The Houston Rockets don't have many glaring needs, but they could use these next few weeks to tie up some loose ends. With the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaching, the team should look into a smaller deal that would net them a perimeter defender as well as a reliable backup center.
The Rockets have done a better job of holding opponents on the offensive end as of late, allowing 101.4 points per game (18th in the NBA, the highest they've been in a while). Still, it wouldn't hurt to bring in someone that could make life difficult for opposing perimeter scorers.
The team has been reluctant to play small forward Ronnie Brewer, who has the chops to be a decent perimeter defender. The 28-year-old is averaging just 6.9 minutes per game and hasn't seen the floor since Jan. 20.
Up front, the team has managed to jump out to a 32-17 record (as of Feb. 4) despite an injury-depleted frontcourt. Disgruntled center Omer Asik has been nursing thigh and knee issues for the last two months. According to The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, Asik might be cleared to practice in seven to 10 days.
Still no real news on Omer Asik's return, but when I asked if McHale has been given a 7 to 10 days heads up, he said "Kind of."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) February 4, 2014
"Everything is not definite," said Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. "We're 'hoping for' is what I'm getting."
Asik is the team's biggest wild card. Having spent the brunt of the season hurt and unhappy with his role, there's no telling what will happen once he returns. The team could nip that issue in the bud by moving him, but it's tough to deal a player with such uncertain health.
Fellow big man Greg Smith has also had his struggles with staying healthy this season. He's played in just 11 games so far this year, mainly due to his own knee troubles. Lithuanian prospect Donatas Motiejunas has seen an uptick in playing time as of late, but he remains a work in progress.
These needs haven't flown past general manager Daryl Morey's radar. With a couple weeks left to make one last move, there are a few candidates that should catch Houston's eye. First, let's take a look at the team's possible trade chips.
Houston's Trade Bait
You can't mention a Rockets trade without talking about Omer Asik. Since the arrival of Dwight Howard this past summer, Asik has been looking for the first thing smoking out of Houston. After initially rebuffing his demands, the team tried to accommodate the big man's request in December but came up short.
General manager Daryl Morey said in a recent Jan. 25 Q&A with Ben DuBose of ClutchFans.net that the team is likely to hang on to Asik until his deal expires at the end of next season.
At this point, Omer is likely going to be here until the end of his contract at the end of next season. The window to trade him was (in December) and teams weren't aggressive enough to get him, so we're excited about him being part of our future.
When healthy, the 27-year-old is a solid defender and rebounder. While his offensive game is limited, he has the talent to be worthy of a starting spot somewhere. His price tag is a little steep, as he's owed close to $20 million combined for this season and next year.
Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer are two of the team's less valuable trade candidates. Brewer is a cheap veteran defender who could pique the interest of a fellow contender. As for D-Mo, he's 23 years old, and his best basketball is potentially ahead of him.
The team also has a bevy of shooters—from Francisco Garcia to Omri Casspi—that might be worth dangling. With good depth at point guard, veteran Aaron Brooks and rookie Isaiah Canaan are expendable in the right deal.
Potential Trade Targets
There are a few names that should be at the top of Houston's wish list.
Ex-Rocket and current Washington Wizards forward Trevor Ariza is currently having his best season since, oddly enough, the last time he played in Houston in 2009-10. He's averaging 14.3 points, six rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
He's an excellent perimeter defender and is in the final year of his contract. While the Wizards could use someone with Ariza's talents for a possible playoff run, it wouldn't hurt to get something in return for a player that might bolt this summer.
The main obstacle in any deal for Ariza is that he's owed $7.7 million for this season. That almost mandates the inclusion of Asik (owed $5.2 million this season and nearly $15 million next season, with a cap hit of roughly $8.4 million per year).
Since the Wizards don't necessarily need Asik with Marcin Gortat and Nene already on the roster, they could find a third team in need of Asik's services to help facilitate a deal. The Boston Celtics are a team that has coveted Asik for a while.
