2024 Rockets trade deadline preview: 5 team goals and 10 potential targets
So, what's Rafael Stone's plan?
The NBA trade deadline is more active than it’s ever been. Fifteen years ago, only a handful of league executives were smart about constantly engaging with other teams throughout the year even if talks amounted to nothing. Now, virtually every team talks with each other and is at least open to making deals at the deadline (including the formerly-dormant San Antonio Spurs). Under former GM Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets were arguably the most active trade deadline team in NBA history and they have remained just as active under Rafael Stone.
“Phase 1” of the Rockets’ rebuild meant relatively simple objectives at the deadline: selling off “win-now” parts for financial flexibility and draft capital. “Phase 2” marks the first time we could see a change in strategy for Stone’s front office. Considering Houston’s already capped themselves out in the short-term and drafted nine first round talents the last three years, it’s unlikely we’ll see the organization in full-on seller mode. It’s also hard to see them flipping multiple picks and young players for win-now pieces like Pascal Siakam or Zach LaVine.
More likely, Houston will fall somewhere in the middle of these approaches. The front office has to keep a relatively long-view of things while not jeopardizing how competitive the team has been. That’s a tough balancing act, but it can be done. You first have to start by outlining firm goals.
1. Flipping Victor Oladipo’s expiring salary
When Houston opted to trade Kevin Porter Jr. instead of waiving him outright after his domestic violence allegation, it was a clear signal that the organization wanted to replace Porter’s salary on their books, not remove it. Trading for Victor Oladipo’s expiring salary meant two things:
The Rockets want to be an over-the-cap team this summer so they can use their mid-level exception.
The Rockets intend to flip Oladipo at the deadline for a player with two or more years remaining on his contract.
You don’t trade two second round picks unless you’re semi-confident you will find something appetizing at the deadline to trade for. It’s unlikely Houston has a specific player in mind, but I would anticipate Houston packages Oladipo with other assets to for someone of real value.
2. Exploring Jae’Sean Tate’s market
I would not blame the Rockets for sitting on Tate for another year. He’s a good player on a a cheap contract that’s not expiring. There’s no obvious rush to flip him, but there’s a plenty of incentive to at least explore his market value. For example, there may be an appetizing deal out there that involves aggregating Tate’s salary with Oladipo’s to get a sizable contract back (or a better player).
Or Houston could have preliminary talks with teams and those conversations help them work out a deal this summer or next trade deadline. The point is, it doesn’t hurt to see what’s out there for Tate.
3. Moving Jock Landale’s dead salary
Jock Landale was a decent backup center for the first two years of his career. For the Rockets though, Landale has easily been Houston’s most underwhelming offseason signing. Defensively, he’s been kind of what he’s always been, but offensively, Landale has been atrocious at the rim and from three-point range (where he’s attempting 3.6 per 36 minutes).
The Rockets gave themselves plenty of flexibility to get out of his contract whenever they want, but each day he suits up for the team is essentially money out the door. It’s not really a big deal in the short-term, but in the long-term, Houston may want a contract for this salary spot with more positive trade value. His deal can also be aggregated with Tate and Oladipo which could potentially net Houston over $23 million in salary back.
Assets would have to be attached, but that’s starter-level money right off the bat.
4. Exploring the question: Does Houston want to be in the 2024 draft?
Per ESPN’s BPI projections, the Houston Rockets look primed to receive a lottery pick from the Brooklyn Nets this year, courtesy of the James Harden trade from two years ago. In a normal year, the possibility of making the playoffs while still having a lottery pick is an incredibly exciting prospect. It still might be, but scouts and analysts have the 2024 draft class pegged to be possibly the weakest lottery of the past decade.
So the Rockets have to ask themselves: Is it worth adding another lottery talent to the roster when someone like Cam Whitmore was struggling to crack the main rotation?
The alternative is packaging the 2024 pick with contracts like Landale, Oladipo, and Tate for a serious player that could conceivably fit into Houston’s core long-term. While that may be a tough player to find, it may be more achievable than maximizing the value of another potential lottery talent.
5. Do the Rockets want to trade away one of their six first round talents?
Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith, Tari Eason, Amen Thompson, and Cam Whitmore currently make up Houston’s pool of young players. Of the six, it’s safe to say Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith, Tari Eason, and Cam Whitmore have lived up to their billing the most. Amen Thompson has obvious athletic tools, but the lack of shooting has held him back from being a true positive rotation player this year. With that said, Thompson’s still just a rookie and the Rockets have plenty of time before having to make a tough financial decision.
Jalen Green is a different story though.
Relative to other 21-year-old guards in the NBA, Green hasn’t been horrible, but he’s clearly a step behind at least Sengun, Smith, and Eason. If Green wasn’t a third year player up for extension this summer, this wouldn’t be a thought. It’s become one now that a possible replacement has emerged in the form of Cam Whitmore. While I don’t expect Houston to deal Green before the February deadline, I’d say it’s fair to call it a low probability outcome now.