Best Potential 2016-17 NBA Trade Deadline Targets for Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets keep winning as the calendar year closes. They are doing so with a tremendous amount of chemistry and cohesiveness as James Harden and head coach Mike D’Antoni have been a beautiful fit.
Because of that, general manager Daryl Morey is less likely to make a midseason trade than he usually is.
The only credible “rumor” involving the Rockets came in the wake of Clint Capela’s broken fibula. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported via Twitter: “Sources: With loss of Capela, Rockets probing trade market on available bigs. Most likely scenario: Turning minutes to Nene and [Montrezl] Harrell.”
That was over a week ago.
As the saying goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken. But who says you can’t tweak it? Since there aren’t rumors, we’re going to speculate.
For clarification, a “rumor” means there are reports of actual conversations—or at least interest—linked to a front office. Speculation is just a writer saying, “Hey, wouldn’t that be neat.”
Before looking at targets, let’s consider needs.
The Rockets' starting five is nothing worth monkeying with, and Eric Gordon is shining as the perfect sixth man. (He’s chasing Stephen Curry for the league lead in threes just two behind him, according to NBA.com.)
There are a couple of potential target areas, though.
The already mentioned backup/replacement for Capela—particularly if the young Swiss center's recovery relapses—is the first.
Additionally, Houston could use another two-way wing. Corey Brewer, who serves as the primary backup 3, has a meager 7.6 player efficiency rating—the eighth-lowest among players who have logged at least 400 minutes, according to Basketball Reference. And according to Synergy Sports Technology, his defense ranks in the 10th percentile. There doesn’t seem much sense in giving a player who is a minus-contributor on both ends of the court heavy minutes, but for whatever reason, the Rockets seem reluctant to bump K.J. McDaniels in the rotation.
Any trades the Rockets make will likely be minor, in part because they don’t want to overhaul the team and in part because just don’t have big contracts worth moving. A package including Brewer and a minor name like Tyler Ennis for trade ballast is the ceiling. That’s enough to bring back a player for around $13-$14 million.
That wouldn't provide much incentive, so the Rockets would have to bait the hook with an assortment of first- and/or second-round picks (depending on the target) or some of their overseas assets. Thus, teams looking to the future would be the ideal partners.
There also has to be at least some chance the other team is interested in a trade as well. Therefore, we will look to rumors to identify players who are on the market.
5. Andrew Bogut, Dallas Mavericks
The Rockets are without center Clint Capela for four to six weeks and, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they’re “probing” the trade market for bigs. They have a handful of young players and two mid-second-round picks (Denver’s no. 40 and Portland’s no. 39). They could use Corey Brewer’s $7.6 million deal as filler and have Sam Dekker or K.J. McDaniels absorb Brewer’s minutes.
Keep in mind that the Rockets expressed interest in trading for Bogut this summer, but Bogut chose Dallas, according to MacMahon. A deal is historically unlikely, though, since the cross-state rivals rarely do business together. The last time the Rockets and Mavericks made a midseason trade was at the 1995 trade deadline, when Morlon Wiley and a second-round pick were sent to Houston for future NBA head coach Scott Brooks!
Bogut has shown he can be an effective rim protector in the “pace and space” style offense that Houston runs during his four years with the Golden State Warriors. His opponents were held to 6.2 percentage points below their season averages within six feet, per NBA.com.
He seems a step slower this year, but that might just be because Dallas is such a train wreck. Bogut also has soft hands that can snare seemingly anything within arms’ reach to finish at the rim. James Harden-to-Bogut alley-oops would be a regular thing.
Bogut for Brewer and picks works financially, according to the ESPN Trade Machine. However, after the recent events in Dallas, in which Bogut brought his inner-NHL player to an NBA game and floor checked Harden, there could be some reluctance from the Rockets to bring him to Space City.
Still, there's a chance.
4. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
If Capela’s injury experiences a setback and he is down for a while, the best center to take his place would be Nerlens Noel of the Philadelphia 76ers. Getting Noel, though, might not be so easy.
Philadelphia’s GM, Bryan Colangelo told Keith Pompey of Philly.com:
I will only make deals that make sense for this organization. Hopefully we can make mutual benefit to both the organizations and players involved in whichever respective trades between the [February] trade deadline or before the [June] draft, ultimately.
Noel has two-way talent. According to NBA.com, he shot 69.7 percent at the rim last season while holding opponents to 7.8 percentage points below their averages when they were within six feet of the bucket. He has the mix of athleticism and rim protecting that Capela does.
