Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday night that the Rockets are looking to trade Thomas Robinson and “plan to accept the best offer” to get his salary off the books to free up enough money to offer a full max deal to Dwight Howard.
Is anyone else getting the feeling that Adrian Wojnarowski has become the Craigslist for today’s NBA general managers? There seems to be no better way to broadcast that you have a player for sale. I think it’s a pretty good bet that this was leaked for a reason — it has a very similar vibe to the “Rockets are shopping Yao Ming” story of a few years ago.
Still, while it is news that the Rockets have placed T-Rob on the trade market, it was not unexpected.
Robinson has the largest salary ($3.5+ million next year) of any player outside of your core rotation and likely has the best trade value. Depending on where the new salary cap is drawn for 2013-14, his contract on the books could be the difference between the Rockets being able to offer a max deal to Dwight Howard (starting at $20.5M) or just a very high salary ($17-19M).
The problem is other teams are well aware of that last fact and it could be used against the Rockets. This is a similar situation to the one the Miami Heat were in with Michael Beasley in 2010. Needing to clear a little extra cap space to make room for both LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Miami dumped Beasley to Minnesota just two years after he was the much-hyped #2 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft.
As a player, the Rockets still like Robinson, but their team goals could be shifting quickly from future contention to present contention. Robinson could become a top-level rebounder, but he has a long ways to go to develop much else, especially on the offensive end. He wasn’t a strong pick-and-roll guy out of Kansas and doesn’t have much shooting range, making it hard to see him getting important playing time at a position on this team that currently requires both of those skills.
So what are the Rockets looking for in a trade partner? The market is limited because the Rockets need a team under the cap (or will be on July 10th anyway) or a team holding a large enough trade exception or non-guaranteed salaries to absorb T-Rob outright. After that, you’re looking for teams that hold future assets, such as a 2014 first or second round pick that would not count against this year’s cap. Given that limited market, cap room alone (along with perhaps a future pick) may be the best return the Rockets can get given their offseason goals. I wouldn’t be surprised if attaching Royce White to unload him (in lieu of getting a draft pick in return) is discussed as well.
Here are the teams that make the most sense:
1. Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte sticks out as the most logical trade partner. The soon-to-be Hornets strongly considered Robinson with the #2 pick last year and are in the team-building phase where they are looking for as many young building blocks as they can get. They will be under the cap and have plenty of future draft considerations, including a top-8 protected 2014 first rounder from Detroit (not happening) and a top-12 protected 2014 first rounder from Portland. I would consider that Blazers pick to be the high end (if not too high) of what the Rockets could net for T-Rob. A team of Bismack Biyombo, Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and possibly Victor Oladipo (with the 4th pick this year) would be raw and lose a lot of games, but it has a lot of defensive potential down the line.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs have the cap room right now to make a move for Robinson if they wanted — they don’t have to wait until July 10th. Cleveland owns a top-12 protected pick from the Kings in 2014, but what might make them more of a match is they own the first and third picks of the second round (#31 and #33, non-guaranteed deals) in this year’s draft. It’s suspected that the Cavs, like the Rockets, are trying to package their assets for a second star around Kyrie Irving, and they also have a similar player to Robinson in Tristan Thompson, but everything else is a match.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Suns already united the Morris Twins… why not go full #TeamFOE Kansas reunion? Phoenix, like Charlotte, simply needs as many irons in the fire as possible when it comes to young talent. They likely will deal power forward Luis Scola this offseason. They are under the cap right now and also own a protected first rounder from Minnesota next year and the Lakers’ 2015 first rounder (top 5-protected).
4. Orlando Magic
The Magic aren’t winning a championship anytime soon. They lost 49 of their last 57 games as GM Rob Hennigan is trying to stockpile young talent to rebuild. They will be under the cap and could buy a prospect here cheap and watch him develop with playing time, similar to what they did in February with Tobias Harris. Orlando also owns future firsts from the Nuggets, Sixers and Lakers.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks will have a crazy amount of cap room in July and, like the Rockets, are going after Howard and Chris Paul, but more than one team is going to fall short in that pursuit. If they lose out (and especially if they let Josh Smith walk), they could very well be interested in a power forward prospect like Robinson. While it’s not likely the Hawks would consider this until they are out of the free agent sweepstakes, the unguaranteed contract of DeShawn Stevenson ($2.25 million) could be a key piece in getting a deal done in June if they so choose. Atlanta owns both of the Rockets’ draft picks this year (#18 and #50) and also has draft pick swap rights the next two years with Brooklyn.