Hasn’t it felt over these last few years like the Houston Rockets were an organization hell bent on making trades for the sake of, well, making trades? Rolling dice until a pair of sixes stared back from the table?
Of course their moves weren’t that simpleminded; serious logic played a major part in every transaction they participated in. Each trade was a move on the Chess board to try and acquire a foundational superstar talent. They needed cap space, they needed assets, and they needed luck.
This offseason they found all three on their side, and as a result, a trade for James Harden—that would have been impossible had it not been for the litany of preceding moves—happened.
This February’s trade deadline feels different. They still have cap space, and are still fighting hard for a playoff spot, but now that things have settled down a bit and their expectations have changed, there’s a good chance we could see a slightly more conservative ship being run.
That being said, any trades they make from now until February 21st will be done with the thought of improving their chances of making the postseason this year while simultaneously keeping their cap space safe in the years ahead.
Here’s a categorical ranking of every relevant player/asset on the roster, and a look into the likelihood that Daryl Morey ships them out of town in the next few weeks in an attempt to improve his team’s eventual shot at a championship.
The Trillion Dollar Coin
This is the guy all that work was for. One of the 12 best players in basketball and one of the three or four most unstoppable scorers. Harden would not be traded unless Kevin Durant or LeBron James were on the other side of the fence. He’s signed through 2018 for a guaranteed $75.5 million. So, yea. Just forget about it.
Untouchable, except when they’re not.
Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik
Lin and Asik are linked for so many reasons, and the parallels that run through their career narratives are probably stronger than their differences. Both signed modestly pricey contracts based on educated speculation, with their production extrapolated to snugly fit into a regular starter’s various responsibilities.
For the most part, so far so good. Asik is playing extremely well on the defensive end, starting 43 games and leading the NBA in total rebounds. (He’s fifth in rebounds per game with 11.0, and third in defensive rebounding percentage.)
My personal opinion on Lin is that he’s an above average point guard who’s more than capable of refining his game on both ends of the court throughout the next few years of his contract. Are there better fits to place besides James Harden? Sure there are. But the expectations this duo (and by extension this team) has shouldn’t be so high with just half a season under their belt. This is the guy Houston has, so let them play it out for the year.
Asik and Lin have great value with their contracts and their style of play is conducive to contributing towards a winning model. Moving either should only be done in the case that another superstar can be acquired.
Nice, Cheap, and Coveted
Due to the tiny bit of guaranteed salary he’s owed throughout the life of his current contract, the probability of Chandler Parson being dealt is very, very small. At his price tag, there’s nobody better.
While it makes sense for the Rockets to cash out on his value now—before he hits free agency and finds the mid-tier salary he deserves in a second contract—the likelihood of Daryl Morey dealing Parsons in a deal to bring back anything worthwhile is small unless he’s packaged with Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik or James Harden (for salary matching reasons).
And why would the Rockets feel any rush to cash out so soon? Parsons has basically picked up where he left off after a brilliant rookie season. He’s the rare breed of perimeter defender who possesses size, length, quickness, and intelligence. He’s responded nicely to an increase in playing time by bringing up his field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free-throw percentage. His PER is up slightly, along with his usage percentage.
Parsons is 24 years old and in 99 career starts has played like someone who can give heavy contributions for a very good basketball team. Why would Houston let that team be someone else for the rest of this year?
Finding undrafted monsters with soft touch and hands too big for oven mitts is what some refer to as “smart.” Thus, signing Greg Smith through next season at less than $1 million was a really good move. He’s 22 years old, improving on both ends of the court by the day, and proving to be one of the best backup centers in basketball.
When he replaces Omer Asik, Houston’s offense improves while the defense breaks down. But for his price tag, youth, and room for growth, the Rockets would be wise to hold onto this possible treasure chest they stumbled upon.
What’s the point?
Delfino is a perfect fit with the Rockets: He enjoys shooting three-pointers, and does so with accuracy. What’s not to love? Surely not the contract, which is $3 million this season and a team option for $3 million next season. He’s the oldest guy on the roster and a perfect complimentary piece alongside James Harden.
(In the 546 minute Delfino has shared the floor with Harden, the Rockets have scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/Stats. That’s really, really good.)
Other teams are most likely inquiring about Morris’ services, but anybody who wants him should be sold Patrick Patterson instead. They’re basically the same player, except Morris can stay healthy and is under his rookie contract for another two seasons after this one.
Also, Morris is a much better fit for this Rockets team. When he plays with the other four regular starters, Houston gives up just 97.4 points per 100 possessions (on par with the Bulls). With Patterson they allow 106.8 (on par with the Kings, Bobcats, and Cavaliers). He’s more athletic than Parsons, and is more versatile on the offensive end.
If a Trade Happens, These Guys Are Gone.
The emergence of Patrick Beverly as a gritty, athletic, uber-cheap backup point guard has temporarily pushed Toney Douglas to the bench. But the development is sort of strange, being that Douglas is actually having a pretty good year (on James Dolan’s dime), shooting over 40% from behind the arc and supplying fantastic full court ball pressure on opposing ball-handlers.
But all situations have logical explanations, and in this particular one it’s rather simple: Douglas is currently playing on an expiring contract, which, as we all know, can hold value to many organizations around the league looking to shed unnecessary salary this offseason. The Rockets signed Beverly to enable flexibility should they feel the need to deal Douglas. (Say, in the event they needed another contract to fill salary in a potential Josh Smith/Paul Millsap deal before the deadline.)
Doesn’t it feel like Patrick Patterson’s been around forever? Nope, he’s only in his third NBA season and just 23 years old. Just as he began to evolve into the type of stretch four Houston’s offense badly needed, he hurt himself. Injuries have unfortunately been a recurring theme for Patterson these last few years, and with Marcus Morris waiting in the wings, he’s without a doubt the most expendable member of Houston’s starting lineup.
Patterson is owed $3.1 million next season, and after that it’s difficult to picture him still wearing a Rockets uniform. He’s attempted two three-pointers for every free-throw, which is definitely a nice wrinkle to have. But as a starting power forward it’s wearisome on the offense. Patterson is also averaging just 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
Right now these two are basically the same person. A pair of tall, left-handed, outside-in youngsters with great upside who’ve yet to carve a role for themselves in Kevin McHale’s already infantile rotation. They make about the same money (Jones is making roughly $120,000 more this season) and are about the same age (Motiejunas is 15 months older).
Much like Jeremy Lamb caught the eye of Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, either of these two could find themselves as sweetener throw-ins on a much larger deal. They’re both more asset than player, and seeing them go in the right type of deal shouldn’t shock anybody.
Because he’s the fifth highest paid player on the team (seriously, look it up) who’s managed to simultaneously disguise himself as the triple backup center.
The exact opposite of a Trillion Dollar Coin
Second to Pau Gasol, Royce White has the lowest trade value in the NBA.