In the midst of an otherwise remarkably quiet NBA trade deadline, the Houston Rockets pulled off a pair of deals to kick off the action (or, as some might call it, inaction) on the eve of February 21st.
Daryl Morey—Houston Rockets general manager—was known to be interested in shaking up the power forward rotation for the Rockets, but he took an unexpected route to do so, opting for young talent rather than pursuing an established star.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the six-player deal involves the Rockets sending Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt. Meanwhile, Houston has also dealt Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a second-round draft pick.
At first glance, this doesn’t look like the best move for a team fighting to sneak into a lower playoff seed. Patterson and Morris combined to form the core of Houston’s rotation at the power forward spot, and their combined 20-plus points per game may prove difficult to replace.
However, these concerns fade into the background upon considering the potential impact of Robinson on this Houston team.
Though Robinson has endured a rocky start to his NBA career, he has star-potential and the kind of grit and toughness that a defensively lethargic Rockets team is in desperate need of.
While Robinson has yet to develop into much of a factor offensively, his work on the boards alone is enough to merit him serious playing time. Robinson’s rebounding average beats Morris’ and matches Patterson’s, despite the fact that he has played significantly fewer minutes than either player this season.
To see what kind of impact the former Kansas star could have in a featured role, consider this: his adjusted rebounding numbers jump to 10.7 boards per 36 minutes, well above the average for his position. This dominance in the rebounding column, combined with his elite athleticism and considerable potential, should be enough to quickly catapult Robinson into Houston’s starting lineup.
Along with a possible power forward of the future, the Rockets received two solid perimeter players to help strengthen the rotation in Garcia and Honeycutt.
While Honeycutt has yet to make any significant impact in his brief NBA career, Garcia has operated as a solid outside shooter and perimeter defender throughout his eight-year tenure in the league.
Put quite simply, the Kings got robbed in this deal, giving up part of a potentially dominant future frontcourt for no obvious reason.
It seems foolish for Sacramento to give up on a high lottery pick so early simply to lighten the payroll, but the Kings did just that—shipping off a potential star in exchange for yet another sort-of point guard, a 250-pound benchwarmer and Patterson (who starred alongside DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky but overall, doesn’t look like much of a game changer).
Who is Houston's PF of the future?
Houston was wise to capitalize on this apparent mental lapse by Sacramento’s management, and over time it should become increasingly clear who the winner of this deal was.
Patterson and Morris offered nearly identical production from the power forward spot (solid stretch shooting paired with mediocre effort on the glass), and neither player managed to stand out as a true difference-maker on the court.
On the other hand, Robinson has legitimate star potential and is just the kind of defensive presence a rising contender like the Rockets need.
Meanwhile, the departure of Patterson and Morris will also free up playing time for three other rookie power forwards on Houston's roster—Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and the troubled talent Royce White.
Whether or not Houston manages to score a playoff spot this season, the team is in excellent shape looking down the road with a strong core of young players and plenty of money still waiting to be spent.
By refraining from trading for a big name like Josh Smith right now, Morey ensured that his team will be able to make a big run at free agents this summer, opening the chance for a bigger payoff down the line.
But even if Houston swings and misses on high profile free agents like Smith or Dwight Howard, it will at the very least now have a talented young power forward to help push this roster back into contention.
Deadline Grade: A-