The Houston Rockets' season-long search for a steady solution at power forward has finally come to an end. As it turns out, the winner isn't Marcus Morris or Patrick Patterson, who've battled one another for playing time, but rather a third candidate straight out of left field: Thomas Robinson.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets, in separate deals, shipped Morris to the Phoenix Suns—where he'll be reunited with twin brother Markieff Morris—for a second-round draft pick, and traded Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt.
Aldrich had played only sparingly this season after coming over in the James Harden trade, and Toney Douglas recently fell behind Patrick Beverley on Kevin McHale's depth chart. As for Patterson, he was a productive player when on the floor (16.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, .571 true shooting percentage), but persistent foot problems had rendered his presence a less than dependable one.
Morris' numbers (14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, 38.1 percent from three) were similarly solid, though his starts were limited by those allotted to Patterson.
With those two gone, the Rockets' logjam at power forward also becomes a thing of the past. That is, assuming Robinson is ready to assume a larger role, which is no safe bet at this point. Robinson hasn't exactly lit up the NBA since joining the Kings as the fifth overall pick last NBA draft, averaging just 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just under 16 minutes per game.
Known mostly as a physical interior player while at Kansas, Robinson has since drifted to the perimeter as a pro—and not necessarily for the better just yet. Nearly 43 percent of T-Rob's attempts from the field have come away from the rim and just 30 percent of said shots have been converted (per Hoopdata).
Not that he's been so brilliant in close, either. He's shooting 54.4 percent at the rim, which is well below the league average of 64.5 percent.
That being said, the Rockets have plenty of reason to take heart in their latest acquisition. For one, Robinson was stuck behind the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes in a frontcourt that turned out to be far more crowded than expected.
More importantly, Robinson was trapped in Sacramento, amidst circumstances that aren't exactly conducive to personal and collective improvement. Between the ongoing saga of the Kings' future ownership (and home) and the franchise's horrible track record of late with regard to player development (see: Tyreke Evans), Robinson should be thanking his lucky stars that he no longer resides in California's capital.
The situation into which Robinson is walking is nearly the inverse of the one he's leaving behind. The Rockets roster is not only younger and more talented, but is supported by an organization that's in-sync—from ownership and the front office down to the coaching staff and the players. Unlike the Kings, the Rockets appear to have a plan in place that will lead them into title contention in due course.
That change in environment and expectations alone should bring something better out of Robinson. The prospect of learning the NBA game under McHale, one of the greatest low-post players of all time, figures to be a boon to Thomas' development, as well.
In the grander scheme, though, Robinson's arrival isn't the end of Houston's power forward competition, but rather the beginning of another one. The Rockets already sport a trio of talented bigs—rookies Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas and second-year Greg Smith—for whom big-club playing time has been difficult to come by.
Chances are, the Rockets will use the rest of the season as an opportunity to further evaluate their remaining youngsters and figure out whether T-Rob's actual talents measure up to those that landed him such a sweet draft slot. Houston has already solidified at least three spots on the floor (Jeremy Lin at point guard, James Harden at shooting guard and Chandler Parsons at small forward) and sport a fourth (Omer Asik) who's played well enough in Rockets red to be much more than just a serviceable option at center.
That leaves power forward as the only position at which Houston is still in search of a dependable starter. Thomas Robinson may not turn out to be the answer, but, at the very least, the events leading to his move make it possible for the Rockets to continue their quest for such a solution with a new set of prospects, rather than settling for their existing options.
No offense to Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, but their futures in Space City seem tenuous, at best. Injuries and poor shooting have cut into what was once something of a promising future for Francisco, who'd been a King since entering the league as the 23rd pick in the 2005 NBA draft. The Rockets will have the option to decline the final year of Garcia's contract, which would otherwise net him $6.4 million in 2013-14.
Honeycutt has worked his way into just 26 NBA games in two seasons as a pro, with far more minutes logged at the D-League level in that span. The final year of his rookie deal is only partially guaranteed.
Hence, if the Rockets do the expected (i.e. keep Robinson, cut Garcia and Honeycutt), they'll walk away on this day with another option to try up front and a savings of approximately $1.6 million (per Grantland's Zach Lowe).
All in a day's work for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who appears to have outsmarted the rest of the NBA for the umpteenth time.