Between Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard, Daryl Morey has spent most of his offseason chasing after other teams' players. Such a strategy has resulted in more than a month of negotiation, offer sheets, trade positioning and backup planning, but the Houston Rockets' work is only beginning.
After an active summer, Houston's current roster stands at 21-plus players, making the assessment and bundling of assets all the more important as the Rox continue in the next intermediate step of their team-building process.
Morey may have missed out on Howard, but if the Rockets are even going to make the most of the vast collection of players they've acquired over the last few months, then more moves must be coming—even as Houston continues to sign players, such as former Buck Carlos Delfino, out of free agency.
But where to begin? Considering the franchise's apparent commitment to filling out its roster with young talent, Kevin Martin is an obvious trade candidate. Yet Martin's deal and potential trade value could very well keep him a Rocket for the next few months; cashing in on the trade market is what Morey does best, but that kind of movement takes time and patience for an optimal deal to come along.
Martin, meanwhile, is coming off of a difficult year in which he didn't exactly play nice with others, while turning in an eight-year low in points per minute and a nine-year low in field goal percentage. For a player whose game is wholly reliant on efficient scoring, those kinds of diminished returns hurt.
It nonetheless seems likely that Martin would be moved at some point this season, but the glut of marginally useful bigs—composed of Jon Brockman, JaJuan Johnson (right), Josh Harrellson and Sean Williams—would seem to provide for more convenient roster trimming.
Patrick Patterson, Donatas Motiejunas, Royce White and Terrence Jones are all very important developmental pieces for Houston at this juncture, leaving precious few minutes—and, by extension, precious few roster spots—for those kinds of bigs. Keeping one such player would be sensible, but any more would surely be overkill; for a team that needs to shed at least six players currently on their roster, such redundancy provides an easy out.
Plus, it provides room for a roster decision without much potential cost. All four of the aforementioned fringe bigs are in the same general range of production and promise, leaving Morey to make a decision on the bases of fit and taste.
If he and Kevin McHale see value in a utility rebounder, then Brockman is the best fit. If they value back-line shot-blocking, then Williams is a good choice. If they see promise in Johnson's game, then he claims the available spot. The long-term salary affixed to a player like Johnson may add another dimension to the decision, but for the most part, these are end-of-the-bench talents working on pretty slight—and fairly equivalent—NBA paychecks.
Interestingly, Shaun Livingston could, too, be among the players released if Morey isn't able to package several players in a deal to liquidate some of his peripheral players.
Houston isn't terribly deep at the point (at this particular moment only Lin, Livingston and Toney Douglas qualify as Houston's nominal point guards, with some Knicks fans surely willing to contest the notion that Douglas is, in fact, a 1), but Livingston may not be productive enough to protect him from being released as a means to shed salary.
Livingston is one of the only Rockets whose contracted salary is partially guaranteed for the 2012-2013 season, meaning that his release alone could save Houston $2.5 million.
How much that financial margin means to Houston is a matter for Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander to work out for themselves. Livingston could be a useful player to keep around, but given the crowd and the sheer number of younger prospects who need roster spots, he conceivably could be edged out as a matter of economic convenience.
Even with some of the above circumstances providing Morey with a bit of an out, the potential release of Livingston, Brockman, Harrellson and Williams (for one possible scenario) would only reduce the Rockets roster total to 17 for a 15-player maximum.
Whether or not Martin is dealt prior to the beginning of the season, there's much that needs to be accomplished to get Houston's roster down to its regular-season fighting weight, so to speak, even as the rest of the offseason action grinds to a halt.
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