5 Last-Minute Trade-Deadline Targets for Houston Rockets
Daryl Morey and the Rockets have been crazy aggressive thus far, acquiring Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves and signing Josh Smith after he was waived by the Detroit Pistons. But Morey isn't one to sit on his hands this time of year. Not with the Rockets still in need of upgrades.
All has been relatively silent in recent weeks, with Morey and crew being linked to only a few names. But that can change. And if it doesn't, well, we'll always have that one time we all lost ourselves in the must-read slideshow that identified last-minute prizes for Morey's Rockets to win.
Suggested targets are here because they fill a need or are contributing to the NBA's fast-frothing rumor mill. Sometimes it's both. The point, though, is to find realistic players for the Rockets to pursue. They have a need at center with Dwight Howard out and remain short on clean-shaven playmakers, so focus will lie there.
Hear that? It's a ticking clock, streaking toward Feb. 19 at 3 p.m. ET, when an imaginary gong will sound and the Rockets will be out of time. So, in the interest of salvaging precious deal-brokering hours, let's get to it.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Ty Lawson is new to the NBA chopping block. Really, he's not even readily available. But Grantland's Zach Lowe says the diminutive point guard isn't untouchable, so long as interested parties are willing to send the Denver Nuggets everything they have a gargantuan offer.
For a number of reasons, the Rockets stack up as one of those suitors. Lowe expands:
The Rockets are the contender with the most bullets left in the chamber. They’re sitting on a potential lottery pick from the Pelicans, and Smith’s improved play of late makes it a bit more palatable to put Terrence Jones in a trade. They also have convenient salary-matching pieces in Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou, plus their own future first-round picks.
Acquiring Lawson fills a monstrous need for a depressing Rockets offense. James Harden has been spectacular, but the team is devoid of a secondary playmaker to back him up.
Patrick Beverley is more defensive pest than real point guard, and Harden, Beverley and Josh Smith are the only players averaging more than 2.5 assists per game. All of that has contributed to the Rockets falling to 12th in offensive efficiency and Harden recording the league's second-highest usage rate.
Lawson gives the Rockets a second preeminent playmaker who can create his own shot. His 10.1 assists tie him for the Association lead with John Wall, and he fits Houston's three-point-happy dynamic, burying a cool 36 percent of his bombs on the season.
Not that this venture is without its issues. Listed at 5'11", Lawson is tiny, and the Rockets already have an undersized point man in Beverley. Lawson also isn't accustomed to playing off the ball as he would have to in Houston. Just 12.8 percent of his shot attempts have come as spot-up threes this season, of which he's hitting only 32.6 percent.
Potential tactical snafus in mind, the Rockets still need to take a flier. They'll be hard-pressed to create max cap space this summer, essentially precluding them from poaching a floor general of Lawson's ilk.
Whatever the outcome, the Rockets have both the need and means to monitor Lawson's situation in Denver.
Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns
Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein back in January the Phoenix Suns were working with Miles Plumlee's agent to find a new home for the third-year big man. Plumlee's role has been severely reduced in the wake of Alex Len's emergence, Brandan Wright's arrival and the Suns' penchant for running molecularly small.
Initially, the asking price for Plumlee was a first-rounder. Though he's certainly not worth that much to the Rockets, they do need him.
Howard is still sidelined with a knee injury, and the Rockets have no real backup center since trading Omer Asik over the summer. It's been replacement by committee with Josh Smith, Jones and Motiejunas all seeing time at the 5.
If you include the eight minutes Howard logged against Phoenix on Jan. 23 as an absence, the Rockets are 7-3 since his most recent foray onto the injured list, so they are surviving. But their defense has been iffy without him, allowing 105.3 per 100 possessions overall and 103.5 over the last 10 contests.
Plumlee is someone who can block shots and grab rebounds in a hurry. In limited playing time, he's mustered averages of 9.8 boards and two swats per 36 minutes. And while his rim protection is shaky—opponents are shooting 52.6 percent against him at the iron—he's much-needed size for a Rockets squad bleeding depth at the center position.
Provided the Suns move off their asking price and he becomes someone who can be had for expiring contracts and second-rounders, Plumlee is one blip that shouldn't fall off Houston's radar.
Jose Calderon, New York Knicks
Jose Calderon isn't the in-your-face splash the Rockets are equipped to make, but he's a sound midseason addition who shouldn't cost much.
The New York Knicks have been looking to unload Calderon for quite some time, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. His salary is the only cause for pause in this situation; the Rockets have gone out of the way to maintain cap flexibility for this summer, and Calderon is owed $7.4 million for 2015-16.
