The responsibility of finding a new head coach sidetracked Houston Rockets' General Manager Daryl Morey from his primary goal: acquiring the franchise's next superstar player.
Now that Kevin McHale is in place, Morey can get back to what he has been working tirelessly on for the past two seasons.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is bound to change either through an agreement before the June 30 deadline or after a long lockout, it's difficult to land a star player through free agency. Morey believes that such an upgrade will more likely come through a trade or by getting lucky in the draft.
If the Rockets are to obtain a star in 2011, it will be via trade. The 2011 draft is short on star prospects, and Houston doesn't currently possess a high pick.
Morey has plenty of young, emerging, and valuable assets on his roster. Which of his players has the least trade value, and who is almost certain to be included in a blockbuster deal?
Let's rank the assets, counting down from least to most valuable.
Note: Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming are not listed because both will be unrestricted free agents on July 1, and therefore cannot be traded by the Rockets. However, if they were to be listed, Hayes would make the top-five, while Yao's value is non-existent due to the injuries that have derailed his career.
Following an outstanding career at the University of Vermont, Blakely went undrafted in 2010. He spent most of last season playing for the Iowa Energy in the NBA Developmental League.
Blakely signed a multi-year non-guaranteed contract with Houston on April 12. He has yet to play in an NBA game.
Not to be confused with Sacramento Kings forward/center DeMarcus Cousins, Cousin signed a multi-year non-guaranteed contract just days before Blakely.
At 6'11", he provides size, which the Rockets are lacking, but not much else. Cousin averaged 15 points and nine rebounds in 46 games with the Austin Toros last year, and even made Houston's active roster for a stretch in late April.
But unless he magically turns into Cousins, it's unlikely the former Houston Cougar will enter the minds of other general managers any time soon.
Sadly for Thabeet, the No. 2 overall selection in 2009, he barely nudged ahead of Cousin for this slot.
He probably shouldn't have, considering that when Cousin was called up from the D-League to join the Rockets in April, they sent Thabeet down to Rio Grande Valley to fill his position.
If that doesn't enforce Thabeet's shocking fall from grace, I'm not sure anything can. The only reason he has more trade value than Cousin is simply because no one knows who Cousin is.
Thabeet is still young and has the tools to become a defensive presence in the middle. Maybe McHale, one of the best post players of all-time, can help him reach some of his potential. As of today, he's just another massive draft bust.
Other than Blake Griffin, Williams was arguably the most talented player in the 2009 class, but fell to the No. 11 pick on draft night. That's when the red flags should have gone up.
How does someone with Williams' physique and skill set make it past the top-five? Well, because he has trouble dealing with authority, is difficult to coach, has a wild shot selection and makes poor decisions with the ball.
He had a so-so rookie season in New Jersey, averaging 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists in 78 games. Williams quickly fell out of the rotation this year and was traded to Houston in mid-December, where he only saw action in 10 games.
If McHale is as good at developing players as people say, the Rockets might have something in Williams. If not, he'll join Thabeet as just another bust from the 2009 draft.
It will be tough for Morey to convince a team to take Miller in a trade.
He's 35, and just revealed last week that he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee. Microfractures threaten the careers of players in their mid-20's, so logically, one would think that it effectively ends the career of a 35 year-old.
Then again, it isn't like Miller will lose his jumping ability, speed or lateral quickness, because you can't lose something you never had.
Miller proved, when healthy, he can still be of service by averaging six points, four rebounds, nearly three assists, and making 37 percent of his threes in 2010-11.
The question is whether or not his knees will allow him a return to the hardwood.
So how about the 2009 NBA Draft? The Rockets roster shows just how bad a chunk of it was.
Thabeet (No. 2) and Williams (No. 11) have already been buried on this list, and Hill (No. 8) will be the third lottery pick from '09 to be tagged with minimal trade value entering his third season.
Hill has shown flashes during his two years, mostly with the Rockets following his exile from the New York Knicks. He has great athleticism, range on his shot, and has shown good rebounding ability and solid defensive instincts from time to time.
Time to time. That term has defined Hill up to this point. One minute he'll block a shot on one end while racing down to the other to finish a miss with a thunderous slam. Then he'll suffer a mental lapse and disappear for a few minutes before disappearing to the bench for the rest of the night.
Unlike Thabeet, Hill has real talent, not just size. The hope is that McHale can help him live up to his lofty draft status. The beast is within; it just needs to be brought out.
Personally, I would have Budinger rated higher, but front offices around the NBA don't share the same sentiment.
