As the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this morning:
Loading up for a move to get that long-sought franchise star or a move up in the first round, the Rockets dealt forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a first-round pick in Thursday’s draft. The Rockets will acquire the 18th pick to send Budinger to the Timberwolves, reuniting him with former coach Rick Adelman.
First let’s get the most important part of this deal out of the way: by acquiring the 18th pick, the Rockets now have three first rounders (18, 16, and 14) to play with, creating a complicated mix and match with the tradable players on their current roster (aka everyone under contract) to get lottery picks that will only serve as a means to the end, which is Dwight Howard. After that, it’s all too far down the road to see. Deron Williams would likely be targeted, but who knows how Houston’s cap space will look by then.
So basically, for those who’re having fun speculating, look at this entire thing as if the Rockets were trying to scale a four story building. This Budinger to Minnesota deal is the first step up. With three first round picks and everyone on the roster available (Lowry, Martin, Patterson, Scola, Parsons, Motiejunas, etc.), the team now has more flexibility than anyone else in the league in trying to move up in the draft. Popular trade partners who’ve been talked about in recent days are Toronto (at #8) and Sacramento (at #5). If the Rockets manage to grab both of those picks, they then will have reached the second floor. At this point the roster might look depleted, but there’s still two more staircases to climb before they get to the top.
To nobody’s surprise, Dwight Howard is the prize sitting on the third floor. With a package centered around (hopefully) multiple lottery picks, the Rockets will be able to give Orlando what they want (a fresh start) and possibly still have enough cap space to take on a bad contract, such as Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, or Glen Davis. Gulp. At this point, with Dwight Howard officially on the roster, the Rockets could then make a pitch at Deron Williams, the top free agent available. That’s four stories climbed, and a roster that’s as good as anyone to contend for a title.
Right now there are dozens of specific possibilities ensuring a route to the top of that building—one of which includes going after Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith to appease Howard—but generally, the one I’ve outlined is more or less what they’ll follow.
Now, all of this is hypothetical as we still aren’t sure how gung ho Orlando’s new general manager, Rob Hennigan, is about moving his franchise player after being on the job for just a few weeks, but it’s comforting to know Houston is actively going after what they want.
Even though there’s literally no chance of Houston keeping this first round pick, the his deal by itself is still a pretty good one for the Rockets. Budinger is owed $885,120 next season and it’s not guaranteed. The wonderful production to price ratio Budinger brings to the table now is great, but his upcoming contract won’t be cheap, and there’s a good chance the Rockets would lose him next year to free agency anyway. On paper Daryl Morey managed to flip a guy selected in the middle of the second round for the 18th pick in a deep draft. The other player the Rockets gave up in this deal goes by the name Lior Eliyahu. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger, Eliyahu posted an 11.47 PER playing for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv last season. So, yea, nobody’s crying over that one.
If this were Candy Land, Budinger would be replaced with Kevin Martin, but what can you do. It isn’t Candy Land, and beggars can’t be choosers. Budinger lost his starting job to Chandler Parsons last season, and spent the year in and out of the rotation. Apart from his beginning to carve a particular niche for himself as a deadly three-point specialist, there really wasn’t room for him to grow in Houston, but that doesn’t make it any less sad to see him go.