The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets currently covet free agents from each other's teams. In the case of Houston, it is Chicago's restricted free agent center, Omer Asik. For Chicago, it's Houston's unrestricted free agent shooting guard, Courtney Lee.
If a sign-and-trade deal can be worked out, Chicago and Houston can both ensure that each team lands the player it covets in this year's free agency.
Houston sends Luis Scola (PF; 3yrs, $9.4M), Kevin Martin (SG;1yr, $12.5M) and Courtney Lee (SG; UFA) to the Bulls.
Chicago sends Omer Asik (C; RFA), Carlos Boozer (3yrs, $15M), C.J. Watson (PG; 1yr, $3.2M), Chicago's 2013 first round draft pick and Charlotte's future first round draft pick to the Rockets.
Simply put, Chicago needs help at shooting guard. Courtney Lee would represent the long-term solution, while Kevin Martin would act as the one year stop-gap while Derrick Rose is rehabbing from knee surgery. Houston has been looking to trade Martin's expiring contract, but with a salary in excess of 12 million dollars per year it will be hard to find any team able to absorb his contract.
To make the deal work salary-wise, the teams would need to swap starting power forwards. While Luis Scola is the more productive player on a per dollar basis (and cheaper overall), Carlos Boozer is still an above-average power forward and could contribute to a rebuilding Houston roster (or help balance salaries exchanged in a trade for a star player).
Moreover, Scola does not seem to be in Houston's long-term plans, since they drafted power forwards Royce White and Terrence Jones in this year's NBA draft and Patrick Peterson in the 2010 NBA draft.
Houston has reportedly agreed to terms with the Bulls' backup center Omer Asik on a three-year deal worth slightly over 25 million dollars, which Chicago still has the ability to match since he is a restricted free agent. In this scenario, Chicago would re-sign Asik and trade him to Houston along with the expiring contract of C.J. Watson, since Houston is in need of help at the point after losing Goran Dragic to the Suns via free agency and trading Kyle Lowry to the Raptors.
In order to make the deal work, the Rockets would need to re-sign Lee. He will probably command a salary of around $5-$6 million per year, and Chicago would like to see him agree to a three-year deal with a team option for the fourth year.
For the right to rent Martin for one season, Chicago would send its 2013 first round draft pick to the Rockets. To be able to swap Boozer's salary for Scola's, Chicago would send the first round draft pick it acquired from Charlotte in the Tyrus Thomas trade to Houston.
Both teams would be exchanging roughly twenty-six million dollars in contracts, so the salaries would match up perfectly.
Why Houston Makes the Trade:
1. It would guarantee that Houston acquires Asik, which is something Chicago can prevent if it decides to match Houston's offer.
2. Houston receives a first-round pick for the expiring deal of Martin and does not lose him for nothing after the season is over.
3. The Rockets acquire a potential lottery pick in Charlotte's future first round pick, which can be used as trade bait in its quest for landing an NBA All-Star or two.
4. Houston obtains Watson to run the point at a reasonable salary and on a one-year deal during this transition year. His expiring deal can also be used in any trade package the Rockets are able to make before next season.
5. The Rocket's front office has been stockpiling first round draft selections over the past two years, and has a vault of young assets which it would be willing to trade to land some NBA starts like Dwight Howard. While Martin's salary can only be used in a trade this year due to his expiring deal, Boozer has three years left on his contract which allows Houston management more time to explore the best trades possible.
A large salary like Boozer's will be necessary in any trade for an All-Star caliber player to help match the dollars swapped, since all of its desirable young former first round picks are on cheap rookie-scale contracts and will not equal the salaries of the players Houston would target.
Why Chicago Makes the Trade:
1. The addition of Martin provides Chicago with a true scorer next season while Rose is out and will help keep the Bulls in the playoff hunt until Rose returns later in the year.
2. Chicago acquires Lee to start at shooting guard after next season as both a defensive specialist and strong three-point shooter to pair with Rose. Due to Chicago's current financial situation, it cannot simply sign Lee to a long-term contract and is only able to obtain his services through a sign-and-trade scenario.
3. The Bulls move Boozer's bloated contract for the very productive and more reasonably priced Scola and create more financial flexibility to extend Taj Gibson's contract and to go after a top-tier free agent after Luol Deng's contract expires after the 2013-14 season. Scola will team with the more defensive-minded Gibson to give Chicago a very balanced attack at power forward.
4. Chicago receives compensation for losing Asik and for moving the expiring contract of Watson (who is no longer in the team's plans after it reached an agreement with free agent and former Bull Kirk Hinrich).
While Chicago would most likely agree to this sign-and-trade arrangement any day of the week, Houston would probably only be interested in making a deal if Chicago indicates it will match Asik's restricted tender—and if Houston is serious about turning its stockpile of former first round selections into real assets in its quest to acquire NBA stars and return the Rockets to true championship contenders.