While Budinger suffered a dip in his shooting percentages, he improved his numbers in points (9.8), rebounds (3.6), assists (1.6), and free throw percentage (85.5) in his second year. He started 22 games after Shane Battier was traded and proved he can hold his own as an NBA starter.
Budinger scored in double figures in 19 of the last 24 games, including outputs of 30, 27 and 35 points in the season finale against Minnesota.
Budinger must continue to develop as a playmaker, but he possesses elite range and athleticism, and showed improvement on the defensive end this year.
After an outstanding performance in the 2010 playoffs with the Phoenix Suns, Dragic was bordering on untouchable as the backup point guard and future successor to Steve Nash's throne.
Then this season rolled around and Dragic had trouble replicating that success, and his struggles made him available to the Rockets at the trade deadline.
Houston obviously thinks highly of him considering they traded their former starting point, Aaron Brooks, to acquire Dragic. He has game, and showed everyone that maybe he just needed a change in scenery.
Following the February trade, Dragic shot 50 percent from the floor and 58 percent from three in March, and followed that up by shooting 45 percent from the floor and 48 percent from three in April as Kyle Lowry's backup.
Dragic started the final five games when Lowry went out with an injury, and averaged 13 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.5 steals. He even had a triple-double in the season finale.
Good point guards are hard to come by, and Dragic will be one for many years to come.
I've never bought in to all the hype surrounding Lee. He's a streaky shooter with limited playmaking abilities, and a decent defender at best.
Yet, the Chicago Bulls tried everything in their power to trade for Lee at the deadline in an effort to make him their starting shooting guard for a run at the finals.
Lee has already been dealt twice in three years and his place on the Rockets is far from secure, so he's had trouble giving teams a reason to keep him around.
With that said, there seems to be a handful of others that would love to have him, and thus there's no arguing his trade value.
About a quarter of the way through the season, it was far-fetched to believe Patterson would be able to carve out a role in Houston's rotation.
He was buried on the bench on a team that lacked size and athleticism in the frontcourt, logging just 15 minutes in the first 31 games. Then, he came out of nowhere in a New Year's Eve game against Toronto, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 25 minutes in a 114-105 victory.
From that point forward, Patterson was a key contributor for the Rockets. He averaged nine points and six rebounds in 22 minutes during the month of March and had similar numbers during April.
The former University of Kentucky star has the size, skill and maturity to be a starter for years to come.
It isn't far-fetched to believe Patterson will be tops on this list a year from now.
Scola is a perfect fit in the Rockets' offense, but with his repertoire, he would fit in just about anywhere.
That's what makes Scola so attractive, especially to contenders in need of a stabilizing presence in the post. His scoring numbers rose for a fourth consecutive year in 2011 to 18.3 points per game, and he also averaged 8.2 rebounds.
The Argentinean can stretch the defense out to the elbow with his smooth shooting touch, or throw in his array of scoop shots and baby hooks. Defense isn't a strength and he just turned 31, but Scola hardly ever misses a game and is always in basketball shape thanks to his dedication to Argentina's national team.
Scola has a solid three or four years left in him and he could be of great service to a number of teams seeking a versatile power forward.
Martin had an incredible year in 2010-11 and his trade value may never be higher as a result.
He averaged 23.5 points, shooting 44 percent from the field, 38 percent from three and 88 percent at the line. Martin is one of the most versatile scorers in the NBA and is also one of its most efficient. He was third in three-pointers made and tied Kevin Durant for the most free throws made.
K-Mart played in 80 games this season, a breakthrough of sorts after missing at least 21 games in each of the previous three seasons due to injury. He's just 28 and isn't showing any signs of slowing down.
Any team seeking an elite scoring two-guard will have their eyes set on Martin.
Many will argue that Martin is much more deserving of this spot, but consider the following:
Lowry is three years younger (25), plays the most important position on the floor (point guard), and has yet to reach his peak, whereas with Martin, what you see is what you get.
After an early-season injury to Brooks, Lowry was inserted as the starting point guard and played so well that the Rockets no longer needed Brooks, who had a career year in 2009-10.
He showed himself to be an elite defender, a great distributor and, most importantly, an improving scorer.
Lowry shot a career-high 38 percent from downtown and averaged a career-best 13.5 points per game, which is almost four points higher than his career average. His assist-turnover ratio was an astonishing 3.5-to-1, which helped the Rockets finish as the league's third highest-scoring team.
K-Low's post-All-Star break averages were 16.8 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals over a 22-game span.
Lowry's trade value is off-the-charts entering the summer, but Morey and the Rockets may consider him untouchable.