The Houston Rockets are an interesting team with a puncher's chance at winning an NBA championship. Like any title contender, though, there are a couple of moves the team can make to help put them over the top.
Houston is fortunate enough to not have many needs. The emergence of Terrence Jones and the stellar play of Jeremy Lin have shored up holes at power forward and point guard, respectively. The Rockets have also received solid contributions off the bench from role players such as Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia.
However, these next few weeks are when the NBA's elite will work the phones in hopes of trying to improve in certain areas before the trade deadline. The Rockets aren't in a position where they have to make a move, but that shouldn't stop them from kicking the tires to see if an upgrade is available.
General manager Daryl Morey has a couple of intriguing trade chips to play with. Former starter Omer Asik has wanted a new home since the team acquired Dwight Howard over the summer. Now, once-promising European prospect Donatas Motiejunas would like a chance to play elsewhere, as tweeted by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Houston's been calling teams, trying to assist forward Donatas Motiejunas in finding a new team, sources tell Yahoo. He wants playing time.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 8, 2014
With the help of ESPN's trusty Trade Machine, I came up with some potential deals that could help all parties. All trades have been tested out to ensure they work financially, and I will make the case for why both sides should pull the trigger.
Why Houston Should Do The Deal
Houston could use a solid perimeter defender, and Al-Farouq Aminu fits that bill. He's an excellent athlete with good size (6'9", 215 pounds) and he has a knack for getting his hands on the basketball. In his last five games, the 23-year-old has come up with four blocks and seven steals.
The Wake Forest product is solid on the glass, averaging 6.7 rebounds a game for the Pelicans. He can play either forward spot and the Rockets could hide his offensive limitations by pairing him with a shooter like Chandler Parsons or Omri Casspi.
Aminu doesn't require a ton of touches, which means the Rockets could focus all of his energy on locking down the opponent's best scorer on the wing. He could develop into a poor man's Andre Iguodala.
Additionally, it allows the Rockets to turn two seldom-used players into someone that can fill their biggest need. In a Western Conference filled with elite perimeter scorers, having someone like Aminu on the floor will help in the long run.
Why New Orleans Should Do The Deal
With Ryan Anderson out indefinitely with a herniated disk, the Pelicans are in desperate need for some size. Motiejunas isn't anywhere close to the talent that Ryno is, but he's a fresh pair of legs for a team that has been looking through the bargain bin lately to find big men (example: Alexis Ajinca).
Plus, there's the chance Aminu bolts at the end of the season, which would increases the need to get something for him now. Motiejunas is raw, but he's still only 23 years old. He has good size and a sneaky outside jumper.
With the Anderson injury significantly hurting New Orleans' playoff chances, the Pelicans could give D-Mo some minutes in hopes of developing him into a decent role player. He could play behind Anthony Davis at power forward or throw himself into the mix at center. It's not like New Orleans has a ton of better options in the frontcourt.
As for Brewer, his skill set is similar to Aminu's, and the combination of him and Darius Miller at the 3 wouldn't be that big of a downgrade.
Why Houston Should Do The Deal
For starters, it closes the book on the Omer Asik soap opera. Between injuries and trade demands, this saga has been one huge mess. With this deal, Asik would finally get a chance to start again and the Rockets won't have to worry about facing him within the conference.
There's also the financial benefit of this deal. Varejao's contract might as well be a one-year deal since it is unlikely any team will be picking up his $9.8 million option for next season. By swapping Asik for Varejao, the Rockets would spare themselves from having to pay the close to $15 million the Turkish center is owed next season (though the cap hit would only be a little over $8 million).
As for on the court, Varejao is still a viable weapon when he's healthy. While he's missed significant time the last two seasons, he still managed to average a double-double both years. He's a decent enough outside shooter (as evidenced by this shot chart from Vorped.com) to play alongside Dwight Howard at the 4 or he could be a solid backup to D12.
He brings a ton of energy when he's on the floor and the Rockets have enough forwards to help keep the oft-injured Brazilian fresh down the stretch.
Why Cleveland Should Do The Deal
If the Cavs are committed to making a run this year (as their recent acquisition of Luol Deng suggests), they could use a guy like Omer Asik on the inside. While limited offensively, Asik is one of the game's best interior defenders and he's a monster on the glass.
Even in a season hindered by injuries and personal distractions, the big man from Turkey is averaging 6.8 rebounds a game. Last season, he put up a nightly clip of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds in his first full season as a starter.
With the East lacking for size, Cleveland would have a big advantage inside. A starting rotation of Asik, Tristan Thompson, Deng, C.J. Miles (or Dion Waiters) and Kyrie Irving could make some noise if Cleveland can sneak into the playoffs.
The price tag for next season is a little steep, but quality big men come with a premium. After swinging and missing on the likes of Andrew Bynum and Tyler Zeller, this wouldn't be the worst gamble Cleveland has made in their search for a center.
Why Houston Should Do The Deal
The best return Houston could ask for in exchange for Omer Asik would be expiring contracts and draft picks. They don't need another star, and they don't need another big-named mouth to feed. Ultimately, you just want to get something of worth without cutting into the savings left from shedding Asik's contract.
That's why this deal works out great for Houston. Beyond being a capable big man, Spencer Hawes is also a free agent after this season. He is currently averaging 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the Sixers.
Plus, there's the wild card of Asik's return. Who knows if he'll be content once he's healthy? Why risk dealing with more drama if you can swap him for a guy like Hawes?
The first-round pick is top-five protected. New Orleans has the 10th-worst record among potential lottery teams. With so many teams going in the tank and the Pelicans having no reason to join them, there's a good chance that the Rockets would be picking at the bottom of the lottery.
Is a six-month Spencer Hawes rental and, say, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein a fair return for the disgruntled Asik? I think so.
Why Philadelphia Should Do The Deal
Centers with Omer Asik's talents aren't always going to be available. He's a solid rebounder and rim protector, but he's limited enough on offense that he won't completely hurt Philadelphia's lottery chances by making them exponentially better.
For those concerned about giving up New Orleans' 2014 first-rounder, don't be. As loaded as this draft is perceived to be, the wiser move is to go with the proven talent. As we've seen with this year's crop of rookies, there are very few sure things when it comes to the draft.
With Asik, Nerlens Noel, Thaddeus Young, and Michael Carter-Williams, the Sixers would still have a good core even if they trade New Orleans' pick.
Furthermore, the Pelicans are currently 15-18 (as of Jan. 7). There are nine teams with worse records than New Orleans, including Philadelphia. With the Pels' missing their leading scorer and playing in a tougher conference, why not sell high rather than potentially get stuck with a lottery pick in the low teens?
As bad as the East is, what are the chances New Orleans is picking better than eighth this June? Why not play it safe and cash that pick in for something a bit more reliable?
In the end, Houston doesn't need much. They have enough star power to hang with the league's best and their depth will be a huge plus as the season progresses. They don't need to swing for the fences at the deadline.
However, it wouldn't hurt the team to use the few assets they have to make some minor adjustments in time for their playoff push.