A possible trade scenario would be a three-team deal that would send Asik to Boston and Aaron Brooks to Washington. The Celtics would then send power forward Brandon Bass to the Wizards, who would send Ariza back to Houston. Seldom-used Celtics point guard Phil Pressey goes to the Rockets to help make the salaries work.
For Washington, Bass would help improve a team that is currently 16th in the league in rebounding with an average of 42.9 boards per game. The Wizards would also get a nice backup at point guard to help give John Wall a breather.
As for the Celtics, they'd finally get a bona fide center in Asik. Acquiring the Turkish seven-footer allows rookie Kelly Olynyk to move to power forward and gives Boston a promising frontcourt. The Rockets benefit in two ways by ridding themselves of Asik's contract and gaining someone who can help them immediately.
If the Rockets prefer a cheaper alternative, a name I've been pushing for weeks is New Orleans Pelicans forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Like Ariza, Aminu is in the final year of his deal, except he is owed about $4 million less ($3.7 million).
The Pelicans are in desperate need of size with the recent news that center Jason Smith will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. The Pelicans are a long shot to make the playoffs, and they have a ton of money tied up in Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson (combined $45.5 million for next season).
The team also needs money to extend emerging superstar Anthony Davis.
Why not try to get something in return for a player you might not be able to afford to keep long term?
The Rockets could send Donatas Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer to New Orleans in exchange for Aminu. The Pelicans would spend the rest of the year developing D-Mo alongside Davis while Brewer fills the void left by Aminu.
For Houston, it would be acquiring a 23-year-old who continues to get better. Aminu is averaging a career-high 7.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He's a good athlete with great size (6'9", 215 lbs) who can play the 3 or the 4.
Most importantly, the former Wake Forest product is a vastly underrated defender. It might be difficult to see division rivals help each other, but this is a deal that would work out for both teams.
A couple of other names that were mentioned in trade talks with the Rockets earlier in the season are Chicago's Mike Dunleavy and Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes. Hawes was mentioned in potential trade scenarios for Omer Asik back in December.
On the surface, it's a deal that would work for both teams. Hawes is a free agent at the end of the season and may jump at the opportunity to play for a contender after a couple rough years in Philly. Asik would be a nice replacement for Hawes in Philly.
As for Dunleavy, USA Today's Sam Amick reported back in early January that the former Duke Blue Devil was high on Houston's wish list. The 33-year-old is averaging 11.1 points per game and shooting nearly 44 percent from the field.
To help kill two birds with one stone, here is a potential three-team deal that works for all parties:
Houston would send center Omer Asik to Philadelphia for Spencer Hawes. The team would also ship Donatas Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer to Chicago for Mike Dunleavy.
The upside for the Rockets is obvious. Hawes is a talented big man who can shoot, rebound and defend. He's averaging 13.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He's also shooting nearly 47 percent from the field, including 41.5 percent from behind the arc.
He would be a fine backup behind Dwight Howard and could even play with D12 in certain situations.
As for Dunleavy, the team could use a proven option behind James Harden and Chandler Parsons. The former No. 3 overall pick is a good shooter (39 percent from three this season) and can play shooting guard or small forward. He also has the size at 6'9" to be a small-ball power forward.
As mentioned before, Asik gives the Sixers an excellent replacement for Hawes. He's one of the best defensive centers in the league and is a monster on the glass. His presence also allows Philly to bring rookie Nerlens Noel along slowly as he returns from an ACL injury.
For Chicago, it gets a get good defender and familiar face in Brewer (last played for Chicago in 2011-12). The team also gets an intriguing big man in Motiejunas. Since entering the league, defense has been a weakness for D-Mo. However, if anyone can help the seven-footer in that area, it would be Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
In the end, the Houston Rockets have enough in place to be a very tough out come playoff time. The emergence of forward Terrence Jones and point guard Jeremy Lin gives the starting rotation incredible depth.
However, if the Rockets are to meet their goal of winning an NBA championship, they must use these next few weeks to fix the cracks in the armor. They have the chips to make one last move, and it would be better to cash in now than spend the offseason wishing they had.