About a two weeks ago now, I wrote that B.J. Mullens was a viable target for the Rockets if they were to buy a first round pick. It's still a possibility. We could snag him if he's there in the late 20s. But the more I think about it, the more I see Rasho Nesterovic. Or Etan Thomas. Or Birdman.
Yes, if I could have one special gift this year, it would be Birdman. Only problem with that is that Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien is going to re-sign him at all costs. Hopefully our resident boy genius, Daryl Morey, will make an even more appealing offer. I'll get my hopes up, though they'll most likely be shattered. If that's the case, I'll be re-introduced to Radiohead for about a month.
It's beginning to appear that our goal in this year's draft is to get some James White/Von Wafer insurance, and at best, find a successor to Tracy McGrady. The latter probably won't happen, so look for the former instead. Houston has had a number of shooting guards and small forwards work out, as opposed to only one center (Luke Nevill, who some say is an average Euroleaguer at best). There is still time for a Mullens workout, but I'm starting to doubt that we will be drafting a center this year, if only because the crop is so damn thin.
This means that we'll be signing a center. I don't think we are going to give up personnel for one in a trade. As previously mentioned, Rasho or Thomas would be the most realistic candidates, along with Jason Collins, Chris Wilcox and Mark Blount. Zaza Pachulia, Anderson Varejao, and Birdman come off the books as well, and each would be very attractive, but I expect their respective teams to lure them back home for a few more years.
I've actually been a Wilcox fan ever since he saved my fantasy basketball season when he got traded to Seattle a few years back, so he would work nicely in my opinion. Rasho had a decent season in Indiana, though his blocked shots dipped even further into oblivion and his rebounding was paltry. Thomas has been a solid backup to Brendan Haywood in D.C., but he missed most of this season with a torn ligament. Blount is probably the most refined offensively of the five (you could argue Wilcox instead), and Collins can take up space. Depending on what kind of center we want, and apparently we want someone with a decent jumper, I think that's the road that we're going to take.
Christmas could come early for the Rockets - as in former Temple Owls guard Dionte Christmas (bonus points for originality). We could also go with Jerel McNeal, Joe Ingles, or Micah Downs. These would all be very conservative picks, as each would be a mid to late second rounder. I'm not sure what advantage any of these guys would have over James White or Wafer in terms of making the team or having a shot at decent playing time, because White and Wafer are more experienced and athletic, and probably have even more upside.
If all else fails, or if everything works in our favor, we'll be looking at the mid to late first round for a shooting guard. In this scenario, Wafer could be leaving town, assuming he doesn't want more money. It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to pay for Artest, pay for Wafer, pay for a center, buy a first round pick, and then on top of that, pay the first round pick as well. Assuming we saw someone who we really, really liked available in the draft, the moment we bought the pick would be the moment Von Wafer would be looking for a new team. However, if we have more money than I think we do, then we could just open up the wallet and pay everyone. But it's unlikely.
Chad Ford mentioned a few days back that the highest seller in the draft could be the Detroit Pistons. Let's pretend that we somehow made a deal with the Pistons and moved up to #15. I know you don't think it's possible, but let's just pretend it happened.
Gerald Henderson, Chase Budinger, Terrence Williams, and Sam Young could all be available at fifteen, with Henderson being the least likely to fall. I do love Young, but I don't think we would reach for him at fiteen, so we'll leave him out of the scenario for now.
Henderson would fit right in with the rest of Houston's squad, as he is a great defender. But I think the Rockets should be looking for more of a scoring threat to match with our other outstanding defenders. You don't want too many of the same player types on one team. There needs to be some versatility.
Would Budinger be a good fit in Houston? From what I saw this season, and from what the scouts have said about him, I could definitely see him in a Rockets uniform. He's got range, is one of the best athletes in the draft, and can, unlike Von Wafer, rebound from the two-guard positon. Scouts say he lacks defensive intensity, but a little pep talk from Shane Battier or Ron Artest could change that. The biggest worry with Budinger is that he could end up like Joe Alexander. But I think Chase is much more refined offensively and is a much more lethal scoring threat. Alexander solely relied on athleticism in college, and it didn't translate to the NBA. Budinger has more tools to work with. He would be a best-case scenario for us were we to find a seller in the 15-22 range.
This leaves Terrence Williams, assuming he doesn't go to Golden State at number seven. Williams was one of my favorite players to watch in college, as he was a stud athlete, could rebound extremely well, and has a LeBronian knack for passing. However, once again, the Rockets may want more of a scorer from the guard position, and that aspect of the game favors Budinger. Williams isn't capable of taking a game over. He's a master facilitator, but you can't go to him down the stretch. He's also a terrible free throw shooter.
Be sure to keep checking Web sites such as DraftExpress.com and ESPN.com, as Jonathan Givony and Chad Ford are spot-on when it comes to filtering the good rumors from the bad. My thought are purely speculative for now, but I'll be sure to post anything I hear or read from Houston's front office. At this point, I think the Rockets are guaranteed to have a pick in the draft this year. Expect a second rounder, but don't be surprised if we manage to find a first round seller.
There is nothing wrong with a little dose of optimism every once in a while.