Regardless of how the Houston Rockets finish the year off, the offseason objective shouldn't change. The team must continue to find ways to improve by bringing in proven talent the best way they can.
Houston pulled off one of the sneakiest trades at this year's deadline by sending third point guard Aaron Brooks to Denver for former first-round pick Jordan Hamilton. In his first two games with the Rockets, Hamilton has scored a combined 28 points and has shot 6-for-11 from the three-point line.
Still, time will tell whether the Hamilton acquisition was enough to put the Rockets over the top. Houston has made big offseason splashes for the last two years. It started in 2012 when the team followed up signing Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin by pilfering budding star James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then, the team doubled down on its quest to become an immediate contender by signing the league's best center in Dwight Howard this past summer. More recently, Houston kicked the tires on a deal at the deadline to bring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo to town, per ESPN's Marc Stein.
What could general manager Daryl Morey have in store for us this summer?
The team has some intriguing trade chips to dangle and not a lot of glaring needs. The core of Howard, Harden and Chandler Parsons are locked up for at least another year. Parsons, along with Lin and Asik, hit free agency next summer.
As a preview to another potentially action-packed Houston Rockets summer, here are a few trades the team should already start considering.
(Note: These trades are to be considered individually. Obviously, it would be tough for Houston to pull off all of them at the same time.)
This proposal should sounds familiar to many of you. When Omer Asik first declared his desire for a ticket out of Houston, this was the deal that make the most sense at the time. The Pelicans were in desperate need for a legit center and the Rockets could use a bonafide "stretch 4" to pair with Dwight Howard.
Since then, things have changed.
In January, Anderson suffered a herniated disk after a collision with Celtics forward Gerald Wallace and is out for the season. Meanwhile, Houston found its ideal power forward in second-year man Terrence Jones.
What hasn't changed is Asik's preference to be a starter elsewhere and New Orleans' need for another big man to play alongside franchise anchor Anthony Davis.
On the surface, there are some issues with this deal. First, there's the uncertainty of Anderson's health. It remains to be seen how he bounces back from such a scary injury. When it comes to neck and back injuries, anything can happen.
For the sake of this article, let's say Ryno makes a full recovery and is ready to go for next season.
Next, there's the fact that New Orleans and Houston are division rivals. Would either team want to pull off a trade that may help the other out? The Pelicans weren't thrilled with the idea of acquiring Asik earlier in the year, as ESPN's Marc Stein wrote in November. Could yet another losing season change their mind?
Lastly, there's the financial aspect. At roughly $8.5 million annually for the next two seasons, Anderson is a bargain for the production he provides (when healthy, of course). Asik, on the other hand, is entering his walk year and is set to make $15 million for next season (with a cap hit of a little over $8 million).
That's a huge price to pay for a center coming off a down year that is limited offensively.
All of that being considered, this deal would still work out for both teams.
Anderson has shown a willingness to come off the bench, which means there wouldn't be an issue if the team continued to use Terrence Jones as the starter at power forward. The bench would get a huge boost by adding Anderson to the fold along with Jeremy Lin and Jordan Hamilton.
Furthermore, assuming he's healthy, Anderson is one of the best long-range shooting big men in the game (career 38.6 percent from three). Three-point shooting is one of the keys to Houston's offense, as evidenced by the team's league-leading 1,496 attempts from behind the arc. A rotation pairing Ryno with Chandler Parsons could be devastating on the perimeter.
Also, Anderson has experience playing with Dwight Howard from their days together in Orlando.
For New Orleans, the team still desperately needs a center. They've been playing roulette all season with a medley that has consisted of Jason Smith, Alexis Ajinca, rookie Jeff Withey and Greg Stiemsma. Needless to say, none of them are reliable options.
Asik's price tag may be steep, but quality big men come at a premium. If you're paying Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon a combined $25 million a year for the next two seasons, you can't turn your nose up at shelling out $15 million for one of the league's best defensive centers.
With possibly no first-round pick in this year's draft and very little cap flexibility, New Orleans doesn't have many other options to fix their hole in the middle. They could always play Davis at the 5 and move Anderson to the starting power forward spot.
However, that wouldn't be as formidable defensively as an Asik-Davis tandem. For all of Anderson's strengths, defense is not exactly one of them.
As for trading Asik within the division, it's hard to fathom his presence transforming the Pelicans into a contender overnight. Even with this deal, Houston should remain well above New Orleans in the Western Conference rank and file.
