Feb. 24 weighs on each member of the Houston Rockets like a sack of bricks compounded by a tractor trailer filled with washing machines.
It hangs over the locker room and leaves a signature stench like fish guts suspended by a clothesline.
The date forces players to keep their realtors on speed dial and their humility and interview savvy available for whenever the questions come. If only that dreadful day arrived as quickly as the "what next" inquiries do.
The trade deadline provokes shivers throughout numerous rosters. It looms as the inevitable period when, if something is meant to change, it will. For the 25-29 Rockets, it might cause some to suffer from hypothermia.
The cold nature of the NBA business may dwarf Houston's rare inclement winter weather of late for its professional hoopsters. The Rockets won three in a row, including a tenacious triumph in Denver, before Tuesday's embarrassing, disgraceful loss to the 13-win Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kurt Rambis' squad, which was also playing on the second night of a back-to-back, stole the affair despite the absence of four rotation regulars—leading scorer Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic.
As Houston's postseason hopes fritter and slip-slide away, GM Daryl Morey insists he does not consider anyone "untouchable." He reiterated that stance Thursday morning during his weekly radio show on the city's top sports talk station.
As someone in the know, I have been asked by many, including Bleacher Report editors, to rank the players most likely to exit via a transaction. It is impossible to do, though, because no two opposing executives seem to view the Rockets' assets the same way.
One franchise's brain trust might still covet Aaron Brooks above anyone else. Another might demand Luis Scola. A third might see a way to tap into more of Chase Budinger's faculties.
Since I cannot talk to the GMs to gauge their opinions, I have to rely on game action and their stated desires to evaluate trade possibilities. It makes more sense to grade each player/asset and examine his/its appeal than to fashion a ranking based on 100 percent guesswork.
Morey's chief target remains obvious and out of reach. The Rockets want Carmelo Anthony as much as the New York Knicks. The difference: 'Melo wants to come "home" to New York, and the Knicks front office spent the previous two seasons gutting the roster, so it could use the resulting cap space to woo the next franchise savior.
Amar'e Stoudemire snatched his $100 million paycheck. Donnie Walsh would love one of his final acts as an executive to include pairing his pogo stick pick-and-roll finisher with the game's best pure scorer. The hullabaloo surrounding the marriage Anthony and Walsh hope the Nuggets will make happen in the next two weeks cannot diminish how much Morey would love to steal 2011 free agency's top prize.
Anthony's uncertain future continues to drive the market because what Denver GM Masai Ujiri does with him also determines the availability of Chauncey Billups and Nene. The Rockets consider the Brazilian big a terrific puzzle piece worth the painful price.
Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and other established names will continue to surface in deal discussions until Feb. 24 passes.
The players cannot leave that date in the rearview mirror soon enough. They know a plane ticket and an address change could come at any moment. No one is safe. Not Yao Ming. Not Scola. Not Shane Battier. Not Brooks.
With that in mind, I decided to group the assets and expiring contracts the Rockets can dangle. I listed the rest of the players in alphabetical order.