Rockets' Complete Guide to 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
Is it possible to have a well-timed tailspin?
If so, the Houston Rockets might be doing it.
The James Harden-less squad has lost 13 games in a row, but that could be a good thing. They are desperate for a young cornerstone to pair with Christian Wood, and they'll only keep their upcoming first-rounder if it falls within the top four. Otherwise, the selection goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat due to the Russell Westbrook-for-Chris Paul swap.
Losing that pick in a draft that looks loaded at the top could be crippling. Houston should do everything in its power to keep it.
That could make for an active trade season in Space City between now and the March 25 NBA trade deadline.
Houston has one no-brainer keeper on the roster with Wood. Maybe two if you include 25-year-old rookie Jae'Sean Tate, but he's a blue-collar role player, not a true building block.
Beyond that duo, it gets grim really quick. There might be hope of reviving one or more of Kevin Porter Jr., Rodions Kurucs and Justin Patton, but that's about it.
The Rockets are unlikely to trade their way to a top prospect, but they could open some doors that may eventually lead to one. Draft picks are of the utmost priority, while prospects who have plateaued elsewhere and upcoming restricted free agents who teams don't want to pay are up next on the pecking order.
Finally, Houston could have a surprising opportunity for financial relief. Eric Gordon's contract looked like an albatross in the recent past, and maybe it's still too prohibitive for another team to take ($37.8 million over the next two seasons). But he has perhaps been just productive enough (17.8 points on 43.7 percent shooting) to attract a team desperate for an offensive spark.
Even though the sky is falling in Houston, the Rockets have a decent number of assets to work with. They played win-now basketball with Harden long enough that there's still some win-now players to entice buyers.
The Rockets have taken calls "from a wide number of teams" for Gordon, Victor Oladipo and P.J. Tucker, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. Sterling Brown is also expected to "garner interest" around the league.
Oladipo and Tucker are the most notable names here, although they might offer more name power than production at this point. Oladipo owns just a 39.7/32.6/77.3 shooting slash since returning from a Jan. 2019 torn quadriceps tendon. Tucker is pairing a career-worst 36.6 field-goal percentage with his lowest three-point percentage since 2012-13 (31.4).
Still, the two have a history of making two-way contributions, and both have playoff experience. They're also slated to reach unrestricted free agency at season's end, which potentially reduces their trade value, although it could make them more appealing to teams who want to keep the coffers clean for 2021 free agency.
Houston's top target exists in-house: that top-four protected pick. All moves should be made to protect that as much as it can with flattened lottery odds.
Then, the Rockets should seek out external draft picks wherever they can find them. Tucker might net a few second-rounders. Oladipo could fetch a first-rounder from the right shopper.
Finally, Houston should set its sights on any and all available up-and-comers.
On the high end, that might mean players like Lauri Markkanen, John Collins or Lonzo Ball. On the lower end, perhaps it's a Zach Collins or Malik Monk.
The Rockets can only buy so much without hurting their chances of protecting the pick, so caution should be advised. But even in the face of a possible years-long rebuild, Houston might help itself by adding a prospect or two who fits with Wood's timeline.