Is Victor Oladipo a Rental or a Keeper for the Houston Rockets?

Jason DumasContributor IFebruary 6, 2021

Houston Rockets guard Victor Oladipo (7) during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets are not actively shopping guard Victor Oladipo, but neither party has committed to a long-term marriage, a source close to the situation tells Bleacher Report.

"Everyone is open-minded that it could be a good fit long-term, but it's still too early of a commitment long-term for both sides," said the source.

Of course, it is still a new situation for everyone involved. A long-term backcourt pairing of John Wall and Oladipo is intriguing but would also be very expensive, which has led to hesitancy on the Rockets' end.

Wall is on the books through the 2022-23 season with cap hits of over $41 million, $44 million and $47 million. Oladipo is expected to command a max contract this summer, which would pay him around $31 million per year. That's more than $70 million per year for two players who are talented but have dealt with significant injuries in their careers. 

You've heard the phrase "low risk, high reward." This would be considered "high risk, high reward." Is it worth it? That's the biggest question in the Rockets front office.

The organization needs stability after losing its general manager, head coach and franchise player in the last four months. The departure of Russell Westbrook is somehow the fourth-biggest loss for the franchise in that time span.

But the early returns on Oladipo have been promising. He has averaged 20.8 points, 5.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals in eight games with Houston. The team recently won six games in a row, and Oladipo played in five of those contests. The Rockets have also been one of the top defensive teams in basketball since acquiring Oladipo. They've held opponents to a league-low 102.6 points per 100 possessions. 

Derick Hingle/Associated Press

Sources say the intent of acquiring Oladipo was to evaluate, not flip him. And the returns have been positive. But it's too early to draw conclusions.

That hasn't stopped trade rumors from swirling around the two-time All-Star. Despite his recent injuries, Oladipo is among the better two-way guards in basketball and could help a number of contenders looking to make a final push at the deadline.

Houston could be an elite defensive team. The roster has guards (Oladipo, Wall, Sterling Brown and David Nwaba) who are athletic and can guard multiple positions, while Christian Wood has emerged as both a rim runner and protector, though he's been sidelined by a right ankle injury. If Wood is out for an extended period, it could affect the Rockets' plans at the deadline. With Wood, the Rockets could form a stable identity on defense and athleticism, which is a far cry from the offensive-minded Mike D'Antoni/James Harden era.

As that deadline approaches and belief grows that a long commitment with the Rockets is unlikely, even more teams will believe they can acquire Oladipo, and not as a rental. The New York Knicks have already started mulling that idea. Given that New York struck out on the top-tier names in free agency over the last decade, Oladipo would be a great veteran to add to an impressionable locker room. He is known as one of the hardest workers in the league.

Oladipo has been linked to several franchises over the past year or so. But those close to him say he has not singled out any place in particular.

"The landscape of the league is so weird right now," the source said. "His ideal situation could change in two weeks."

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The Knicks own both their first-round pick and the Dallas Mavericks' first-rounder in 2021. With the Mavs' struggles this season, that pick could be a valuable trade asset. A lot can change between now and the 2021 NBA draft, but who would have thought Dallas' first-round pick could be more valuable than New York's selection? The Knicks also own their first-round picks for the foreseeable future, so they have enough draft assets to acquire Oladipo if that is what Houston wants.

Oladipo's impending free agency could also be an issue. Would the Philadelphia 76ers be willing to part with major draft capital to acquire a rental? They gave up significant assets for Jimmy Butler and lost him the following summer.

The Mavs and the Miami Heat are both underachieving and seem likely to be players at the March 25 trade deadline. The problem for these organizations is that neither has much draft capital. The Knicks own the Mavs' first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. Oladipo has been linked to the Heat, but their first-round picks are also in flux. If they were hesitant to include Tyler Herro in a trade for James Harden, they're unlikely to do so for Oladipo. Besides, if the interest is legitimate, the Heat could look to sign him this offseason. 

Oladipo could get moved at the deadline. But between the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the Rockets genuinely have interest in retaining him, a trade seems unlikely.

"They want to see how the next 15-20 games look like with this team," the source said. "If they could get three first-round picks, they'd probably do it."

If that price is what it'll take to land Victor Oladipo, who is willing to give that up? The better question is, who could give that up?


Jason Dumas works for KRON4 News in San Francisco.


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