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5 trade deadline deals for the Houston Rockets
With Bleacher Report's Dan Favale
December 15th has passed, which means the NBA’s trade season has finally arrived.
As we get closer to the February trade deadline, rumors have already started swirling about potential deals around the Association. After writing last week about Houston needing to complete a consolidation trade, I took it upon myself to get together with Dan Favale of Bleacher Report and pitch him some of my dumb trade ideas for the Rockets. Favale will look at all of these trades to tell me if they’re crazy, if they’re realistic, and pitch any possible changes to make them more viable.
I could’ve come up with a dozen or so fake trades for Houston, but that wouldn’t have been fair to Dan, nor would it have been time efficient. So instead, I’ve crafted five deal constructs that you could do a variation of trades with. For example, the Duncan Robinson deal could’ve involved a handful of other teams with different players coming back to Houston entirely.
Before we get into this, I’d like to ask about Rockets guard Eric Gordon, who is owed $19.6 million this year and functionally has a team option for $20.9 million next year. Houston has reportedly had “preliminary talks with roughly half a dozen teams” about Gordon, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Obviously most of the hypothetical deals we discuss today will involve him.
The Rockets are understandably holding out on trading him for anything less than a first round pick. But in your opinion, is Gordon (turns 34 on Christmas) worth a first?
Dan: No, he’s not worth a first-round pick anymore, in my opinion. He has half a year left on his contract before he’s due a salary that teams are almost assuredly going to waive, given that he’ll turn 35 next Christmas. He’s still super valuable as a floor-spacer—only a couple of players have hit more shots outside 28 feet this year—but there’s been some pull-back, to me, in the rest of his game.
With that said, the calculus changes if you’re willing to sponge up “bad” or unwanted money or include K.J. Martin. I’d guess that the Suns, for instance, would be more inclined to part with their own if the Rockets were open to swallowing Landry Shamet. I’d be surprised overall, though, if Houston gets a first-round pick without having to take on money that spills into next year. The time to make that trade was over the offseason, or during last season, or over the 2021 offseason, or during the—well, you get the point.
Tell me what you think the market value for the following players are:
(If there isn’t a market for the player, label it “no market”.)
Really good second rounder.
Top-22 protected first (not having a timeline for return is rough)
Top-45 protected second.
1. The straight up deal with Phoenix
For obvious reasons it’s very hard to come up with one-for-one deals with Phoenix. I’m sure there are “good player for good player” trades out there for Jae Crowder, but more often than not, the other team will leverage the Suns’ urgency to trade Crowder against them. And that’s why it’s almost impossible to see them escaping the trade deadline with all of their draft picks intact.
This is why I’ve tried to solve two problems with one trade here. This trade gets the Rockets the first round pick they wanted for Eric Gordon, plus an additional second rounder to compensate for KJ Martin. Bruno Fernando was thrown in there for good measure, but I understand any Rockets fan who feels it’s a tad much. But this is the skeleton of the deal. What do you think?
Not sure I have notes for this one. Including Kenyon Martin is the perfect way to nab a first for Gordon. I’m sure Phoenix might want to look at including Landry Shamet, although he’s been useful in streaks. But this feels like a win for both sides—especially for Houston, given that it could promptly turn around and get some value for Crowder.
2. The three-team deal with Phoenix
You could also call this the “Suns don’t want to give up a first” deal. The Knicks seem to be in “asset accumulation mode” as indicated by their offseason. This deal offers them an opportunity to rid themselves of Evan Fournier’s dead money and pick up a second round pick for their troubles. Houston can turn Evan Fournier into additional draft compensation next year and they roll the dice on someone like Cam Reddish instead of getting a first round talent. The Suns get Eric Gordon. Win-Win-Win?
You could also do this with other teams and recently drafted players like Marjon Beauchamp or Nikola Jovic, but the principle remains the same.
This is a home run for Phoenix and New York. Getting off Fournier without having to include a first would be huge for the Knicks, and Reddish isn’t even playing. The Suns don’t give up a first, either, and also aren’t drumming up their tax bill by too much.
I would insist on more aggregate value if the Rockets. The Knicks should have to include a second. Maybe the 2024 Detroit second is too rich, but they have another from Utah or Cleveland (more favorable) as well as Miami’s (protected for Nos. 56 to 60). If I’m Houston, I’m also trying to get a later second from Phoenix rather than the 2023 selection.
4. The “lets do Daryl a solid that’s not too solid” deal
(NOTE: The 2028 first rounder is swap rights, not a straight up pick. And 2029 would convert to 2030 if the protections kick in.)
So let’s start with the obvious: there’s a lot of stuff going on here.
All of these players would undoubtedly help the Philadelphia 76ers over the next two seasons, particularly Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, Bruno Fernando, and KJ Martin.
