The Houston Rockets already made their big splash over the summer when they added the league's best center in Dwight Howard. It will be the subtle moves, as the Feb. 20 NBA trade deadline draws near, that grab the headlines and tell the story of the team's 2013-14 season.
As it stands, the Rockets are well-equipped to make a championship run this year. They have an imposing young core in Howard (18.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game), James Harden (23.8 ppg) and Chandler Parsons (17.2 ppg).
Behind them, there's one of this season's breakout stars in forward Terrence Jones (12.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and emerging point guard Jeremy Lin (13.4 ppg). Together, they help form the NBA's fourth-highest scoring team with an average of 104.5 points per game.
Still, while there isn't a necessity to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal, that doesn't mean the Rockets couldn't use a little extra help.
Injuries have decimated the frontcourt from Omer Asik—who recently returned to practice after missing the last two months with knee and thigh injuries, according to The Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech—to Greg Smith (appeared in just 11 of the team's first 50 games).
Houston's bench could also use a little extra scoring punch. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Rockets' second unit is 24th in bench scoring with an average of 26.1 points per game. Finding another perimeter defender wouldn't be a bad idea.
All of these needs are sure to be on general manager Daryl Morey's wish list over the next couple of weeks. To help with this process, I've put together a few under-the-radar names the team should consider adding as the trade deadline nears.
Philadelphia 76ers PF Lavoy Allen
Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes is a name that has been linked to Houston in the past and for good reason. He's a vastly underrated big man who could help the Rockets as a power forward alongside Howard or as a backup to D12.
As of Feb. 6, Hawes was averaging 13.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He's shooting 46.5 percent from the field, including 41 percent from downtown.
However, he isn't the only Sixers big man the team should have in mind. The price tag for power forward Lavoy Allen, assuming Philadelphia is willing to move him, figures to be much cheaper. The 6'9" Allen doesn't jump out at you in any particular category, but he's a decent backup who could help spell Terrence Jones or even Dwight Howard in a smaller lineup.
This season, the 25-year-old is averaging five points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He's posted a double-double in two of his last four contests (Feb. 5 vs. Boston, Jan. 31 vs. Atlanta). The Temple product is due $3.1 million this season in the final year of his contract.
Houston could send a package that includes some combination of either Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas or Francisco Garcia to Philadelphia in exchange for Allen. In this case, let's say the Rockets ship Smith and Garcia to Philadelphia for Allen.
The Rockets would get a more physically reliable big man in Allen, while still having enough depth at small forward to absorb the loss of Garcia. Meanwhile, Philadelphia gets a couple cheap rentals in return for a decent reserve.
Garcia has a $1.3 million player option he could use for next season if he enjoys life in The City of Brotherly Love (unlikely but still a possibility).
Phoenix Suns PF Channing Frye
The next scenario involves another underrated forward, albeit one with a higher price tag. Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye is one of the NBA's best shooting big men. He endured a health scare that sidelined him for all of last season but has rebounded admirably this season for the surprising Suns.
Frye is averaging 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He's shooting nearly 45 percent from the field as well as 40 percent from behind the arc. At 6'11", he can play power forward or center, and his outside touch would bring another element to Houston's potent offense.
The biggest hiccup to any deal for Frye is salary. The 30-year-old is owed $6.2 million this season with a player option worth $6.8 million for next year (which Frye would be crazy to decline, given his health issues).
Houston can attack this scenario one of two ways. The first would be offering up disgruntled center Omer Asik (which would be a little less under-the-radar, given all of the trade speculation surrounding Asik). The Turkish 7-footer is a little over $20 million for this season and the next.
On the surface, an Asik-for-Frye deal works out for both teams. The Suns would get one of the league's best defensive centers and a monster on the boards in Asik. They'd also have the cap space to absorb the $15 million payout Asik is owed for next season.
Houston, meanwhile, saves money by not having Asik on the books next year as well as adding someone who can provide immediate help.
Plan B is a little more complicated (and maybe even a little far-fetched). This proposal involves a third team (in this case, the Utah Jazz). Houston gets Frye from Phoenix. In return, the Rockets send Greg Smith and Ronnie Brewer to Phoenix.
The Rockets also send Donatas Motiejunas and Francisco Garcia to Utah, who sends back Golden State's first-round pick (which should be the bottom third of the round).
If you're Houston, you're giving up quite a bit, but you aren't losing much beyond Garcia. Brewer barely gets playing time and can easily be replaced by up-and-coming youngster Robert Covington. Motiejunas figures to be eased out of the rotation once Asik returns, while Smith can't seem to stay healthy.
In return, you get a stretch-4 who can help you right now while opening up some minutes for a promising rookie. Plus, a late first in the hands of a draft whiz like Morey is almost as good as having a lottery pick.
For Utah, you aren't planning on winning this season anyway. In exchange for the Warriors' draft pick you once coveted, you get a raw-yet-talented big man on a cheap contract who is still only 23 years old. You also get a decent veteran shooter who's likely to bolt over the summer.
Phoenix saves money by turning one of the priciest contracts on its payroll into a couple expiring deals. Brewer is good enough defensively to serve a purpose, and Smith can be a quality reserve center when he's healthy.
Plus, the Suns have enough forwards, from the Morris twins to eventually returning Emeka Okafor, to be steady in the frontcourt without Frye.
It's a deal that doesn't have the same sizzle as the Asik-Frye proposal, but it's a suitable alternative that helps all parties.
Atlanta Hawks SF DeMarre Carroll
The final target is Atlanta Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll. The well-traveled Carroll is having the best season of his five-year career. He's contributing 10.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals a night for the Hawks. According to 82games.com, opponents are shooting 49 percent against the Missouri product (compared to 53 percent when he's off the floor).
Houston acquiring Carroll makes sense for a number of reasons. First, it needs someone who can play defense on the wing. Perimeter players have had field days against this Rockets defense, and that's going to be a huge problem when the playoffs roll around.
Second, he's on a cheap contract. He's owed just $2.5 million a year for this season and the next. Plus, Atlanta's asking price for the 27-year-old shouldn't be too high since Carroll isn't exactly a household name.
Another advantage for the Rockets is that the Hawks are in desperate need of depth. From Al Horford to Jeff Teague to John Jenkins, Atlanta possesses one of the league's most banged-up rosters. If the Hawks can move Carroll for a couple more able bodies, they should strongly consider it.
The proposal here has some familiarity. Houston sends Donatas Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer to Atlanta for Carroll.
For Houston, Carroll can be a three-and-D guy (shooting 37 percent from behind the arc) who comes in when the team needs a stop. His presence along with Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley would give the Rockets a solid defensive lineup on the second unit.
For Atlanta, with Horford out for the season and Pero Antic expected to miss two-to-four weeks with an ankle injury, the need for another big man is evident. Elton Brand doesn't have much left in the tank, and his days as a viable starter are dwindling.
Motiejunas has his warts, but the upside is there. He's an athletic 7-footer with a sneaky outside shot that will only get better with experience. Additionally, the Hawks get Brewer to replace Carroll's defense. That's not a bad haul for a guy who's been on five teams in five years.
After making its share of headlines this past summer, Houston doesn't need to shake the roster up much these next few weeks. As with any contender, the Rockets should spend the trade deadline filling whatever holes they may have before the big playoff push.
Daryl Morey is one of the best at finding value in the most unlikely of places. This time of the year is where he carves his niche. He's already made the biggest splash of the summer. Now, it's time to put the finishing touches on a potential masterpiece.
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