5 Point Guards Houston Rockets Should Pursue on Trade Market
The Houston Rockets' stargazing general manager, Daryl Morey, is reportedly aiming high again, this time hoping to complete his superstar vision with a top-shelf point guard.
Behind Morey's prized acquisitions James Harden and Dwight Howard, the Rockets have entrenched themselves among the NBA's elite. Houston has the fourth-best winning percentage (.703) and owns the seventh-best net efficiency rating at plus-4.8 points per 100 possessions.
The Rockets are finding a way to win despite having one of the league's least productive point guard groups. Houston's lead guards are averaging just 17.7 points on 41.4 percent shooting and 4.8 assists this season, per HoopsStats.com. Their scoring rate grades out in the bottom third (22nd), while their assists rank dead last by a considerable distance.
That's why Morey is expected "to go hot and heavy after a point guard" this trade season, according to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. League sources told Bucher not to count out Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets or the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic among Morey's likely targets.
Morey's constant search for assets has armed the Rockets with several movable parts, highlighted by a protected first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans that will only change hands if it falls between Nos. 4 and 19 in any of the next four drafts. Houston can afford to go big-game hunting on the trade market, a process that could lead Morey to any of the following five players.
Jose Calderon, New York Knicks
Jose Calderon doesn't exactly qualify as big game.
He is 33 years old, playing some of the worst basketball of his NBA career and is owed more than $15 million over the next two seasons. Not surprisingly, he is also being "actively" shopped by the 5-35 New York Knicks, according to what league sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ian Begley.
Yet, all of those reasons are what make him an interesting target for Houston—provided Morey comes up short on his bigger targets.
The going-nowhere Knicks are desperate to shed salary, and Calderon's sagging statistics (9.2 points on 40.0 percent shooting) won't make that task any easier. But that should have trade vultures hovering over the Big Apple, anxious to pry away a typically lights-out shooter for pennies on the dollar.
In 2012-13, Calderon boasted a picturesque .491/.461/.900 shooting slash. Even this season, he is hitting on better than 40 percent of his long-range looks and stands a perfect 21-for-21 at the foul line.
He isn't a major source of offense but rarely makes mistakes (career 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes) and can play away from the ball as a floor-spacer. That should work well with Harden's high-volume style, and Rockets coach Kevin McHale would have an intriguing offense-defense platoon option in Calderon and Patrick Beverley to tinker with based on matchups.
Calderon isn't a needle-mover, but he's a steady, playoff-tested veteran who could be had at minimal cost. If that isn't enough to make Morey think, he might even be able to pry a future asset out of New York for taking on Calderon's remaining contract.
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
The Rockets could look to a familiar face to take over their starting point guard duties. Dragic, the NBA's Most Improved Player last season, played 88 games for the Rockets between 2011 and 2012 before inking a free-agent deal with the Phoenix Suns.
Dragic isn't quite producing like he did during his award-winning 2013-14 campaign. His scoring and assists are down (16.7 and 3.9, down from 20.3 and 5.9), though he's playing a smaller role for the Suns both in terms of minutes and usage (33.3 and 21.5, down from 35.1 and 24.5).
It's hard to say if Phoenix would actually be willing to give him up. His 6'3" frame is needed to pair with diminutive point guards Eric Bledsoe (6'1") and Isaiah Thomas (5'11"). Dragic also might be the best of the three in terms of understanding how to balance simultaneous scoring and distributing roles.
But Dragic's future is uncertain, as he is widely expected to decline his $7.5 million player option for 2015-16. He could simply re-sign for more money in Phoenix, but that might not be a formality. League sources previously told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Dragic would have an "open free agency," and the point guard later admitted he wants "to explore my options," per Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News.
If the Suns see Dragic as a flight risk, they might feel compelled to get something in return for him now. And if that bridge is crossed, look for Houston to pounce quickly. The Rockets have seen him as a potential solution to their point guard problem for a while.
And why wouldn't they? He has already proved himself capable of playing on or off the ball, meaning he can complement Harden or carry the offense in his absence. Dragic is also a strong pick-and-roll player, which has obvious perks with an athletic specimen like Howard manning the middle.
It would take a lot to pry Dragic out of Phoenix, if he's even available. The Rockets would likely need to start their offer with the Pelicans' pick and either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas, then hope the Suns wouldn't ask for too many assets on top of that. It's a long shot, but the reward is high enough that it's worth the attempt from Morey.
Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons
The quick-triggered point guard was listed as being "on the trading block" in in mid-December by Vincent Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News. Ten games and nine Detroit wins later, and Jennings is still among the names categorized by Bucher as being "available."
Combine the volatility in Jennings' stats with the fact he's still on the books for $8.3 million next season, and it starts getting clearer why the Pistons might be motivated to move him. The level of motivation on Detroit's end should determine Houston's interest.
After Jennings tallied 34 points and 10 assists in Detroit's 114-111 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy said the point guard is "playing as well as I've seen him play since he came into the league," per Ian Harrison of The Associated Press.
Either that's coach Van Gundy praising one of his top players, or president Van Gundy hoping to build up the value of a guy he's been trying to unload. It might be a little of both.
Jennings' questionable-at-best shot selection makes it hard to justify giving up a valuable asset to acquire him. But if the Pistons would listen for a package centered around an expiring contract (Jason Terry's $5.4 million salary, perhaps), the Rockets could pull a talented player out of the Motor City at a much better cost than what it took to get them there. Again.
The Rockets could keep a tighter leash on Jennings, who might see a Monta Ellis-like rise in efficiency once he joins a better, deeper team. At his best, Jennings could put up points in bunches, stretch the defense as a shooter and potentially add to Houston's asset collection thanks to the upside that should be connected to his age.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
If the Nuggets moved Lawson, their offense would grind to a halt, and they would nosedive down the standings. But if Denver is convinced its collection of role players isn't enough to compete in the star-studded Western Conference, it might be ready to embrace the loss column in a major way.
"If the Nuggets want to tank, Lawson is the obvious player to trade," wrote Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. "Without him, there's nobody who can consistently direct an already-unreliable Denver offense."
The Nuggets already opted to move their starting center Timofey Mozgov for draft picks. Vultures have been hovering around the Mile High City since, with ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reporting that "everyone is calling Denver" to inquire about veteran wings Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo.
Trading Lawson would be a different type of decision altogether. Dealing him would be a signal that Denver is in for a complete overhaul. But if the formula is flawed, it might require a full reset. And the assets the Nuggets could get back for Lawson are several levels above what they could net in trades involving Chandler or Afflalo.
Morey would have to cash in some of his biggest trade chips to enter this potential bidding war: the New Orleans pick, Motiejunas or Jones, a few of the second-rounders Houston is set to collect in the coming years, Terry's expiring contract. It would be a dream-big, all-in push on Houston's side, but this front office has placed—and won—some big bets before.
Lawson is one of the NBA's premier passers. He is tied for second in assists (10.0 per game) and third in points created by assists (23.6 per game). He could help balance the scoring chances between Harden and Howard, or convert some of his own as an overqualified No. 3 option.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
It's been a long time since Williams was challenging Chris Paul's point guard throne, but the Nets' lead guard can still be an explosive offensive player when he's healthy.
The problem is Williams hasn't been healthy for a while. Multiple ankle issues have limited his effectiveness the past few seasons, and he's now dealing with a fractured rib.
But that's not the only issue for Brooklyn, which reportedly started exploring trade options involving Williams in December, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk. The Nets need to find a team willing to overlook not only Williams' medical woes but also the two years and $43.3 million left on his deal.
"Williams is so highly paid, it's difficult to construct a trade that has the Rockets sending out enough salary to match," noted NBC Sports' Dan Feldman. "... Houston is also less than $1 million below the luxury-tax line, so adding Williams would almost certainly prove quite expensive for the Rockets."
Maybe the Rockets see Williams as a risk worth taking. And maybe the number-crunching Morey can figure out a way to make the finances properly align. The odds don't appear to be in Houston's favor, but there's a slim possibility this could become a landscape-altering deal.
Williams is only two years removed from putting up 18.9 points and 7.7 assists while shooting 44.0 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three. Only one player has hit all of those marks in either of the last two seasons: Stephen Curry, arguably the 2014-15 MVP front-runner.
Williams' talent hasn't left him. His body has failed him, and it's taken a toll on his confidence. Maybe by changing scenery and joining a contending team he could polish up his production and rebuild his confidence. His price almost certainly won't reflect his ability, as the Nets shouldn't expect much for a player with his medical history and economic future.
If Morey can add to his talent base without sacrificing assets, he might be willing to roll the dice on the ultimate boom-or-bust trade target.