Rockets trade deadline primer

Feb 1, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) walks off the court after the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Rockets trade deadline primer

With the Rockets firmly at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, they should be sellers as the trade deadline approaches on Feb. 9 at 2 p.m., but that doesn’t mean they will be. Rafael Stone has been busy before both deadlines as Rockets general manager, and in a seller’s market he has players who should be in demand. Here’s an idea of what to watch for over the next week.

Eric Gordon

Gordon has seemingly spent his entire career in trade talks, and this week will be no different. He was hurt at the deadline two years ago, and the Rockets held onto him last season, but this season could be the year he finally gets moved.

There appeared to be momentum toward trading Gordon to Philadelphia before the draft, but that trade never materialized, and the Rockets have had conversations with other teams since. They value Gordon’s professionalism and the example he sets for the 19, 20, and 21-year-olds on the roster, so the question becomes does Gordon’s value on the roster outweigh the return you could get for him in a trade. So far, the answer has been no.

Gordon’s contract also plays a role in how the Rockets will approach moving him. His $21 million contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but that number is more than fair, giving the team options. They can trade him now, but if they don’t get an offer they like, the Rockets can kick the can down the road and move him this summer or at this time next year. They could also give him a contract extension, but the one thing they will not do under any circumstance is offer him a buyout.

One wild card when it comes to the decision of whether to trade Gordon is the Rockets’ likely pursuit of James Harden after the season. Harden and Gordon have a relationship that goes back to when they were in high school, and they remain close today. If Gordon isn’t traded, the Rockets could look to extend his contract as a way to lure Harden back to Houston.

I’d say the odds are against the Rockets trading Gordon, but if they did, here are three completely random proposals that could get a deal done:

Grizzlies get: Eric Gordon

Rockets get: Danny Green, Jake LaRavia, Killian Tillie

Green is nearing a return after tearing his ACL last postseason, but he won’t have near the impact on the floor Gordon would have for a Memphis team that could win a championship this season. The Rockets don’t get a pick back in this scenario, though LaRavia was taken with the 19th pick of last year’s draft. He’s 6-foot-8 with some versatility, but he hasn’t been much of a factor for the Grizzlies since Jaren Jackson Jr’s return. One issue with trading for LaRavia is he would only add to the Rockets frontcourt log jam.

Heat get: Eric Gordon

Rockets get: Duncan Robinson, Nikola Jovic, unprotected 2027 first round pick

Jovic is a guy the Rockets worked out and liked a lot during the pre-draft process. He’s a very skilled offensive player who doesn’t turn 20 until June. The 2027 first-round pick is Miami’s tax to get the Rockets to take on the three-year, $57 million left on Robinson’s contract. This is a lot for Miami to give up, but the Heat will always be in win-now mode as long as Pat Riley is in charge.

Suns get: Eric Gordon, Bruno Fernando

Rockets get: Landry Shamet, Dario Saric, Unprotected 2023 first round pick

The Rockets aren’t averse to taking on salary past this season, and Shamet only has one more, so there shouldn’t be any reason they wouldn’t be willing to do so now, though I’m not sure Shamet is the type of player they’d want to add in that scenario. The Rockets could opt to take Jae Crowder if Phoenix is unable to find him another home instead of either Shamet or Saric and then look to flip him to another team or buy him out after the deadline. There are also plenty of three-team trades the Rockets and Suns could cook up.

K.J. Martin

Martin has been the subject of rumors ever since he requested a trade over the summer after his dad criticized the organization on a podcast, but the Rockets have shown no inclination to move the versatile 22-year-old. That doesn’t mean they won’t listen to offers; it will just take a significant one to get a deal done.

Because he was drafted 52nd overall in 2020, there’s been a feeling around the league that the Rockets would be willing to part with Martin for another second-round pick, or maybe two, but that’s far from the case. He would be taken in the first round of any redraft, and there’s an argument to be made he’d be picked inside the lottery. Had it played out that way, the Rockets would be getting ready to offer him a rookie extension before the start of next season, and no one would even be thinking about a trade.

Martin’s $1.7 million salary makes him very easy to deal, but it limits the return you can get. Since they are over the salary cap, the Rockets would have to match salaries in a 1-for-1 trade, so the return would pretty much be narrowed to draft picks. One option the Rockets have would be to attach Martin to a larger contract, like Gordon. Here is one random proposal I came up with:

Lakers get: Eric Gordon, K.J. Martin

Rockets get: Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV, Unprotected first round picks in 2027 and 2029

The Lakers get two players that help them right away and for seasons to come, while the Rockets add two picks that could be incredibly valuable down the road, along with Beverley, who would be good to have in a mentorship role the rest of this season and in the future if the Rockets were to re-sign him this summer. I find it hard to believe the Lakers would be willing to cash in their only trade chips for this package, but I do think this is the type of return Houston would want if they were to part with Martin.

The Rockets have a $1.9 million option on him for next season. He’d be a restricted free agent this summer if they decline the option and an unrestricted free agent next summer if they exercise it.

Three parting thoughts

•The Rockets have reportedly kicked the tires on adding Hawks forward John Collins, and while I don’t think it’s a bad idea, it doesn’t feel like a move they’d make now. It seems like more of a “let’s wait and see what happens with the lottery and in free agency” sort of move.

•It doesn’t necessarily need to be done through a trade, but the Rockets need to find a way to add a point guard to the roster at some point over the next week. Kevin Porter Jr. missed his 10th straight game on Wednesday and doesn’t appear to be close to returning, and the options behind him are thin. Daishen Nix has strung together back-to-back solid games as a starter, though it still feels like the Rockets could use another option aside from him, Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, and occasionally TyTy Washington. The team has gotten nothing out of their two players on two-way contracts, Trevor Hudgins and Darius Days, so it could move on from one of them to add a player who can help a little in the present.

•The Rockets might not be active at the deadline but expect them to make a lot of noise this summer. They will be armed with lots and lots of cap space, and they’ll be motivated to use it. Houston is going to finish with one of the NBA’s worst records for a third straight year, but progress has to be made next season, and it can’t just be marginal. The bills on the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul trade are due, so the Rockets’ 2024 first round pick goes to the Thunder unless it falls in the top four. Winning 28 games and finishing with the league’s seventh or eighth-worst record simply won’t do.

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