When an NBA star is put on the trading block, you can guarantee the Houston Rockets are inquiring. Reporting that the Rockets are interested in or have made calls about available superstars is like breaking news that water is wet. It’s Daryl Morey. The Rockets will always try to add a star to their lineup, whether they have three already on the roster or none at all.
So it’s no surprise that the Rockets are mentioned in several rumors as trade season starts to get into gear with the NBA Draft looming this Thursday. Let’s take a look at some of the names on the market and weigh in on Houston’s chances.
Paul George has told the Pacers that he will not re-sign with them in 2018 and he is dead set on signing with the Los Angeles Lakers that summer. George is 27 years old and a top performer on both sides of the floor. He shot over 39% from three last season with the Pacers (a career 37% from deep) and averaged nearly 24 points a night. He would be a brilliant get for Rocket brass — an athletic wing who can shoot, run, score and defend would be a terrific complement to James Harden and a great fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system. So it’s little shock the Rockets are trying to get George. The problem is it doesn’t appear the Rockets have the type of assets to get such a player. However, one wild card remains: George and his agent are telling teams that he would only be a rental, which likely drives down the price for him in a deal. Threats like that don’t scare Morey — it certainly didn’t when he pursued Dwight Howard in 2012. I don’t like the prospects of giving up future draft picks for someone who might walk in a year (ask Brooklyn about that), but this is a must-chase player. It’s still a longshot, but I would expect the Rockets to push very, very hard for a deal here.
So the Knicks have supposedly put their only hope for a future on the trading block. It’s a bit hard to believe, but if Phil Jackson is actually going to move Kristaps Porzingis, the Rockets would have no chance. Combining Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, Sergio Llull and future picks isn’t going to beat better packages of young talent that the Knicks could acquire.
If Chris Paul is interested in your team, you’re listening. He’s an incredible talent that will hit free agency on the first day of July. He reportedly has the Rockets on his list. The Rockets would have to get quite creative to even have the cap room to sign him, but having said that, I can’t think of a superstar who would be more luxury than fit for the Rockets than Paul. The team just spent an entire season handing the point guard reins to Harden, who led the league in assists. The strength of Harden is that he’s such a playmaking force with the ball in his hands. Are you going to make him a true two, spotting up off of Paul and getting buckets off cuts, or are you turning Paul into the secondary playmaker and shooter? Granted, Paul is far superior to Ty Lawson, but it seems we learned this lesson already in 2015-16. And from Paul’s view, why not choose the Spurs, who are clearly in need of a point guard? Hey, I wouldn’t turn down the chance to have two of the best point guards in the league on my team, but it just doesn’t seem ideal in many ways.
Jimmy Butler is definitely on the trading block and the Houston (err, Tomball) native would be a nice fit with the Rockets, but the price is very high. The Bulls are notorious for being tough to trade with, but the market value for Butler is simply not something the Rockets can meet.
Remember that? I still think of this image every time I walk by that wall in the Rockets locker room. I have to confess: When Morey said the Rockets had “something up their sleeve” and might “up their risk profile” to try to beat the Warriors, I immediately thought of Carmelo Anthony. Why? In a nutshell, he’s widely available. His play has been declining, he hasn’t been happy and Phil Jackson wants to ship him off. The Rockets have had past interest and though Anthony’s a risk at this stage, there is explosive scoring ability potential there. His contract is one year shorter than Ryan Anderson’s and the upside could be high as a smallball four — where Anderson came up short in the playoffs and lacked scoring punch, Anthony is not shy about launching. But the past history between Anthony and D’Antoni makes this unlikely. If the Rockets strike out elsewhere and the price ends up significantly reduced, I could see Morey envisioning this as a buy low possibility.
Landing a superstar is no easy task. The Rockets get criticized often for “falling short” in their pursuit of one, but there should be no shame in trying. In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that the Rockets consistently make these efforts. This organization is in a much better situation than they were last summer when they couldn’t get an audience with Kevin Durant and couldn’t even woo Kent Bazemore. The 2016-17 turnaround season changed that. While the end result of superstar chases is likely to be unsatisfying, the Rockets should once again get more looks their way as a viable championship contender.