Still, his contract comes off the books in time for 2016's expected cap boon, making him the perfect buy-low candidate for a contending team in the market for an offensive bunch.
Injuries and a butchered version of the triangle offense have admittedly curbed Calderon's effectiveness this season. His 42.4 percent field-goal clip is the second worst of his career, and opponents are shooting 10.2 percentage points above their season average when being defended by him.
But Houston has the requisite defensive depth on the perimeter to cover up for Calderon's slow-footed sets. Unlike other floor generals, he's also fit to play off the ball. Calderon is nailing 43.6 percent of his long balls, including 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys.
Prying him from Phil Jackson's inviting arms won't take much, either. Packaging Papanikolaou with Joey Dorsey works financially and should get the job done, what with the Knicks prioritizing financial plasticity over actual players these days (see: J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert trade).
Landing Calderon won't suddenly sway the NBA title race in the Rockets' favor, but if they have the chance to pick up a proven, under-control performer entering the 11th hour, Morey would be remiss not to dial area code 212 for more information.
Ian Mahinmi, Indiana Pacers
Try to name five effective reserve big men, who aren't on rookie-scale contracts, making under $5 million annually. Now, while you're doing that, I'll just be over here, enjoying my self-generating slats of gold, watching the Knicks make an NBA title push.
Ian Mahinmi is a steal at $4 million annually. A foot injury has limited him to just 33 appearances on the season, but he's back, same as ever, protecting the hoop and doling out the occasional floor-meets-backside foul.
Houston can use the defense Mahinmi brings, not just while Howard is out, but after he returns. Players are shooting 11.3 percentage points below their season average when being guarded by him, and Mahinmi is just one season removed from ranking sixth in rim protection among all qualified players.
Other teams have reportedly taken notice of his value too. Despite an apparent intent to stand pat, the Indiana Pacers are receiving offers for Mahinmi and Roy Hibbert, per Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com.
Getting Mahinmi out of Indiana is one of those gray-area endeavors. He may or may not prove expensive; he may or may not even be available. But the Pacers might be open to trading David West in exchange for a first-round pick, according to Lowe, so one has to imagine anyone not named Paul George is fair game.
Stringing together an offer built around Motiejunas or Jones and an expiring contract could be enough to get the ball rolling and, in turn, help the Rockets keep on rolling. And if that's the price tag of prolific depth at the league's thinnest position, Morey has every reason to pull the trigger at will.
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
It doesn't get any bigger or better for the Rockets than Goran Dragic.
Both the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers are expected to ramp up their trade efforts for Dragic ahead of the Feb. 19 deadline, according to Stein. Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times says the Suns are seeking a first-rounder for the free-agent-to-be, something the Rockets are able to offer.
Now, the Suns have given no definitive indication they're ready to deal Dragic. In fact, Stein reports they would prefer to trade Isaiah Thomas if they're going to rip apart their three-headed point guard monster.
At the same time, Thomas is locked up long term while Dragic is expected to explore free agency this summer. There's no guarantee he returns even if the Suns hang on to him. Parting ways with Dragic now ensures they don't lose him for nothing later and begins the process of loosening up a backcourt logjam they're now very much aware of.
Said general manager Ryan McDonough on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, per ArizonaSports.com's Adam Green:
I think our roster balance is a little off, and that's my fault. We are a little too backcourt-heavy, especially in terms of guys who, you know, I think you'd define primarily as scorers in the backcourt. So I think at some point we'll need to balance that out, try to get a little more size, a little more frontcourt scoring and rebounding.
That Pelicans pick Houston owns is huge here. It's protected for selections one to three and 20 to 30, and it is projected to fall within the mandated sweet spot. The Suns aren't going to snag a lottery pick in return for a soon-to-be free agent anywhere else. Of course, they must also be high on Jones, Motiejunas and cap fodder, but they could do much worse.
Pulling the trigger on this is a no-brainer for the Rockets. Dragic is the league's only player topping 16 points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal on 50 percent shooting per game, and he has experience playing beside a ball-dominant backcourt partner—evident by his 37.3 percent success rate on spot-up threes.
Forking over a lottery pick for someone the Rockets could try to pursue in free agency stings a little, but not much. Stein has the Lakers tendering a max offer to Dragic, a competing proposal the Rockets would (likely) be incapable of matching without owning his Bird rights.
Targeting Dragic now gives Houston the inside track on re-signing him, and Morey isn't the type to shy away from perceived flight risks, however serious—not when said flight risk stands to flip the script on the Western Conference's championship race.