Houston Rockets

Is Thomas Robinson a Long-Term Match with Houston Rockets or Trade Bait?

The going price for a No. 5 overall pick didn't turn out to be too high.
The going price for a No. 5 overall pick didn't turn out to be too high.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Brett David RobertsCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2013

The Houston Rockets had been going with a time share at the 4-spot this season, but that all changed over the last 24 hours. The Rockets dealt not only starting power forward Patrick Patterson, but also his backup Marcus Morris.

Robinson was acquired for Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich per Adrian Wojnarowski's report, while Morris, the No. 14 overall selection in 2011, was basically given away to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round draft pick, per a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

The trade was confirmed later last night (Feb. 20) by nba.com.

The Rockets will now go with Kansas product and 2012 No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson as their starting power forward of the future.

Or will they? Could Robinson be a trade chip for an upcoming deal to bring in another power forward?

 

Which Power Forwards May Daryl Morey Actually Covet?

Daryl Morey had been linked to bigger-name power forwards like Paul Millsap and Josh Smith. Smith has been drawing vast interest around the league, and Millsap should draw more interest as today's 3 p.m. trade deadline nears.

Millsap was linked to the Rockets, according to Marc Stein, back in mid-December.

Morey now has the trade chip in Robinson that could be used to acquire the guy he may really want, whether it be the undersized Millsap or Atlanta's Smith.  

Wojnarowski confirmed that Houston is still making a push for Smith:

But he also adds the Rockets aren't pressed to make any deal for him since they have the cap space to just sign him this summer.  If the asking price is too high, they'll likely just wait until the summer to sign him.

So, is Smith the guy Morey really wants, or is Robinson's youth going to be the selling point on keeping him as the 4-man of the future?

The 21-year-old Robinson is known to be an absolute beast on the boards—he's averaging 10.6 rebounds per-36 (while also contributing 11 points in per-36) this season.

Robinson's high upside is even higher than his per-minute production this season as rookie. Remember, Robinson was highly regarded after his impressive performance in helping the Jayhawks reach last year's NCAA title game. While he struggled badly from the floor in the loss to Kentucky, shooting just 6-of-17 from the floor, the rugged forward grabbed 17 rebounds (five offensive) in the game.

That rebounding potential is what makes him an attractive player for either Morey or another team who may covet him. After all, it's not often a fifth overall pick can be obtained at such low cost.

The move was thought to be a cap-cutting move by Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

But how much did the Kings really save by jettisoning Robinson on a rookie contract?

About $3.3 million—to obtain a fifth overall draft pick?

The Kings felt their hand was forced, as many teams look to avoid the luxury tax. This marks the second time Morey has capitalized on a team needing to clear cap space; the first was prior to the season when he was able to obtain the NBA's fifth-leading scorer, James Harden, for the cost of a late lottery pick (Jeremy Lamb) and a role player (Kevin Martin).

With Morey being an opportunist, the possibility of using Robinson's potential to lure in another NBA team and acquire the guy he may really want is there. It's just a matter of determining whether Morey wants to cast his lot in on Robinson or go with a more established player.

The Rockets are four games above .500 and currently seeded eighth in the West, with a 3.5-game lead on the L.A. Lakers for that final playoff spot.

If Morey feels that the Rockets can make waves in the 2013 NBA playoffs, he may seek to acquire a player whose impact will be felt sooner and more drastically than a rookie like Robinson. The aforementioned Millsap would do that, without getting in on the bidding war for Josh Smith.

Smith is reported to be seeking a max contract, anyway, according to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If Morey doesn't feel Smith is worth committing so much cap space to, Millsap would be the proper choice for his ball club.

 

What Could the Rockets do to Acquire Paul Millsap?

Millsap is on an $8.6 million expiring contract, and one deal that would work to bring him aboard would be to send Robinson and swingman Carlos Delfino to the Jazz in exchange for Millsap. According to the Hollinger analysis on ESPN's trade machine, the deal would improve the Rockets by a five-win margin.

The Jazz, meanwhile, would acquire a long-term fit in Robinson, who could be groomed along with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to form a strong three man rotation at the 4 and 5 spots.

Ostensibly, the deal makes great sense for both teams, and it wouldn't have been as likely without Morey acquiring someone who could replace Millsap in Utah's rotation. Morey may have to include a first-round pick to sweeten the deal, but to acquire Millsap it would be well worth it.

The question is whether the Jazz would consider a deal that didn't include promising swingman Chandler Parsons or the quickly evolving Omer Asik, who ranks No. 4 in the NBA in rebounding (11.5 per game).

 

Millsap would be a great fit in Houston. He runs the floor well and can finish strong. That skill set would serve him well in Kevin McHale's high-octane offense; James Harden needs more passing options on the interior. Patterson and Morris weren't providing that, so the Rockets decided to go a different direction.

The only thing that remains to be answered is whether they will continue to strive toward acquiring an immediate impact power forward or be patient and groom Robinson. A trade doesn't necessarily need to be consummated before the trade deadline, though.

Morey could wait until after the season and seek to address the matter on draft night. But if he wants to ensure obtaining a high-quality power forward to fortify a possible playoff run this season, he'll have to be active in working the phone lines.

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