Trade No. 2: Houston sends PG Jeremy Lin, C Omer Asik and two first-round picks (2014 and 2016) to the Boston Celtics for PG Rajon Rondo
I already know what you're thinking. There's no way Boston trades Rajon Rondo to Houston without getting Chandler Parsons back in return. That might be true. However, this is still a pretty good Plan B for the Celtics.
For starters, Boston was one of the main teams that coveted Asik back when Houston was shopping him in December. His presence on the inside helps Boston defensively as well as on the glass. It also allows them to move promising young big man Kelly Olynyk to power forward, where he can show off his outside game.
As for Jeremy Lin, he's proved he belongs in this league and hold his own as a starter (even though he's thrived as a sixth man this season). He's not Rajon Rondo, but very few point guards in this league are.
The two first-rounders fall in line with what Boston reportedly has been asking for in their Rondo trade demands. These two from Houston will probably be in the lower half of the first round, but that will probably be the case for nearly any place making an offer for the former Kentucky Wildcat.
Rondo's presence can transform nearly any team into, at the very least, a playoff contender. The teams that would offer premium draft picks for Rondo (for example, the Sacramento Kings) would probably want assurances that Rondo is going to sign an extension.
More than likely, the 28-year-old Rondo isn't going to sign long-term with any team that isn't going to contend immediately. Otherwise, why not just stay in Boston?
So, the Celtics end up getting two starters plus two more draft picks to play around with. If nothing else, the latter can be packaged in a deal to move up in the draft this year or the next.
As for the Rockets, this is the epitome of pushing all of your chips to the middle of the table. They'd go into next season with a core of Rondo, Parsons, James Harden and Dwight Howard. If that foursome doesn't work out, it's hard to fathom what else Houston could do to bring home a championship.
They don't need to re-sign Rondo since they'll need money to extend Parsons (also a free agent at the end of next season). Basically, they are taking a one-year flier that Rondo can get them over the hump. If he can't, all they would lose is a couple of role players and some late first-rounders.
It may not be the most ideal offer for Boston, but realistically, there aren't going to be too many others that will be substantially better than this one.
No matter how the Houston Rockets' season ends, there are two things that need to be addressed in the offseason. First, they need to sort out their quandary at point guard. Second, they need to get better at defending the perimeter.
The Rockets currently have Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin as their point guard one-two punch. On paper, it's a solid duo. Beverley is a solid defender whose offense is steadily developing. Lin is a proven scorer that seems to get better every year.
The problem is Beverley, when healthy, has been the starter and Lin is owed $15 million next season. That's a lot of money to pay a sixth man, even one as effective as Linsanity. That's not to say Lin is worth that much as a starter, but that would at least be a little easier to justify.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have been determined to move emerging youngster Iman Shumpert. The 23-year-old's name was heavily involved in trade talks leading up to last week's deadline.
The Los Angeles Clippers were considering a deal that would send point guard Darren Collison to the Big Apple for Shumpert and Raymond Felton, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. That deal inevitably fell through.
ESPN's Chris Broussard had reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder offered up their 2014 first-round pick for Shumpert, who is dealing with a strained MCL. For some reason, the Knicks declined.
That brings us to this proposal. The Knicks' point guard situation is a mess. Raymond Felton was in the midst of a disappointing season even before he was arrested on felony gun charges. Given the state of New York's strict laws on guns, Felton's future has some uncertainty.
Behind Felton, there isn't much. Pablo Prigioni has dabbled at both guard spots, but may not be an ideal long-term answer.
Lucky for New York, Houston might have a solution for their problem. After owner James Dolan spitefully sent Jeremy Lin packing a couple years ago, it's unlikely he'd admit to his mistake and want to bring Linsanity back to the Garden.
That leaves Patrick Beverley, who is a promising prospect that is still attempting to prove himself worthy of being a starting point guard.
By swapping Beverley for Shumpert (Omri Casspi was thrown in for financial purposes), both teams get to fill their needs. The Rockets would be able to streamline their point guard position while acquiring an athletic wing capable of defending multiple positions on the perimeter.
The Knicks, meanwhile, get a starter at point guard on a reasonable contract. Beyond being a capable defender, Beverley is a sneaky good shooter from the outside (career 36 percent three-point shooter).
What Houston does this offseason will depend on how they fare these next few months. Even if the Rockets somehow bring a title home this season, don't expect the team to rest on its laurels. GM Daryl Morey has a constant need to tinker with his team in an effort to stay relevant.
If we've learned anything from the last two summers, the Rockets will find a way to make things exciting.