Every time the Houston Rockets start to look like they might be getting things together, they go out and make you doubt them again. That’s no less true now than it was when they dropped their first three games by 20-plus.
After losing by 31 to the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 27—fresh off the Spurs’ own 30-point destruction at the hands of the Golden State Warriors—the Rockets established that, as constructed, they have no place on the court with either the Spurs or Warriors.
Ergo, if general manager Daryl Morey wants to get back to the conference finals or beyond, he’ll need to make a move. But who can he land who will make a difference? Houston may chase all of these names or none of them. But these are the best players who are allegedly available and the ones who would have the best chance of pushing the Rockets to the next level.
One way the Rockets could improve would be by adding a bonafide stretch 4. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of those out there, and the cost of shooting is at an all-time high, so if Morey were to make a deal, it might come at a price that is hard for Rockets fans to accept.
Speculation has been running rampant that the Cleveland Cavaliers could trade Kevin Love. However, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports that Cavs’ general manager David Griffin denied those reports on ESPN 850 AM in Cleveland, saying: "You'd have to go a long way to convince me that we're a better team winning in the Finals without a player like Kevin on our team. We've never once put together an offer involving Kevin, nor have we taken a call on an offer for Kevin."
It’s not like anyone ever made an insincere denial—even while arranging a trade. And one thing is for certain, Love has not been the player in Cleveland that he was in Minnesota:
|Kevin Love Stats Comparison|
|Minnesota (6 Seasons)||12.2||2.5||0.7||0.5||19.2||56.6||23.2||0.189|
|Cleveland (2 seasons)||10.1||2.3||0.8||0.5||1||55.5||18.9||0.166|
As I argued for Today’s Fastbreak, that has a lot more to do with how the Cavs utilize him than how he is playing.
And of the players who average at least 4.0 elbow touches per game, only Rudy Gobert passes the ball more frequently when he gets one. In fact, Love is passing the ball 86.5 percent of the time when he gets the ball at the elbow. The issue with Love isn’t how often he’s getting touches there; it’s how often he’s getting the freedom to do something with the ball when he does.
In fact, Love passes the ball more often than he receives it.
To put it politely, Love’s defense is hospitable—meaning he welcomes everyone in. But with a great defender like Howard to back him up, that liability would be more limited.
Offensively, he would be a beautiful fit. He’d be able to stretch the court for James Harden’s drives and knockdown threes when the Beard kicks it out. Or Love could drive from the elbow. He’d be able to help the Rockets play a four-out offense that would benefit Dwight Howard. And for a team that likes to run it the way the Rockets do, Love’s outlet passing shouldn’t be overlooked either (as it has been in Cleveland).
The problem is that it would be hard to acquire him. The Rockets don’t have a lot of high-priced assets, so it would probably involve having to deal Ty Lawson to make the pay work—and then deal a ton of young assets and/or picks to make it worth Cleveland's while.
Sam Amick with Hoops Hype threw Ryan Anderson’s name in the rumor mill but indicated the Pelicans would prefer to part with Eric Gordon, saying: “A lot of teams would love to get their hands on soon-to-be free-agent forward Ryan Anderson. But I’ve been told that if New Orleans had its way, they were much more willing to give up Eric Gordon.”
Anderson offers some of the same attributes and failings as Love. Anderson is arguably the better shooter, particularly off the catch. Based on numbers from NBASavant.com, no power forward has made more assisted threes at a higher rate than Anderson.
|Power Forward 3-Point Shooting on Catch-and Shoots|
|Rank||Player||Shots Made||Shots Taken||Field Goal Percentage|
In spite of that time spent at the perimeter, Anderson is also able to crash the offensive glass with regularity. This is the third season in his career he’s averaged at least 2.0 threes and 2.0 offensive rebounds. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Love, Troy Murphy and Vince Carter are the only other players who have ever had a season like that, with Love, who has done it twice, being the only one to accomplish it multiple times.
Anderson would make for a nice fallback if nothing with Love were to work out. However, the outlet passing and playmaking skills that Love has are absent in Anderson, while his defense is even worse (as if that were possible).
That said, the asking price would be lower too, and Anderson and Howard worked well together with the Orlando Magic from 2009-2012.
Another position the Rockets might be able to strengthen is point guard. Now granted, they tried this with Ty Lawson, and it failed miserably. But maybe a different player would bring better results.
One place the Jazz might look: Atlanta, where it's starting to feel like the Jeff Teague-Dennis Schroder partnership is approaching its breaking point. Utah won't deal rotation guys for someone on an expiring deal, and Teague has two years left on his contract. A Burke and Burks package for Teague and filler might work for both teams.
Utah snares a clear upgrade in the right age range, and it sacrifices a backup and a No. 3 wing behind Hood and Hayward. Atlanta netting Burke softens the blow of losing Teague, and Burks would provide protection in case some rival makes a monster offer for Kent Bazemore in free agency.
Teague’s contract is only $8 million, and it would seem like a package built around Patrick Beverley and either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas, or even K.J. McDaniels, could beat the Jazz offer.
Teague would certainly be an upgrade from Lawson or Beverley, although the Atlanta point's numbers have declined this year from 15.9 points and 7.0 assists to 14.3 and 5.5 respectively. He’d have some name recognition and an All-Star credit to his name, but it would be understandable if the Rockets were hesitant to explore another problematic point guard.
You were probably not expecting to see D'Angelo Russell's name on this list, and I certainly wasn’t planning on typing it. But HoopsCritic.com founder Brian Geltzeiler has some stunning news:
Now if this is true, and if there is a way to make to it happen, Morey has to try.
Russell is not in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and you could argue that his freshman season has been a bit disappointing. But when you consider he’s only 19 and that Lakers coach Byron Scott has “managed” him in the worst way humanly possible, it’s not that bad.
Scott has been benching Russell at the drop of a hat—and for seemingly arbitrary and sometimes contradictory reasons. Scott’s most recent explanation for a yanking, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN:
I saw the last couple minutes that he was in that he was really trying to take over the game, and that's not him yet. I want the ball to move a little bit. I thought it stuck with him. He tried to make the big shots and things like that. I understand that, but to me, that's not him right now.
I love the fact that he has confidence. When it gets to the point where it's cockiness, then we've got a problem.
Cocky vs. confidence in a rookie is a fine line to draw, if it’s even worth drawing at all. It just seems that Scott has gotten to a point where he’s seeing imaginary things and is using post hoc reasoning to justify bad decisions.
This is the type of weirdness that has been pervading the team this year, and it might be why the Lakers are shockingly shopping the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft prematurely.
Even amid the bizarro world that is the mind of Scott, Russell is posting 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 27 minutes. He has an all-around game that would fit well with Harden.
Of the four names on the list, this would be the least likely to put Houston over the top this season, but it would certainly be the best for the long haul.