Patrick Creighton: Not likely any tricks up Morey’s sleeve
The Houston Rockets are currently 35-13, good enough for both the second best record in the Western Conference and the NBA. Led by their pair of superstar guards James Harden and Chris Paul, the team has been able to take next step in the regular season and has shown they can play with the champs, the Golden State Warriors.
It’s a very good team and I hope you like it, because they won’t be making any major roster moves at the deadline.
Feb. 8 is fast approaching. Rockets GM Daryl Morey usually has a few tricks up his sleeve, and we know he loves to wheel and deal.
Barring one of the greatest displays of Morey Magic that he can even think up, let alone actualize, the Rockets are going to be standing pat at the deadline, and whatever moves they might make will be minor.
The Rockets have no cap space, and they are over the tax threshold. They don’t really have tradeable commodities on their roster that aren’t considered key rotational pieces. Trading an Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, or Clint Capela creates a new hole to fill on the team, and none of those guys are making particularly large money (Gordon $13M this year, $13.5M in '18, $14M in '19, Ariza $ 7.5 this year then UFA, Capela $2.3M this year then RFA). They don’t have a first round pick they can deal this year (dealt in the Chris Paul trade).
So while you see other teams making headlines as the Detroit Pistons did Monday by acquiring Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers, understand the Rockets made their moves in the offseason in acquiring Paul & Luc Mbah a Moute, and they are going to battle with the guys they have.
Essentially the only position they need help is at the 4/5, where a big man who can bang and play defense against more physical players would be beneficial, as Joel Blank speculated on yesterday. Capela has shown he can rebound and protect the rim, but he still gets pushed around some by the larger, more physical guys in the league. Nene is always an injury waiting to happen and can’t realistically give more than 15 mins on a consistent basis, and Tarik Black just isn’t a good enough player to go against the better PF & C in the league steadily, especially in the playoffs.
With limited bullets for a trade and no first round pick, even a GM as creative as Daryl Morey will find it extremely challenging to make any kind of move with substance. Their best bet may be to target a player like Knicks C Kyle O’Quinn, a junkyard dog style player who is tough defensively, rebounds well and is efficient with his limited offensive game. He could be a defensive presence for the team against larger, more physical bigs. Of equal importance is he has an affordable contract at $4.25M and he is a free agent at the end of the season, which means no long term commitment for the Rockets and a low asking price as he is a straight rental player.
The Rockets wanted that third star to go with Harden and Paul, and thankfully they didn’t pull the trigger on Carmelo Anthony. The right fit for them wasn’t available this past offseason. By not making a significant deal this year, they keep their assets for the offseason, when they will need them to try to unload Ryan Anderson’s contract. Without losing Anderson’s deal (with two more years at $42M total) there is no chase for a Big 3, so trading him is job 1 this offseason. They will need every asset they have to pull that off.
For this year, however, what you see is what you’re likely going to get. It will have to be good enough, because help isn’t on the way.