But there’s a heavy price baked in: a first round pick that converts seven years from now, when Joel Embiid is 35 and James Harden is 40. Philadelphia gets some protection from the worst possible outcomes, but they could still end up forfeiting a lottery pick to Houston. And the 2028 first round pick swap is no less risky, this time with less protection. This would also be the last significant trade that the 76ers are likely to make in the Embiid/Harden era. Is it worth it?
It’s also risky on Houston’s end. They’re giving up Gordon, Tate, and Martin for a lot of uncertain value. On the high end, this could net them three good picks but on the low end, it could be two mediocre picks.
This one is interesting. On the one hand, you’re opening up a lot more flexibility for the Sixers under this year’s hard cap and just generally leading into the summer. On the other hand, Tobias Harris has quietly been thermonuclear for most of this year in Philly. Given how low-volume P.J. Tucker has been on offense, even for him, I might be reluctant to forfeit Harris-at-the-4 lineups.
In the end, I think the Sixers say no. Giving up a swap and outright, albeit protected, first so far off into the distance without acquiring a bigger name or a less transient return feels too steep. They’re better off riding out Harris’ contract or seeing whether they can use it as an expiring-salary anchor in a glitzier deal over the summer.
4. The boring Miami trade
A variation of this trade has been bandied about for nearly a year. It’s a very boring trade that happens at almost every deadline. With that said, the simplicity is what makes it the most likely deal structure on this list. Houston eats nearly $50 million in guaranteed salary over the next three years in exchange for a first round pick. Miami dumps Robinson for an upgrade at the position. Gordon is quite a bit older than Robinson, which is why a second round pick is headed back to Miami as a sweetener.
You could also do a version of this deal where the Heat get KJ Martin instead of a second round pick, but Houston gets a first round pick farther into the future as a tradeoff (or Nikola Jovic as a sweetener). There’s so many basic things you could do here to make the trade fair which is why I tend to believe Miami is Houston’s most likely trade partner outside of Phoenix.
The Heat should 100 percent do this. Gordon gives them a dab of half-court rim pressure, invaluable spacing and enough Kyle Lowry-center of gravity to defend up in would-be-lethal smaller lineups. Getting off the final three years (after this one) of Robinson’s deal is also big time, particularly with Max Strus coming up on a new deal.
I’m not sure one first-round pick is enough to ingest Robinson, if I’m the Rockets. The fact that it’s unprotected, though, is tantalizing. Miami has been anything but a certifiable juggernaut this year. Houston should push for Nikola Jovic, just to have the prospect equity. More realistically, I’d try to get Miami to include seconds (starting in 2028 or later) and maaaybe Gabe Vincent, who is currently out of the rotation but super interesting.
5. Let’s get crazy
This is the most unlikely trade on the board. It may cause some of you to report me to the local authorities. But I just can’t get the picture of Lonzo Ball playing next to Jalen Green for the next four to five years out of my head. Ball is exactly the kind of player the Rockets should be looking for in a long-term point guard. In addition to being a very strong defender and passer, he’s become a reliable three-point shooter after a rough first two years in the league. It’s a risky play as Ball has a player option in 2025.
If you want to throw in another sweetener from Houston’s side, you can. I hesitated to do so considering the injury and flight risk that Ball carries.
It’s the kind of move Chicago only makes if they’re in the process of blowing up the roster. And that’s why it’s probably something that’s more realistic in the offseason after the Bulls can see their guys play together one more time. The Rockets can also ask through backchannels if Ball would be willing to extend upon arrival in Houston. To be honest, I’m not sure if I 100% believe this deal could happen, but I wanted to be the first to pitch it.
Let’s bring Lonzo to Houston.
Ohhhhhhh, I love the overarching idea. This might be a top-of-the-line offer for Lonzo Ball at this point. No one seems to know what’s going on with his knee. It mostly feels like a salary dump for Chicago, unless the Bulls think Gordon resurrects their season—which, maybe! But the fliers on Martin and that Brooklyn pick also matter.
I’d do it for both sides, mostly because I think the Bulls should be starting over anyway. The Rockets have the assets necessary to stomach a potential loss here, and they’re not giving up any primetime picks or prospects to roll the dice. If and when Lonzo gets healthy, he immediately juices up the defense, spacing and connective passing.
Any closing thoughts on how I went about this or how you believe Houston should approach the trade deadline more broadly?
Love your approach to the Rockets deadline.
Generally speaking, they should be looking to consolidate without doing anything seismic. But they also have the asset and timeline flexibility to take some chances—deals like the Lonzo package that profile as sell now yet theoretically grade out as buys in the aggregate. I also like that you seem open to exploring deals beyond just Eric Gordon and K.J. Martin. Tate being injured complicates his value, but I don’t know that he’s 100 percent part of the next best iteration of Rockets basketball following the arrival of Tari Eason and Jabari Smith Jr.
To that end, I’d go one step further and explore the markets for Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba. If there’s a chance to sell medium, I might consider it. Or one of them might be a sweetener that helps bag Lonzo.