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Q&A on the Houston Rockets’ alleged interest in the #4 pick

On Monday afternoon, DraftExpress tweeted:

NBA source says both Detroit & Houston are making a major push to trade w/Minnesota to get Cousins with the 4th pick. “His stock is rising.”

Adrian Wojnarowski later tweeted:

Minnesota offering Jonny Flynn and two first-round picks (16 and 23) to Indiana for a package that includes the 10th pick, sources tell Y!

To gain some insight into Minnesota’s possible motivations, I got together with Zach Harper of ESPN TrueHoop’s official Minnesota Timberwolves blog, A Wolf Among Wolves:

Rahat: Ok, so first we have the report from DraftExpress that both Houston and Detroit will be bidding for Minnesota’s #4 in hopes of nabbing Cousins, and now we just got a report from Adrian Wojnarowski that Kahn is dangling Flynn and picks in hopes of grabbing Indiana’s #10.  Can you provide some insight into Minnesota’s possible motivations?

Zach: My first thought for every move the Wolves are rumored to be considering or proposing to other teams is always trying to figure out how this impacts getting Ricky Rubio to the Twin Cities. With the idea of trading Jonny Flynn for anything, you have to think it’s motivation for clearing depth at a position Rubio plays. To get him over here and in a Wolves uniform, you have to convince him that the job is his and it’s a lucrative and likely-to-succeed situation for him.

As for dealing their other first round picks and Flynn to move into the Top 10 for a second time, I think the motivation is to make sure they take a defensive-minded center or one of the talented wing players to round out their roster. Kahn loves to load up at certain positions as you saw in the draft last year. This year’s overload could be at the small forward or wing position. With the rumors flying around that Wesley Johnson is the guy at #4, Luke Babbitt or Gordan Hayward could be the other guy in the Top 10 projected picks they want to pick out. This team couldn’t shoot from outside at all last season. Now, they have to chance to pick up multiple shooters to put around Rubio to spread the floor for him and their two talented post players (Love and Jefferson).

Rahat: What is the likelihood of Minnesota trading out of the #4 slot and for what reason?

Zach: Since the Wolves seem content with passing on DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors if either are available, trading out of the 4th spot doesn’t seem to be a big deal. I’m not necessarily doubting that Wesley Johnson can be a nice player in the league but to grab equal value from another team in order for them to move up and select Favors or Cousins doesn’t seem to be a crazy idea. Minnesota’s ideal situation would have been grabbing Evan Turner without giving up too much in return. Since they probably can’t make that happen without taking on Elton Brand’s albatross contract, they now have to explore different options to convince a free agent (Rudy Gay?) or their overseas prospects (Rubio and Pekovic) that Minneapolis is the place to play basketball. I think they realize there are nice players in this draft throughout but there aren’t a lot of potential stars. If everyone outside of the Top 4 guys (Wall, Turner, Favors, Cousins) are just role players, then you might as well trade down, acquire assets or future picks or both, and select a cheaper role player out of the first round.

Rahat: If the DraftExpress report regarding Houston and Detroit’s interest in the #4 (ie: that they will each be making a major push), for whom might the Wolves be willing to move it?  Amongst Houston’s assets are Trevor Ariza, Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, the #14, and two very lightly protected future New York Knicks draft picks.  Do you think some combination of those assets might entice the Wolves?  Would they be more interested in a package from Detroit?

Zach: Aaron Brooks intrigues me the most of any of those players but that doesn’t exactly solve the problem of getting Ricky Rubio into a Wolves uniform. Now, Brooks is definitely a better point guard at this point and might give them the freedom to deal Rubio away for an attractive package but it seems unlikely that they’d admit complete and utter defeat with the 2009 draft and go this route.

While preparing for the Kings draft last year, the idea of a Kevin Martin-Ricky Rubio backcourt seemed really intriguing. Their strengths and weaknesses seem to complement each other quite well, which makes the prospect of moving down in the draft, acquiring Martin and drafting for defensive presences in other parts of the draft a very intriguing idea for Minnesota. Martin and #14 or Martin and the better of the Knicks picks might be the best way for the Wolves to go. Definitely, Martin with a Knicks pick AND the 14th pick would be ideal for the Wolves and seem to be an offer they couldn’t refuse. It also seems to be much more than the Pistons can offer. Tayshaun Prince is the best asset Detroit has and I’m not sure the Wolves think he could make a big impact in one season (maximum) in Minnesota. Sure, they wouldn’t have to move down much (Prince and #7 for the 4th pick) but is that really a better package than what Houston could offer? Doesn’t seem like it for a team that needs some long-term solutions in their rebuilding process.

Rahat: Very interesting that you mention interest in Martin.  If the Rockets are going with the freshman Cousins, I think it would signal a push for the future, making them more willing to deal the 27-year-old.  If they feel Cousins can be a cornerstone, I feel Houston would agree to deal Martin and one of the picks (not both), as it would not fully deplete their asset core, unlike some of the other deals being discussed.

There were numerous reports last season of Daryl Morey’s fervent attempts to deal up to nab Rubio.  Any chance Kahn might fold and relinquish his rights?  What might it take for the Rockets to land Rubio, or, given their wealth of assets, a package of both Rubio and the #4?

Zach: I don’t think Kahn is the type of guy to admit defeat with the Rubio pick after one year. As nice as the Rockets’ assets are, it doesn’t seem like the type of star power to pry the Spanish point guard from Kahn’s grip. Kahn is not only playing chicken with Rubio, Rubio’s family and his agent, he’s also playing chicken right now with the rest of the league. He had a contentious first year as a decision-maker for the Wolves. It wasn’t necessarily bad but it WAS extremely confusing. Three point guards in the first 18 picks, followed by acquiring Darko Milicic and trying to make Kevin Love feel like he was nothing more than Reggie Evans didn’t exactly show there should be a lot of trust between fans and the front office. At the same time, he can’t look like a pushover by just giving up on a guy that is supposed to be the future of this franchise. If he rolls over on the Rubio possession and deals him off for someone that isn’t a big name, the Wolves and their front office are officially not to be taken seriously. Ego alone will keep Rubio in Minnesota’s hold for at least one more year.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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DraftExpress: Houston Rockets making a “major push” to acquire 4th pick