Do the Houston Rockets really want to wait until free agency to land their missing piece?
If the Rockets can bide their time until after the season ends, they will have a Brinks truck full of cap space, and the lure of playing with emerging superstar James Harden to attract top-tier talent.
But the coin has two sides. Once free agency rolls around, there will be other teams with cap space. There will be other teams with attractive talent already on their roster. And some of those teams are in bigger media markets than number 10 Houston.
Yes, the Rockets will be risking giving up talent for a rental player. But I say it's worth the risk, because then they will be able to sell their team to this impending free agent in the most persuasive way possible: by letting him play with their squad.
Let him see what it's like on a team of young, unselfish talents.
Let him see what it's like to run up and down the court like Keanu Reeves chasing that guy in the Ronald Reagan mask.
Let him see what it's like to score like Stephen Hawking taking the SAT.
To me, the best way to land a free agent is to get him into the fold before the other guys do. But it depends on what the Rockets have to give up.
Bear in mind, in addition to my estimated trade costs, all swaps regarding high-salaried players would also likely necessitate a third team, draft picks, cash considerations or a combination of all three.
Estimated trade deadline cost: Omer Asik
Estimated free agent cost: Four years, $70 million
I really don't want to give up Asik, who I believe is the best NBA big-man success story this season. And Asik is a devastating price to pay if Morey isn't sure he'll be able to sign Howard.
The rumors say, though, that Howard is interested in the Rockets as a destination. I have my issues with Howard's off-putting attitude and seeming lack of self-discipline, or as Kobe would call it, "sense of urgency."
But if Houston can land him, they should. Howard is a massive talent, and certainly still the NBA's premier center. Jeremy Lin gets a big set of hands to aim passes at down low, and Harden gets pressure drawn off him, opening up the game for both players.
Pair him with Harden and an NBA championship would be in the not-too-distant future.
Verdict: Get him in a Houston uniform, whatever it takes.
Estimated trade deadline cost: Terrence Jones or Marcus Morris
Estimated free agent cost: Two years, $20 million
Word on the street is the Rockets are also interested in Bynum. He presents an interesting conundrum.
Bynum has apparently attended the Greg Oden School of Health. He's only played 82 games once in his eight-year career, and most of the time he's more beaten up than Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Although Bynum will finally take the court this season following the All-Star break, he still has pain.
The Philadelphia 76ers have already bet the farm once on Bynum when they obtained him. My guess is they will not make the same mistake twice when he comes a-knockin' for a max deal. And if that's the case, I don't think they'll get much of an offer in a trade.
That's where the Rockets can swoop in.
If Houston can get Bynum in red and white for Morris, it's a no-brainer. Of the power forwards, Morris has improved the most and would be missed. But giving Bynum the experience of being a Rocket on this high-energy squad is a sufficient return on investment.
Terrence Jones would be more painful, based on his upside and his D-League play. I'd hesitate more on that swap.
I don't think any team is going to go more than two years on Bynum, based on his health. So if Bynum is already here, the Rockets stand a solid chance of re-signing him with the offer stated above, especially if they add on-court incentives to the contract.
Verdict: It's a risk, but if the Rockets don't have to give up much, it's worth it.
Hickson, left, could be the piece the Rockets need.
Estimated trade-deadline cost: Terrence Jones and a future second-rounder
Estimated free agent cost: Four years, $32 million
Hickson seems like Morey's kind of guy: statistically attractive with little name recognition.
Hickson is having the season of his career, and the Trail Blazers, though still in the playoff hunt after their 118-103 dismantling by the Rockets, are likely to be sellers come trade deadline time. The big man is third in the league in double-doubles, and can play as a stretch 4 quite easily.
My philosophy is this: You show me a player who's parlayed D-League success into NBA success, and I'll show you three who haven't. Jones is a very intriguing prospect, but far from a sure thing. Hickson, on the other hand, is just 24, which again fits the Rockets' profile, and is a proven commodity.
The contract offer I stated is double what Hickson makes now, giving him a nice raise and a nice long contract. I think he'll sign—which means the trade will have been worth it. Plus such a modest contract allows the Rockets to sign one more star if they so choose.
Verdict: Pull the trigger, Morey.
Estimated trade-deadline cost: Jeremy Lin
Estimated free agent cost: Signed through 2013-2014
This one makes about as much sense as watching Inception on mute. In my opinion, Parsons has a higher ceiling than Granger. In addition, Granger is already 29, and though he would provide the perimeter threat the Rockets need, does not bring the imposing defense they need just as badly, if not worse.
Most painful, because of his contract, I don't see how the Rockets could obtain him without parting with one of their big three. Though Lin has struggled with consistency and outside shooting, his potential ceiling alone makes this trade nonsensical.
Verdict: Find the numskulls who started this slander and clunk their heads together like melons.
Estimated trade-deadline cost: Asik and Jones
Estimated free agent cost: Four years, $65 million
It seems to always come back to Josh Smith, doesn't it?
Smith recently rejected the Hawks' max deal, so Atlanta is now actively shopping him. The good news for the Rockets: rumor has it that Smith has the Rockets on his short list of teams he'd be interested in being traded to.
Most Rockets fans salivate over the prospect of Smith on backdoor cuts or alley-oops from Lin or Harden, along with drawing lots of defensive attention away from Harden. I'm less of a fan, simply because of Smith's questionable attitude and his penchant for taking ill-advised outside shots.
The last thing the Rockets need is another guy who can't hit from the perimeter, especially a big man.
Would I say no to Smith as a Rocket? Of course not. The guy has scary ability, puts down anything near the rim, and I love his defense. But to get him before the deadline, the Rockets will have to give up something good.
It would be a shame to lose Asik, who doesn't have Smith's talent but has become one of my favorite Rockets. And oh, by the way, Asik has two more double-doubles than Smith.
Honestly, it doesn't matter what I think, because of Smith becomes available for the right price, he's coming to Houston. I'm just not sure he's the guy to take them to the mountaintop.
I'll say this, though: if Morey can get Smith without giving up Asik, hell to the yeah.
Verdict: If it requires giving up Asik, think long and hard about it. If it requires anything less, Mr. Smith Goes To Houston.