Noel’s play has been extremely sparse this year due to a combination of injury and controversy. Sixers coach Brett Brown seems to have taken him almost entirely out of the rotation after Noel complained about playing time.
Not putting your players in the rotation is one way to lower their trade value, so that could be to Houston's advantage. But it’s hard to see the 76ers parting with a guy—who once could have been the No. 1 overall pick—for a late first-rounder and zero-way wing.
The other downside is that Noel is a restricted free agent next season, and the long-term plan with him and Capela could present issues similar to what Noel is experiencing now in Philadelphia.
If the Rockets put together a package around a first-round pick and Sam Dekker, it could pique some interest. Throw in Ennis to satisfy Philadelphia’s unquenchable appetite for bad point guards and make the contracts work, and there you go.
3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Technically, it doesn’t seem that Will Barton is available, at least if you’re listening to Denver. But since there are apparently teams inquiring about him, as reported by Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, we’ll include him on the list anyway.
Barton is one of the better bench scorers in the league and is reasonably efficient, averaging 14.2 points and a 54.9 true shooting percentage. His defense (40.8 percentile overall) is not great, but it is an upgrade over Brewer nonetheless.
Zach Mikash of Denver Stiffs looks at what Barton’s value might be:
That’s the million dollar question now isn’t it? Who would the Nuggets be able to get for Barton? He had a stellar year last season as Denver’s sixth man and has shown he has the ability to be a starter while Harris was out with a foot injury.
That type of player should be able to generate at least a first round pick as compensation if the Nuggets went the compiling assets route, but that doesn’t seem to be the type of direction that is in line with where this team is at in its rebuilding process. Draft picks were things the Nuggets traded for two years ago, now those picks are promising young players and Denver needs to add talented veterans, perhaps star talent veterans, to take the next step and make the playoffs.
It’s also not like Corey Brewer hasn’t done the Denver Nuggets thing before (2011-13). Getting Barton would probably mean involving a third team, then. While that’s not impossible, it’s unlikely.
2. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are the adventure that keeps on giving, and they’ve roller-coasted their way to a .500 record. They could easily be far enough out of the playoff hunt by the trade deadline that they are sellers.
If that’s the case, Taj Gibson could become a premium commodity on the big-man market for playoff teams looking to add that last key piece. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported the Bulls were shopping him six months ago, and if they were then, they could be again.
Gibson is not an All-Star, but he is a complete player, averaging 15.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes. He shoots 54.2 percent from the field, and while he doesn’t have three-point range, he has developed a consistent mid-range shot, notching 48.5 percent on spot-ups, per Synergy. He ranks in the 72nd percentile in overall points per play and 68th on post-up plays.
His defensive real plus-minus is plus-1.66, per ESPN.com. Within six feet of the basket, opponents shoot 7.1 percentage points below their season average. And when he defends the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, the .66 points per possession against him ranks in the 84th percentile among bigs.
He can come off the bench or start. He can play power forward alongside Nene or center next to Ryan Anderson. And his contract is enough of a bargain that Brewer would be enough contract space to get the deal done, though, it would require sweeteners—perhaps Harrell and a draft pick. If the Bulls deal him, it would be looking toward the future.
The hiccup is that Gibson is in the last year of his contract, and Morey may hesitate to part with a promising young player or asset for a rental. But if something goes amiss with Capela’s recovery, Gibson would be the ideal fix, regardless of whether he stays next year.
1. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
The best target is Rudy Gay, provided he is willing to come off the bench.
Trade rumors have been circulating regarding him all season (several documented at HoopsHype), so there doesn’t seem much question regarding his availability.
Once an overpaid chucker who was indifferent to defense, Gay has matured over the years. His true shooting percentage now is 55.4—the second-best rate of his career. His 15.2 assist percentage is also the second best. His plus-1.63 defensive real plus-minus is 10th among small forwards as his overall 2.04 real plus-minus.
Gay coming off the bench with Eric Gordon, Nene and Dekker/Harrell would give Rockets a very stout second unit, which in turn would mean a further reduction in Harden’s playing time.
Also, while Gay is not an elite three-point shooter (34.5 percent), he’s good enough to serve as a small-ball 4 with a little more muscle than Trevor Ariza and a lot more defense than Ryan Anderson.
Best of all, he’s not overpaid anymore at just $13.3 million for one more season. The fact that Sacramento hasn’t been able to trade him yet means his asking price is probably falling too.