The 2013 NBA Draft made the Houston Rockets’ free agency intentions quite clear.
Typically, teams utilize the draft to find players who can provide immediate help. Instead, the Rockets used it to line up some major moves for free agency.
It may not be conventional, but hey, it works.
With just one pick—a second-rounder, no less—Houston wasn’t expected to make much of a splash during last Thursday’s festivities. It certainly didn’t help that this particular class was relatively weak outside of the lottery.
Regardless, this past weekend has done a lot in clearing up the Rockets’ plan of attack this summer.
Trade: Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers
On what was a rather quiet draft night, Houston was expected to announce a trade involving its rookie forward. That trade never came.
Sunday night was a different story.
Per CBS Sports’ Matt Moore, the Rockets have agreed to send Robinson to the Trail Blazers in return for two future second-round picks and the rights to two European prospects. The deal can’t be officially completed until after the free-agency moratorium is lifted.
The trade benefits Houston for several reasons.
For starters, it clears Robinson’s $3.5 million off the books. Secondly, the two prospects—Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou and Montenegrin forward/center Marko Todorovic—would not count against the Rockets salary cap this season. Finally, who doesn’t love draft picks?
The announcement came hours after GM Daryl Morey tweeted the release of Aaron Brooks and Carlos Delfino.
Paired together, both moves were essential in the team’s pursuit to lure big-name free agents such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. The former seems to be at the top of Houston’s wish list.
The team got the opportunity to make the first impression on Howard with a meeting Sunday night, shortly after free-agency negotiations officially began at 9:01 p.m. PT.
According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, the Rockets pulled out all the stops. Morey was joined by the likes of team legends Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, head coach Kevin McHale and current stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Yao Ming even joined in via Skype video conferencing.
Following the meeting, Morey seemed to think it went down well.
With Howard, Houston is right up there in the conversation of teams that have the best chance at winning the title. Without this trade and the shedding of other contracts, it wouldn’t be possible.
Draft Pick: Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State)
The Rockets’ selection of Canaan with the 34th pick puzzled many.
After all, this was the same team that already had the ever-popular Jeremy Lin manning the point.
Although he didn’t quite live up to the expectations that Linsanity brought upon him, Lin still put together a rather solid debut campaign with Houston. In 82 contests, he averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds over 32.2 minutes per game. Lin also shot 44.1 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Not to mention, the Rockets also have the young and talented Patrick Beverley on the depth chart.
One would think the team was set at point guard. Then again, recent rumors suggest anything but that.
Via CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, Houston has called several teams and informed them that Lin is available in potential trades. The team even went as far as excluding the 24-year-old from its recruiting meeting with Howard.
It’s not the most surprising of revelations.
If the Rockets finalize a deal with Howard, shedding the $8.4 million salary of Lin makes a lot of sense. The team would want to build around the 27-year-old center, and Lin just wouldn’t fit the mold.
Houston could really use a pass-first point guard. The team produces enough offense with both Harden (25.9 PPG) and Parsons (15.5 PPG) on the court alone. Throw in Howard, and there’s no space for Lin’s 10.9 field-goal attempts per game.
Canaan doesn’t exactly give the Rockets the stellar passer they’re seeking. However, he does provide the team with a guard who has the potential to offer similar production as Lin.
During his senior year at Murray State, Canaan averaged 21.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds over 36.5 minutes per game. He also shot 43.1 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range.
With the addition of Canaan, Houston can feel a little better about shopping its starting point guard.
Summing It All Up
It’s been no secret that the Rockets’ ultimate goal is to land Howard during the summer.
With some solid early moves, the team looks poised to make that dream a reality. Or at the very least, Houston can move on having given its 110 percent.
As it is, the team is doing everything in its power to make the deal work. Even Houston rapper Slim Thug is doing his best to recruit the big man.
Even if they strike out in the Howard sweepstakes, the Rockets will have plenty of cap space to lure in one of the other big-name free agents on the market.
But for now, Howard remains the ultimate prize.