Adrian Wojnarowski has recently broke the news that the Houston Rockets are actively shopping Thomas Robinson around the league. Thomas Robinson was acquired from the Sacremento Kings in a midseason trade sending Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, and Cole Aldrich to Sactown and Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, and Tyler Honeycutt to Houston. Initial reactions of this trade described it as a highway robbery for Houston, stealing the #5 overall pick Thomas Robinson, a super raw athletic specimen away from the Kings in exchange for scraps. A few months later and things have drastically changed, Thomas Robinson who many Rockets fans thought would be a long term solution for the power forward position is now being shopped to clear cap space for the pursuit of Dwight Howard, most likely landing him on his third team before he plays his second season. This created lots of different opinions of what his true value is and what should be done with Thomas Robinson. To find out these two things, we must first identify the truth about the situation.
Why is Thomas Robinson being moved?
Plain and simple, the Rockets need to maximize their cap room so they can offer Dwight a maximum contract and moving Thomas Robinson is the best way to do that. He is due about 3.5 million next season, so by moving him and not taking on any money, the Rockets can free 3 million (-500K for roster spot hold). This will then free up nearly enough money for Dwight Howard. That's the reason right there, not any other. He's not being moved because he's not a good player or because he doesn't fit into the Rocket's scheme. He has the athletic tools to become a force in this league, yes he's raw, but there's potential there. As well, just because he's a power forward who can't hit a corner 3 isn't the reason either. When a team has talented players which T-Rob can be, you make a scheme to fit them, you don't make them fit the scheme. When the latter happens, you get this year's Laker's season. This is purely a move based on the money, which brings me to identify who Thomas Robinson exactly is as a player.
Who is Thomas Robinson as a player?
Thomas Robinson is a super athlete, very hard worker, pretty good defender, and an excellent rebounder. He's also very raw, has very bad hands, lacks any post up moves, and can't shoot. As BD34 explained in his Report Card, the latter can be taught, physical and athletic attributes can't. He has a lot of work to go to become a force in the league. As of right now, he's not the best power forward on the ROckets, that's Terrence Jones, but 3 years from now he could be an Allstar caliber player. Do not write him off after one season and do not deny the talent that is there. With his work ethic to getting better and his unique skills, he could end up being an Amare Stoudemire or at worst a freakishly athletic Reggie Evans. He will be a good player, teams wouldn't of valued him as a top 5 pick if he wasn't. He's a work in progress and Unfortunately so, no matter how good of a player he is or could be, there are factors which lower his value in the market.
What is Thomas Robinson's value?
When a team is moving a player purely based on money, their value goes through the toilet. Other NBA teams know that they have the leverage in talks with the Rockets. Since the Rocket's first goal is to sign Dwight and not getting maximum value for Thomas Robinson, other teams will use this against the Rockets to try to pry away Thomas like the Rockets did from Sacramento. In a nutshell, the Rockets will have to move Thomas Robinson for pennies on the dollar. For an example in recent history think back to the Gerald Wallace to the Trail Blazers trade a couple years ago or the Mo Speights deal earlier this year. Both deals were teams trying to move players to cut money, and the Grizzlies and Bobcats neither got full value in return. This is what is happening with Thomas, although he is only a year removed from being the 5th overall pick and still has his whole career ahead of him, the Rockets will probably fail to get anything substantial for him. So the question is, what are the options for Thomas Robinson going forward?
What Will and Won't happen with Thomas Robinson:
Tons of ideas have been thrown out for what to do with Thomas Robinson, so for this following section I'll be analyzing what could, won't, and should happen with T-Rob.
Scenario 1: Don't Trade Thomas Robinson
I'm a proponent of not trading Thomas, but with the news about the cap being projected at about 58.5M and not 60M as I suspected, there seems to be no other option since every million matters so much more than before. The alternate option of moving Donatas and Terrence instead of Thomas isn't possible anymore since it won't free up enough space, leaving the only other ways to free up the space required is to move Lin, Asik, or Harden. None of which are going to happen. If Daryl Morey is set on going after Howard, Thomas Robinson will have to be moved, making it almost improbable that he won't be traded.
