The real shame of this Houston Rockets season is that we haven’t really seen them at full strength.
Since the Rockets scrapped the Twin Towers experiment and went with Terrence Jones as the starter on November 13th, there have only been two games where the team’s seven best players — Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Jones, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik — have all played.
As a result, the bench has suffered. It will improve once health is restored, but the Rockets are getting inconsistent contributions from others and need a roster spot or two for the flexibility to add players they think have a better chance of making the rotation.
The key may be Ronnie Brewer.
Brewer’s contract becomes guaranteed on January 10. If the Rockets do not waive Ronnie Brewer by 5:00pm today to allow him to pass through waivers before January 10, his $1.2 million contract becomes fully guaranteed.
As a player, Brewer has not been in the rotation and has gotten very little run here in Houston. Unless the Rockets want to keep his expiring contract going into next month’s trade deadline, it’s unlikely they want to lock him in.
They may waive Brewer to open up a spot. The Rockets did the same at this time last season when they waived Scott Machado to sign a guy by the name of Beverley, who not only made the rotation but became a starter. But given Brewer’s non-guaranteed contract status, the Rockets can still trade Brewer (at a cap value of $1.2 million) and give the receiving team pure savings since they could waive him and pay him nothing.
As a result, the Rockets are likely exhausting all trade options at the moment.
A good example of a beneficial trade would be one with the Chicago Bulls. They have been on my mind the last week because they were set to pay the luxury tax, but they are now just under the tax line after trading Luol Deng to the Cavaliers last night. However, the speculation is they want to create additional cap room for this summer to pursue Carmelo Anthony. The Bulls also have just 12 players on their roster and must get to a league-mandated minimum of 13 players — meaning they will likely need to make another trade to shed enough salary to remain below the tax threshold before the February trade deadline. The Rockets pursued Mike Dunleavy in the offseason and his two-year, $6.5 million deal expires by 2015. Trading Brewer and Greg Smith to the Bulls for Dunleavy nets the Bulls over $3 million in cap room and gets the Rockets a shooter off the bench. While this is strictly a hypothetical, I would be surprised if the Rockets did not inquire about Dunleavy in a scenario similar to this one.
The Los Angeles Lakers are another team plagued by an injury to their star and stuck over the luxury tax for a terrible product. A similar trade package for a backup center like Chris Kaman would save the Lakers over $5 million in salary and taxes alone.
While those are just ideas, they are likely the kinds of moves the Rockets are shopping for before having to make a decision on Brewer later today.