Should the Houston Rockets make any major trades? Some compelling arguments can definitely be made.
The team wants to win a championship, and they have every reason to believe they’re on the road there.
But it seems there’s still quite a bit of trail left yet. Their roster is something of a quandary beyond its undeniably promising core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons. For the pieces around them to click, some fairly experimental arrangements must turn in their favor.
Some may call it an embarrassment of riches; others, a glut of improperly capitalized assets.
In Jeremy Lin, they have an electric, ball-heavy scorer—but James Harden is, of course, far superior in that role and will likely play 35-40 minutes a game, not leaving many left for Lin.
In Omer Asik, they have an elite defense-and-rebounding center. But, of course, Dwight Howard is an even better one and is likely to also play 35-40 minutes a game. The Rockets have said they plan to play Asik and Howard together, but it’s hard to see the pairing working well—the potential spacing issues are serious, and Asik has already asked to be traded.
In light of this reality, it’s easy to see Asik’s minutes dropping well below his pay level of $8.4 million per year, and the Rockets taking him up, eventually, on his request.
When you consider that Jeremy Lin makes the same $8.4 million salary, and you take a look at some of the possibly available talent around the league, it becomes difficult to defend keeping both—or either—player on the roster. The Rockets have deficits elsewhere, and could look to fill them.
Wouldn’t they rather have a defensive stopper on the wings? How about another superstar, if he’s on the way out somewhere else? Maybe another shooter?
Let’s take a look at some theoretical trade suggestions for the Rockets.
This is a trade that has been rumored throughout the summer. The two match salaries perfectly, and Houston’s interest in Ryan Anderson is obvious.
Anderson is an elite-level stretch-4 and offers exactly the kind of offensive spacing and mobility that another big just might need to properly play alongside Dwight Howard. And the two worked well together previously in Orlando.
Plus, who wouldn’t want Anderson? He shot 38% from beyond the arc last season. The only power forward in the league with a better percentage? Dirk Nowitzki.
What’s more puzzling is the Pelicans’ interest in the move. Barring a major uptick in Anthony Davis’ development as an outside-of-the-paint presence, it would seem that Asik’s and Davis’ talents overlap in just as cumbersome of fashion as Howard’s and Asik’s. This is to say nothing of the Pelicans’ overlooked center Jason Smith, whose PER was actually two points higher than Asik’s, last season.
The Rockets are effectively enacting a no-trade clause on Asik at the moment, as they seem determined to make his pairing with Howard work out. But if New Orleans is still mind-bogglingly open to this swap by mid-season, it’s hard to imagine Houston saying no.
No contender needs a reliable center like Omer Asik quite as much as the Clippers do. Captain Chris Paul has long bemoaned the amateur spirit of teammate DeAndre Jordan, whose impressive length and athleticism have not translated to NBA excellence as much as the Clips had planned.
But Jordan himself is not the trade piece that will land LAC the sort of professional presence at the 5 that Paul longs for. At $11 million per year, the 25-year-old’s contract is far too onerous to move.
This is where the Clippers off-season transactions come in: they picked up J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley (among others), two excellent wing shooters who make Jamal Crawford’s presence less needed.
Crawford is not an obvious fit on the Rockets, but he’s a journeyman who’d be able to instantly resume his roving role as the league’s best bench scorer. He’d also allow for more mobile units, so that the team could attempt running fast breaks as aggressively as they did last season—something that seems much less likely, now that they’re promising to have two true centers on the floor for much of the game.
With Crawford, the Rockets offense could go from great to terrifying.
James Harden and Chandler Parsons make for one of the more potent wing pairings in the league and are the future of Houston’s perimeter game. But neither of them can defend worth a pocket of loose change.
Thabo Sefolosha, however, can. The Thunder wingman has long been their go-to stopper in playoff runs and would provide something for the Rockets that they’re dearly lacking. He also doesn’t need to have the ball often, which could be a crucial disposition to have in Houston where they look to have a logjam of scorers unsatisfied with their of number touches this year.
Omer Asik would replace Kendrick Perkins at the 5 in OKC, where Perkins had a staggeringly low PER of 8.2 last year—321st in the league. In order for the Thunder to be serious about winning a title next year and keep Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook satisfied, they need to address the basketball deficit—defense, offense, all of it—that Perkins creates for them.
Asik would do more than that. He could back up the often-wandering Serge Ibaka and allow him to more freely explore his shot-blocking intuitions. Together, they’d make for one of the best post defenses in the league.
Ryan Gomes on the Rockets? Like so many players in the contemporary NBA, he’s along for the ride to make the salary numbers work out.
The Celtics are in full reset mode. They haven’t traded Rajon Rondo, thus far, because they’d rather have him healthy and playing like his impressive self—so that he can demonstrate value—before they seriously pursue any moves.
They’d also like to see how he works with new coach Brad Stevens. If the collaboration of the two seems synergistic, the Celts are likely to consider a future with Rondo.
If not? Rondo will become the hottest trade commodity in the league and the potential difference-maker on many a fringe title contender. For Boston, he could be the bargaining chip for even more quality draft picks—which they are compiling like soup cans in anticipation of an apocalypse.
Enter Houston. Rondo’s prodigious pass-first mentality would be unworldly on a team so loaded with weapons. Rondo has been likened to “an offense within himself” in Boston, where the quality of perimeter shooting and post-finishing isn’t anywhere close to what he’d have at his disposal with the Rockets.
Adding the mercurial Rondo to a psychological eco-system already as fragile as Houston's is a huge gamble—one GM Daryl Morey isn’t likely to take after all the work he’s done to bring his franchise back to prominence. But if expectations don’t seem to be met near mid-season and Rondo is indeed on the block, this could be one to watch out for.
But over the past season—especially during the playoffs—Bosh frequently looked like a different player. He began to stretch the floor more, boasting a much improved long-range shot, during the team’s historic 27-game winning streak.
The breakneck-spread-the-floor-turnover-feeding-frenzy style the team played during that run proved unsustainable in the post-season, however. They ran into some alarming problems with their half-court basketball, largely because Bosh is no longer the same player that he was in the post. And an aging, undersized Shane Battier was asked to take too much responsibility in the block. The Heat were barely able to win the East and had even more trouble in the Finals.
Asik could be a great answer to many of the problems Miami faced last spring, and he could drastically lighten LeBron James’ load—in a way that Bosh seemingly can’t anymore. Asik is just the young, hustle-heavy lane-clogger who could make James’ life easier enough to convince him he should stay in Miami after this season.
Lin’s role with the Heat would be a little more mysterious. He might only be used as an asset in another subsequent trade. Miami is content with the lower-paid Mario Chalmers playing point guard, on a squad that doesn’t exactly need one. LeBron will always be the man with the ball, running the team, when push comes to shove. Lin would primarily be included for salary-matching purposes.
But Lin is still a young player with a high basketball aptitude, and a coach like Erik Spoelstra may know exactly how to make him just as electric and frightening as he was when he burst into prominence as a Knickerbocker. Jeremy Lin’s NBA story is still largely untold.
Bosh playing for Houston? A perfect fit. Like Asik would do for LeBron in Miami, Dwight Howard on the Rockets could give Bosh’s career new life by greatly diminishing his post responsibilities. Bosh could focus on being the stretch-4 he’s already been developing into—a role that Houston could certainly use—and save his elite rim-protecting energy for the moments in which the team really needs it.
All of this in his home-state of Texas, too.