Grading Rockets-Trail Blazers Deal Sending Thomas Robinson to Portland

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 30, 2013

In one of the rare NBA trades that produced a legitimate mutual benefit for both parties, the Houston Rockets dealt Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for the rights to a couple of overseas talents (Kostas Papanikolaou, Marko Todorovic) and a pair of future second-round picks.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the trade was the final step in the Rockets' effort to clear enough cap space to be able to offer Dwight Howard a maximum-salary contract of four years and $88 million.

But the Rockets weren't the only winners here. Portland snagged a player who, just over a year ago, was very much in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft (ended up going No. 5). And the Blazers gave up almost nothing of value to get him.

Both teams made out well in the exchange, but perhaps some grades will help clarify just how well.


Houston Rockets: A-

The Rockets had no leverage in this situation, as every team in the league knew that they absolutely had to unload Robinson in order to free up the money necessary to max out Howard. So with that in mind, it's pretty remarkable that general manager Daryl Morey was able to pry any assets away from the Blazers.

Don't be mistaken; neither  Papanikolaou nor  Todorovic are real prizes. But the former is a sweet-shooting forward who has spent time with the Greek national team, while the latter is a 6'11" big man who could pan out after a few more years overseas.

Toss in a couple of future picks, and it looks like Houston maximized its expected return on a player it had no choice but to unload.

The players and picks coming back from the Blazers hardly matter to the Rockets, though. Morey completed this deal with the sole purpose of walking into the Rockets' meeting with Howard with a full wallet and a "we're not kidding around" attitude.

Essentially, Houston traded away a young player who still had plenty of promise for the chance to land a transformative superstar. I'm sure Morey has the probabilistic math worked out on that decision, but it certainly seems like it was a worthwhile move.

If the Rockets don't sign Howard, then they will have basically traded away a viable frontcourt option for peanuts. Remember, Robinson came to Houston after a series of deadline deals that cost the Rockets Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris.

Obviously, there's some risk here.

But if Howard does agree to come to Houston, then this deal was a no-brainer.


Portland Trail Blazers: A

This is precisely what draft-and-stash assets and second-round picks are for: trading away in bulk for the opportunity to land a player with real promise.

The Blazers were highly unlikely to realize any positive returns on any of the four commodities (two players and two picks) that they sent away to the Rockets, so they've made out very well here. Essentially, they traded four nickels for a player who might end up being worth a dollar.

Robinson never had a chance to succeed in the toxic Sacramento Kings environment into which he was drafted. Horrible ownership, inept coaching and a "get yours" atmosphere conspired to prevent him from coming close to realizing any of his considerable potential.

And in his limited stopover in Houston, there was really no place for an undersized forward who couldn't bomb away from three-point land. It was a stylistic mismatch that was never going to work.

Perhaps in Portland, things will be different.

All of the attributes that made Robinson a high lottery pick in 2012 are still there. His high motor, terrific athleticism and 7'3" wingspan haven't changed. And because of the opportunities he'll get with the Blazers, he'll have a real chance to show what he can do.

And if this past year really was indicative of Robinson's ability, the Blazers gave up almost nothing to get him. Just as was the case from the Rockets' perspective, this was a risk worth taking.

There aren't many win-win deals like this when NBA teams get together to swap assets. But both the Blazers and the Rockets got exactly what they wanted in this bargain.