Uncertainty Surrounding Yao May Force Rockets to Act Sooner Than Later

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Uncertainty Surrounding Yao May Force Rockets to Act Sooner Than Later
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The recent news surrounding Houston Rockets center Yao Ming's foot injury is obviously a major concern for all involved with the organization.

It's been widely reported that Yao's stress fracture may cause him to miss part, if not all, of next season, and that his career may even be in jeopardy.

Other than Yao himself, the person that this affects most could be General Manager Daryl Morey.

Morey had been vocal about the team's desire to trade or buy into last week's draft. Morey was true to his word, having spent about $6 million to acquire Jermaine Taylor, Sergio Llull, and Chase Budinger, all in the second round.

Several trade rumors surrounding the possibility of the Rockets shipping the $23 million expiring contract of Tracy McGrady elsewhere have been swirling in recent weeks, but, as far as we know, nothing truly serious has developed.

Had Yao's injury healed as originally scheduled, the Rockets could have feasibly entered next season with a team very similar to the one that advanced past the first round for the first time in eleven years, and also took the eventual-champion Lakers to the brink of elimination in the second round of this year's playoffs.

Ron Artest is a free agent, and immediately expressed his interest in returning to Houston next season.

Von Wafer, a super-athletic swingman with a knack for scoring, is also a free agent, and has also expressed his interest in returning to the Rockets.

Injuries derailed the Rockets' season yet again in 2008-09, so it would make sense for the team to go for it again with a potentially full complement of its players on the roster.

Unfortunately, Yao's uncertain status may force Morey to act on a trade sooner rather than later.

Let's assume that Yao will indeed miss a large chunk of, if not all of, the upcoming season.

Like McGrady, Yao's contract allows for him to be a part of the heralded 2010 free agent class (he has a player option worth about $17 million for 2010-11).

If the Rockets ultimately decide that Yao is much too big of a risk to spend big money on after next season, it wouldn't be completely out of the question for the team to trade their Chinese superstar.

Yao's $16 million expiring contract is a very valuable trade chip for teams looking to cut cap space and save lots of money.

This gives the Rockets two enormous expiring contracts (Yao and McGrady), an athletic power forward with great offensive upside (Carl Landry), a super-quick guard with great scoring ability (Aaron Brooks), an offensively versatile power forward that can score from all over the floor (Luis Scola), and a veteran defensive stalwart that any title contender would love to have (Shane Battier).

That is quite a bit of trade bait, and gives Morey all sorts of ammunition to explore the trade market with.

So, what players could or should the Rockets target with some of these pieces?

Toronto forward Chris Bosh, a Texas native, would seem to be a pretty solid fit.

He's a player that can stretch the floor and shoot, or score with his back to the basket. He also averaged ten rebounds a game last season, so he can hit the glass effectively as well.

Why would the Raptors want to trade Bosh?

There have been strong indications that Bosh doesn't have much interest in re-signing with Toronto after he can opt out of his contract after next season, so it's likely that the Raptors would be losing him for nothing.

GM Bryan Colangelo would be well suited to explore trade options and get some value for his young big man before he leaves town.

The Raptors don't have much talent outside of Bosh and Jose Calderon, so anything they could get for Bosh would already be an upgrade.

One team that has had well-documented financial issues recently is the New Orleans Hornets.

The Hornets are a team that seems to be willing to do whatever necessary to save themselves money and stay afloat.

While it may seem like a stretch, it's been rumored that nobody on New Orleans' roster is completely untouchable, including 23-year-old phenom point guard Chris Paul.

The Hornets have the most money committed to players going into next season as of now, with a litte more than $77 million already on the books.

It does seem that Paul may come at a bit of a price, including the likelihood that New Orleans would force any Paul suitor to take on the lucrative contracts of Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler, who will be making a combined $52 million over the next two seasons.

For the money to work out, it's possible that the Rockets could ship both McGrady and Yao to New Orleans for Paul, Stojakovic, and Chandler.

It seems likely that the Hornets would want someone like Aaron Brooks to be included as well.

Would either of these teams be willing to do something like this? Who knows, but it is definitely an intriguing idea, if nothing else.

This trade would save the Hornets a boat load of money, and it would re-tool the Rockets in a way that certainly looks like it could make them title contenders once again.

Given the recent snag in the Warriors' trade for Amar'e Stoudemire, it's also possible that Morey could re-open the phone lines to Phoenix and take another stab at trading for Stoudemire.

There are several different roads Morey and the Rockets could take this summer.

It will be very interesting to see how Daryl Morey handles the challenge.

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