I'm truly enjoying this nba season. Horrible officiating, bad random injuries, constant discussion of Linsanity and all, its been a blast so far. With that said, the best part of being a fan of any sport (at least for me) is trying to predict what will come next; how long will it take for my team to contend, what player should they draft, and, more relevantly, what pieces should we attempt to acquire via trade. As a true, um, blue Rockets fan, I'm going to take a look at the trade deadline, teams and their motivations, and what the Rockets could look to do (after the jump).
As all NBA fans know, each NBA franchise has a life cycle. I'll look at all phases and give examples:
The Tanking Team: Ex. New Orleans, Charlotte
These teams are designed to be terrible. They are characterized by trading away their veteran pieces for pennies on the dollar and stockpiling draft picks and inexpensive talent. Some teams never fully tank (Houston) or do so unexpectedly (Cleveland). The ones that do so willingly are the scariest (Charlotte) because ownership could decide they enjoy saving money and continually roll out bad teams.
In trades these teams want to trade salary for draft picks.
Next you have the "rebuilding" team Ex. Sacramento, Washington
These teams basically follow 2 archetypes, OKC and Chicago. The OKC model is to get rich in young talent, hope that talent is good enough and driven enough to succeed, and lock that young talent up early and for as long as possible. This approach has tons of risks associated with it. You can gather talent that doesn't fit, cornerstone pieces that are immature/lack drive, and/or players that don't buy into the team concept (Sacramento). The Chicago model is take a middling team with some decent talent and have a tank season or land a top draft pick via trade. This model is a bit harder to pull off but if done successfully (you have to get really bad or really lucky in a good draft year) it is a great formula.
In the trade market these teams are generally opportunistic. They are always looking to up sell or shed unwanted salary. These teams are normally in the 10-13 range in the playoff hunt and are wildly inconsistent.
Next you have "The Pack.". Ex. Minnesota, Philadelphia
The majority of teams live in this world. These are the 6-10 seeds in either conference. These teams may have a star or 2, they are generally coached reasonably well, and they generally don't have much cap room. This is the hardest area to clear and most teams won't.
The motivation for these teams are all over the place. Cutting salary, acquiring pieces, filling specific needs, etc. Most of these teams are looking for a specific type of player to fill a specific need (Minnesota shopping for a 2 guard).
The Contenders. Ex. The Lakers, Dallas
Teams that are good enough to win it all but need to catch a break or get hot at the right time. Generally these are veteran squads that are the model of consistency. Teams in this area can be the Fool's Gold of NBA franchises because holding these groups together a year or 2 too long can doom a franchise. Boston is dealing with that right now, the Lakers are trying to figure out how to avoid that, and Dallas broke up a championship team to avoid that. Generally your 3-5 seeds.
These teams are motivated by weighing the promise of today with the imminent destruction of tomorrow. They look to buy top talent for the cheap or they look to sell off top talent for quality players with promise. They can also start the salary dump process but will only do so with a specific player or outcome in mind.
The Elite. Ex. OKC, Chicago
Super talented, well coached, minimal roster holes, and good front offices. They normally have at least one transcendent talent and a few signature wins under their belts. Your 1 and 2 seeds.
These teams don't want to mess with their chemistry so they don't make a ton of deals unless it's an up sell.
The "Over the Hills" Ex. Boston, Phoenix
You kept a contending or elite roster together too long or your pack team's leader got the injury bug and you didn't tank. Your elite players are no longer playing at elite level but are still making elite money. You have to decide whether you want to under sell the franchise guys and alienate your fanbase or losing (but not enough for a high lottery pick).
Generally these teams are sellers. They shed salary and try to get young talent. These are teams that are associated with the words "expiring contracts" the most.
I go into all that because it's important to know where a team stands before discussing their possible trade targets.
The Rockets are probably at the upper tier of the Pack or lower tier of the Contenders. They SERIOUSLY need a big post presence and an upgrade at the 3. If they do this I think they can make some serious noise.
Players we should target and why: Paul Pierce. Flipping around on sb I noticed a deal proposed on the Celtics site that was similar to something I put out on The Dream Shake page. The 09'ers a pick and Chase for Pierce. Most Rockets guys weren't big fans because either "he sucks" or they won't trade him. The Celtic fans (who were surprisingly well informed) generally liked the trade and wanted to start the rebuild. Pierce is a solid player on both ends of the floor. He brings experience to a team that will need it down the stretch. Boston is firmly in the "over the hill" land of development and should be looking to sell talent to the highest bidder.
Al Jefferson: Utah (somewhere in the Rebuilding and Pack lands) is a tough team to figure out. They have no offensive balance, have high picks invested in post players that don't get a ton of run because they have expensive, quality veteran bigs in front of them, and an interesting veteran/youth mix. Houston is chalk full of good perimeter players but lack a go to post player (Scola is not a go to guy). I'd love to say that I'm sure what the Jazz are thinking about their current roster but I don't.
A sidenote: We could obtain both guys for very reasonable prices
Al Jefferson for Thabeet, Williams, and Dragic (Improvement at the point for Utah and they can shed all that salary in the off season)
Pierce for Scola, Flynn, and Hill (You'd have to probably throw in a first and/or Bud here but with this move the Celtics would drop about 7 mil in salary and a legitimate post player for life after KG. Houston gets a higher profile player that can contribute at a high level).
(You could throw Bud and a first pick in either to make the deal work. These moves would give Houston a RIDICULOUS amount of cap room in 2 years).
Andrew Bogut: Milwaukee (firmly in the Pack) might be on the verge of blowing it up and Bogut is a legitimate post presence. Houston would have to take on relatively long term contract and he's brittle so I'd proceed with caution.
Andris Biedrins and Golden State's (another Pack team) first: This gives Houston some reasonably quality center depth and a lottery pick for taking Biedrins contract out of Golden State.
Ideally, a Rockets lineup of Lowry, Martin, Pierce, Jefferson, and Dalembert (with Lee, Patterson, Parsons, Morris and Smith off the bench) would be GREAT and could match up well against any team in the West. I know I'm being a homer but those moves are at least considerable (unlike getting Howard or Gasol) and these teams may be motivated to make the deals (both teams may be looking to shed salary). One thing for sure, Houston is positioned to make good significant moves to make a run this year (without blowing up the core of Martin and Lowry (and yes Martin is a core piece, how many 2 guards in the league are better?) ) or sacrificing too much value depth.