The Houston Rockets may not be a playoff team without being active participants at the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
Prior to their Jan. 21 trip to the road-friendly Time Warner Cable Arena, the Rockets had dropped seven straight. Even that road match with the Charlotte Bobcats (who entered the game with 14 consecutive home losses) was far from a gimme, as the Rockets faced an 11-point deficit in the second half before rallying for a 100-94 win.
Of late, the Rockets have lacked the same offensive punch that once keyed a stretch of 12 wins in 15 games. And defensive struggles have been a problem for this club all season.
As opposing defenses have focused on limiting James Harden's effectiveness and forcing his teammates to beat them, coach Kevin McHale has been left searching for consistent contributors.
With so much of the production tied to Houston's perimeter (Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin combine for nearly 52 percent of the scoring), this team figures to face the up-and-down play that has come to define its season.
The Rockets need to find consistency in the paint to enter the realm of Western Conference contenders. Reportedly, they are interested in acquiring one of the most reliable power forwards in the league:
The reasons behind the reported desire aren't hard to see.
Randolph leads the NBA with 26 double-doubles. With 16.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, he's one of just 12 bigs to have averaged a double-double effort.
And he's not a volume scorer, nor the benefactor of stat-stuffing boards.
Offensively, he has the versatility to find buckets away from the basket and the body and footwork to generate points in the paint. Despite lacking great size (6'9", 260 pounds) or even adequate athleticism, Randolph has toyed with defenders to the tune of a 48.6 field-goal percentage.
Inside of 15 feet, he's converted better than 53 percent of his looks (via basketball-reference.com). He does his work early, battling for low position on the block. His offensive post arsenal features a slew of moves both away from and toward the bucket.
When defenses force him out of position, he has the shooting form to pull defenders with him. When the shot isn't there, he has the sense to keep the ball moving while he works his way back to prime rebounding territory and a potential second-chance opportunity.
He isn't cheap ($17.8 million for 2013-14 season, $16.5 million player option for 2014-15), and his contract poses some obvious hurdles for a Rockets team short on big-money deals to match.
He's also a win-now type of player (31 years old), which might force GM Daryl Morey and staff into some uncomfortable self-assessments. The offseason acquisitions of Harden, Lin and Omer Asik weren't necessarily meant to turn things around this quickly, and the Rockets must decide if they can manage the sustainable success that has thus far eluded them.
The Memphis Grizzlies will...
But Randolph would provide this team a puncher's chance at the kind of lengthy postseason that even Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady couldn't give Houston fans. The trio of Randolph, Lin and Harden would likely turn this club into a "magic in a bottle" top of team, capable of accomplishing even more than the eye-opening run it made from mid-December into mid-January.
The deal would almost have to be a salary dump for the Grizzlies. And with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers already playing themselves out of title contention, this may be as clear of a path to the Conference Finals as the West has seen in some time.
The Grizzlies new regime seems determined to put its fingerprints on the franchise, even if that means hurting the team's chances this season.
Memphis' roster has some seemingly very available star talent, and the Rockets can ill afford to watch their missing piece wind up wasting away in Charlotte or any other franchise quicker to the negotiating table.
Sooner or later the Grizzlies brass will realize that they already have one of the best rosters in the NBA. The Rockets need to realize what they could potentially have on their own roster and make sure that the Grizzlies' mindset of win-later is a regretful one, forever restricted to hindsight.