It has been well documented that Daryl Morey is expecting an uneventful trade deadline, in fact he has said "You stay opportunistic. But I would guess that this trade deadline is going to be quiet." This has caused a large percentage of the fan base to be upset with the fact that there most likely won't be a trade for a player like Josh Smith or Dwight Howard from the front office. Now, although the fan base is split about trading for such players, it is the best approach to not get rid of the team's salary flexibility and to not tap out our assets in this trade deadline just to make a move. The Rockets best approach for this season and the future is to enter the offseason with tradable assets and cap flexibility.
In this new age of the NBA with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, financial flexibility is one of the most powerful tools for a team to have. By being under the cap, teams can offer larger contracts, don't have to pay the harsh taxes imposed by the league, are allowed to do sign and trades, and have opportunities for larger MLE (Mid Level Exemption) Contracts which don't count against a team's salary cap. The Rockets have the ability to do all those things if they choose to keep their financial flexibility heading into the offseason.
This puts Daryl in a position of power and leverage when working to make deals with other teams and free agents. We all know how Daryl works and there are very few general managers better at wheeling and dealing than him, and now you give him an advantage over most of the league, that's just not fair to everybody else. With the NBA the way it is, there's no more trading for your "Big 3." Mark Cuban said it well when he told a reporter "You can draft your big three, you can trade for young's and turn them into a big three. You can do like Houston's done and hopefully you have enough cap room and have three come together, but you can't do the progressive trading like we used to, those days are gone". With that said, as far as the finances go, it is the best option for the Rockets to go into the offseason with cap flexibility.
The Rocket's most glaring team need at the moment is a power forward who can rebound and play good defense. There have been some options that have been discussed in bulk, including Millsap, Smith, Hickson, and Thompson. Now, although those players are upgrades over the beloved Patrick Patterson, they're not team changing upgrades which this team is looking for, especially given the financial repercussions of such a move. The jump from Patrick Patterson to say Jason Thompson isn't worth the long term cap hit that Daryl will take with Jason's 5 year/ 34M contract.
J.J. Hickson is a good player, but he will earn a similar contract to Jason Thompson this summer, so that, in conjunction with the fact that the Trailblazers won't give him up for nothing leads me to believe he's not a worthwhile addition. To get rid of our young expiring contracts for JJ Hickson and potentially sign Hickson to a bad contract would hinder Daryl for the future.
Josh Smith is almost certainly going into free agency as a fringe All-Star who wants a much larger contract than what teams are going to want to give him. To give up most of the assets that we have left after the Harden trade for a player who won't resign for less than the max would just be plain dumb. Paul Millsap is the interesting target for the power forward position, since he would most likely re-sign with us for a fair contract for his production, and he is a clear upgrade to Patrick Patterson. However, I don't think a deal will be done in a trade for Millsap because other teams are offering blue chip young players, so the best bet for getting Millsap to be a Rocket would be in free agency which requires cap flexibility. This shows that a trade for players such as these wouldn't be productive to the Rocket's future.
With the above paragraph said, it is not to say that I am saying that the Rockets SHOULD'NT make a trade, they just shouldn't make a trade which will hinder them for the future. Here are three trades that I like for the Rockets.
1) Acquire Rip Hamilton from The Bulls
The Bulls seem to be desperate to get under the cap since they are shopping both Boozer and Rip Hamilton in the trade market. Rip Hamilton has a 5 Million dollar expiring contract with a team option for next year which won't be picked up by the Rockets if they were to acquire him. If the Bulls were to trade Rip, that would place them under then harsh luxury tax penalties, and interesting fact the Bulls have never payed the luxury tax. By trading for Rip, the Rockets add an expiring deal who will only cost a 1 million dollar buyout for his team option next year, and he gives them a veteran presence on the bench and fills the needed backup shooting guard slot. This allows for Harden to get more rest over the season, and gives the bench an offensive boost. The 5 million expiring is the prize in acquiring Rip, especially if the Rockets were able to give up non-expiring deals for Rip, giving the Rockets more flexibility in the offseason.
2) Pau Gasol Take 2
The Lakers aren't actively shopping Pau right now, and I think it would be counterproductive for the Rockets to go after Pau at this point in time. With that said, Pau would be a very good target if the Rockets were to burn out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes this summer. Pau Gasol has a contract of 19 Million a year for this year and the next, that's a huge number for what he does for the lakers, but most importantly his effect on the lakers is with the tax. Next year when the new taxes are implemented on teams, it is estimated that Pau Gasol will cost the Lakers 60-90 million dollars just by him being on the team. They can't amnesty him since they will most likely amnesty Metta World Peace, but if recent moves are any indicator, Pau will most likely be part of a Lakers garage sale. This makes sense for the Rockets because he can still play, and he will provide needed production at the 4 and 5 in the 2013-2014 season, if he doesn't so be it he's an expiring contract which can be moved.
3) Acquire An Overlooked Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate
First, props to Thomas F for being the first one on here to mention trading for this guy. This player plays the 4 and averages 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, and shoots 40% from the arc on 31 minutes a game coming off the bench. This player is Ryan Anderson who just recently signed a 4 year / 34 million dollar contract. The cost for production is great here and he fits in to the team concept of jacking 3s and attacking the rim. Sure he's not the rebounder or defender we've all wanted, but he can flat out play, and he's improved this year after getting paid, so he's going to go out there and play hard every night. If the Rockets were to acquire Ryan Anderson, it would still allow for there to be some spending money for other good players, just not enough for a star, but it would definitely make our team better especially if we are able to fill out a good bench with the left over cash.
We should all take Morey on his word that this deadline will be a quiet one, not that we can't make a move, but that's it's smart not to.