Likelihood: It Won't Happen.
Scenario 2: Trading Thomas for a 2013 first round pick
First, the Rockets don't want to take on salary this offseason and trading for a first round pick in this draft would be adding money the Rockets don't want. Second, Thomas Robinson's value as it stands now due to the Rocket's desperation most likely won't warrant a pick in the top 20 of the draft. Third, even if the Rockets were to acquire a pick in the 20s range, it would have to be used on a player who signs in writing that he won't come play in his first year. In the new CBA there is a clause that states that if a player is drafted in the first round and that if he puts in writing that he doesn't intend to play in the NBA the next season his contract will not count toward the cap. Think back to Donatas Motiejunas being drafted, that's the clause. So, if by some unlikely scenario that the Rockets do trade him for a 2013 first round pick, they would have to sign a player who will stay overseas for at least a year and put it in writing, holding off his paycheck for at least a year.
Likelihood: Very very unlikely.
Scenario 3: Trade Thomas Robinson for a 2014 first round pick
This is the probably the best scenario that could happen for the Rockets. The Rockets would acquire a pick (most likely in the 20s) in a very strong and deep draft and wouldn't be taking on any immediate money allowing for them to sign Dwight. Sadly, I don't think any other NBA team would be want to give up a pick in this draft for Thomas when they could possibly strong arm the Rockets to taking seconds instead. Plus, teams don't know where they'll be picking in 2014, so the pick would be protected. The Rockets might not see this pick for multiple years, defeating the purpose of them building to win now. As nice as this trade sounds, it probably won't happen or could backfire in the Rocket's face.
Likelihood: Very Unlikely
Scenario 4: Trade Thomas Robinson for an expiring contract
The Rockets would just be getting desperate if this trade happens. Yes they would maximize their cap space, but they wouldn't be receiving any future assets in return. Worst case scenario, this happens. It's possible too, there's no guarantee that teams will want to trade assets for Thomas Robinson, and it only takes 1 team to take advantage of a Rockets team dying to open up cap space.
What should be done with Thomas Robinson:
Scenario 5: Package Thomas Robinson, Royce White, and cash to pay for Royce's salary for a second round pick or expiring contract(s).
If the Rockets want to get rid of Royce White this year, this is their best option. First, package him with a player with some value in Thomas Robinson. Second, give the team money to pay his contract so it offsets the cost. Third, profit. And by profit I mean be very happy that another NBA team would be so kind to give you a top 50 protected pick or Dasagana Diop's expiring contract. I honestly don't think I'd be happier to see us get the next Robert Sacre for those two. That's just me though.
Scenario 6: Trade Thomas Robinson for an assortment of seconds and internationals
This is what I think will and should happen with T-Rob. The Rockets could possibly get 1-3 second round picks and the rights to an international player or two. I believe in maximizing opportunities to find impact players later in the draft and overseas, especially when they won't cost the team anything. You never know when you'll find the next Parsons, Hayes, or Budinger. This maximizes that chance. As well this gives the Rockets more youth that can be locked up for the next 4 years on cheap contracts, while keeping the cap room required to sign Dwight. There is no loser in this trade, the other team gets a player who is only a year removed from being the #5 overall pick in return for seemingly peanuts while the Rockets can lock up Dwight for 4 years and then roll the dice on finding another Chandler Parsons.
Likelihood: Most Likely
Thomas Robinson will probably be a good player in the league in the future, but he needs to be moved for the Rockets to sign Dwight. The Rockets should either try to get rid of Royce White along with him or try to get as many chances to hit a home run in upcoming drafts to have more players to build around Dwight. Although the Rockets won't be receiving face value, the possible scenarios still have their pro's.