Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports: "The Houston Rockets are aggressively pursuing deals to use their $8.4 million trade exception before Dec. 19."
The Rockets know you can never have enough talent to guarantee success in the meat-grinder Western Conference. Improved defense, the demonstrated ability to stay afloat without Dwight Howard and surprising step-ups from key role players have Houston looking strong.
Still, it's hard to fault the Rockets for believing stronger would be better. And that's to say nothing of the strain Houston's bad injury luck has placed on head coach Kevin McHale and the remaining healthy bodies on the roster. McHale told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (subscription required):
Our rotation is so haywire right now because of the injuries. It's hard to look at our team right now and say, 'Boy, when we have everybody healthy, this is how we're going to play.' That's what you'd like to do as a coach. You like to have a game plan of how you are going to play. This is kind of catch-as-catch-can right now.
NBA teams put out trade feelers like this all the time; we're only days removed from the Brooklyn Nets alerting the league to their desire for a fire sale. But when Daryl Morey and the Rockets talk transactions, we know they're serious.
Nobody likes to wheel and deal like Houston does.
Armed with a valuable asset and in search of a move that'll up their championship profile, the Rockets are hitting the market.
Let's give them a quick shopping list.
Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer has been on the market, off the market and, perhaps, is now back on it again. In a dizzying full circle, Flip Saunders is talking rebuild these days, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, and a vet like Brewer probably has more value to a team in Minny's position as a trade chip than as a rotation player.
With a salary of $4.7 million this year, Brewer would only cost Houston part of its exception, and he could then be packaged as part of a bigger swap for a superstar later in the season—a move that sounds quintessentially Morey-esque, and one that explains the self-imposed Dec. 19 deadline to use the exception.
Boring minutia alert: You can't use the trade exception in a package with another one of your players to get back an even higher-salaried piece from another team. You can, however, use the exception to get a player now, and then package that player with others later on.
Anyhow, Brewer has been loosely linked to Houston in the past, and he'd fill in nicely behind Trevor Ariza while Kostas Papanikolaou and Francisco Garcia work through injuries. Though certainly not a reliable shooter, Brewer runs the floor better than just about anyone and can punish teams with his relentless activity.
Houston loves high-percentage buckets, and it's hard to find more efficient buckets than breakaway layups.
The only problem that could arise with Brewer is his $4.7 million player option for 2015-16. If the Rockets plan to flip him for something else this year, there's no issue. But keeping him on the books for another season probably isn't part of Houston's plan.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
A trade for Jeff Green would only make sense if we believe Houston has designs on a bigger move down the line.
That's because the Boston Celtics tweener forward is about as anti-Rockets as players get. He's not a consistent three-point shooter, can't defend power forwards and has on- and off-court splits that show his team performs better when he's on the bench, per NBA.com.
Despite all that, he's a name, he averages nearly 20 points per game and the Rockets would only need one foolish team to bite on the 28-year-old before the deadline.
Admittedly, we're thinking a few steps ahead.
To get Green in the first place, Houston would have to package its trade exception with a sweetener—perhaps a second-round pick—and hope the Celtics were interested enough in getting Green's 2015-16 salary off the books. He's due $9.2 million this year and has a player option for the same amount next year, and it's not crazy to imagine the rebuilding C's finding cap space and a pick more valuable than a live body.
And hey, who knows? Maybe something will click for Green in Houston, and he'll go back to drilling corner threes at a 45.7 percent clip like he did in 2012-13, per Basketball-Reference.com. Houston might not be so quick to swap him out for a bigger name if he could step in and replace Terrence Williams with hot perimeter shooting.
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic
Now that he's fallen out of the Orlando Magic's rotation, Andrew Nicholson would be a relatively easy get. If Houston tosses in a second-rounder with the paltry $1.5 million it would take to match the 6'9" forward's salary, it could haul in a floor-stretching big on the cheap.
Best of all, Houston would retain the bulk of its exception to use elsewhere.
Nicholson's shot has been primarily a mid-range weapon during his two-plus year career, and the Rockets aren't exactly fans of long twos. But he's connecting at a 33 percent clip from long range this season, albeit in a very small sample of minutes.
As projects go, though, Nicholson is an intriguing one.
Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
A better, more proven, more versatile version of Nicholson, Jonas Jerebko could provide size and perimeter scoring to a Houston frontcourt in need of both. A gunner who shot 41.9 percent from distance last year, Jerebko has averaged just 13 minutes per game for a putrid Detroit Pistons team in 2014-15.
The Pistons have tons of problems this season, and they still don't know how to get the most out of their high-profile big-man trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. What seems clear, though, is that Jerebko isn't much of a priority for the organization.
With one year and $4.5 million left on his current contract, he'd be an ideal acquisition for Houston, as he could slide into the rotation as a rental or quickly become part of a package for a bigger name before the February deadline.