trade offer for Dwight Howard.

The Rockets’ willingness to trade for Howard — even without the All-Star center’s signature on a contract extension — is an open secret around the league. But it’s believed that two top-eight picks, assuming Houston managed to complete trades with both Sacramento and Toronto, would seriously pique the interest of new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, who could then quickly start following the same sort of roster-building blueprint relied on by his previous employers in Oklahoma City.

Acquiring those early lottery picks, though, only represents half of Houston’s challenge if Howard is indeed the Rockets’ target. The other hurdle is convincing Hennigan, who hasn’t even been on the job for a week in Central Florida, to part with Howard so quickly. As much as he’s been schooled in building through the draft while working alongside Thunder GM Sam Presti, Hennigan could opt to take a more measured approach, make one more run at trying to convince Howard to sign an extension before entering the final year of his contract and then trade him later in the summer if those efforts go nowhere.

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in musings

Some pre-draft speculation…

We now stand just a few days away from the 2012 NBA Draft.  I can’t tell you what the Rockets will do because it’s anyone’s guess, as has been the case for quite some time.  They could deal the picks, or one of them, for a veteran.  They could also use the picks.  The only thing which is certain is that they will not draft based on “need.”  To those thinking that a center will be chosen inevitably with one of the picks, understand this: the Rockets have not and never will draft for “need” during Daryl Morey’s tenure.  If they take a center, it’s because they feel he is the best player available at that selection.

Dwight Howard will be the first option.  But if nothing sticks there, do they hold their cards again and await the end of that saga or do they move on to Plan B?  If Gasol can be had at a fair price, do they just take the bird in hand?  The team wanted Gasol last year, paired with Nene, and was willing to overpay for both because of the combined value.  Would they feel the same way if it were Omer Asik instead, in Nene’s place?  The team has always had interest in Asik, one of the best defender’s in the league.  But that was at a minimum salary and through trade.  Would they commit high dollars with the cap room they have waited for so long to free up?  Gasol-Asik would undeniably be formidable upfront.  Formidable, but not enough to make this team a contender.

What if Gasol costed only Lowry and Scola and Asik was bought with the cash saved up?  You’d still have the #14 and #16, and Kevin Martin, to play with as remaining trade chips.  If trading Martin for Minnesota’s 18th, how high could you climb by then packaging those three picks?

In 2001, the Rockets used the #13, #18, and #23 to climb up to #7 to take the late Eddie Griffin.  If they could climb that high again, I think they’d do it.  Quality over quantity is the game’s name at this point in time.

Gasol, Asik, Parsons, Lee, and Dragic is a quality lineup.  Motiejunas and the new high rookie could bring hope off the bench.  There would also be the chance of production from Marcus Morris.  With a full year of Marcus Camby, that team would win 50 games and threaten a second round run.  But they wouldn’t contend.

Therein lies the dilemma.  The Rockets have pieces, money, and serious options to improve their team.  But few of those routes would give them the foundation of a bonafide contender.  Do they keep waiting for the homerun or take the bird in hand?

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in columns

Yao Ming is golfing

For those interested in everything Yao Ming: From Shanghai, here’s a quick blurb from a press release about Ming’s latest venture into golf. Cool stuff.

Mission Hills Group today announced a list of international superstars from the worlds of sport, golf and entertainment who will play in the World Celebrity Pro-Am, October 18-21 at Mission Hills in Haikou.

The 2012 World Celebrity Pro-Am will bring together superstar celebrities, sports legends and renowned golfers. They include former NBA Star Yao Ming, who will be the event’s Charity Ambassador; Brazilian football superstar Ronaldo; Chinese gymnast and international businessman Li Ning; former World No. 1 snooker player Stephen Hendry and past Masters Champion Ian Woosnam.

For more info, click here.

in essays

Talking Rockets, Part II

The following is the second part of an e-mail conversation between Red94 founder Rahat Huq, and myself, Red94 writer Michael Pina. We talked about hypothetical trade situations, the possible optimism this offseason brings, and a little bit about the draft. [read more…]

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