What the Rockets need seems pretty obvious. They need a three-point shooting play-maker, preferably one that can create his own shot in times of need, or they need several players that specifically strengthen the current weakness on the roster. Most likely the Rockets need another point guard that can play about 20 to 25 minutes a game, if not more. We all know where this is headed.
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As far as want goes, there is no doubt that Goran Dragic is at the top of the list. Kevin McHale helped two point guards break out in his first season coaching the Rockets. He tried to bring back one this summer, but Kyle Lowry ultimately chose the team that puts him first rather than wait on guys like Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony. Goran Dragic would be the other, the one that got away.
Dragic makes sense on every level for the Rockets. He's accustomed to playing with another ball dominant guard. He's shown the capability to create his own shot and take over a game. He's a relentless rim attacker that Houston loves but currently lacks. He thrives in a high-pace offense that shoots a lot of 3s. Most important of all, his current contract is manageable enough to trade without much roster turnover.
Dragic's numbers are down a little bit since the Suns brought in another point guard to vie for control of the ball, but he's shown capable of putting up all star level production for an entire season. With the Rockets' offense specifically lacking in good ball handlers, an offensive star level talent may just be the final piece they need to complete a championship caliber team.
However, the Suns are not going to trade Goran Dragic without plentiful returns. The Suns themselves are in the treacherous Western Conference playoff race, and Dragic is their best bet at trading for a major piece that elevates them into the Western elites. Even if they cannot find that ever-mythical complementary star, Goran Dragic's market might just be high enough to draw better suitor than the Rockets.
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The good thing about Phoenix is that Goran Dragic isn't the only point guard they got. Zach Lowe briefly mentioned in his Western Conference power rankings that Isaiah Thomas might also be available. The diminutive former Mr. Irrelevant is one of the most puzzling signings of the off season, not just for the player, but also the team and the salary. The 25-year-old guard signed a four-year, annually decreasing deal worth $28 million with the Suns, which, in hindsight, is a bargain price for a very capable point guard.
In only about 24 minutes a game, Isaiah Thomas managed to have just as many assist opportunities per game as Dragic this season with about 8 a game, and he managed to be slightly more effective creating about 19 points via assist per 48 minutes. Thomas is also a career 36 percent 3 point shooter, which would be a godsend on this current Rockets team.
He no doubt trends more toward a gunner than a play-maker, but he has made some big strides as a play-maker last season, specifically at attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line. He also played with Demarcus Cousins, which makes him one of the few players in the NBA that actually has experience playing with a center that demands the ball. He has been an above-average player every single year, and he has been eerily consistent year to year, although not so much game to game.
The Rockets would not have to break up the great defensive starting line up they've constructed around Harden with Beverley, Ariza, and Howard, because Isaiah Thomas is just as good as off the bench as he is starting. The contract length might be a little prohibitive, but as far as options go, Thomas is not a bad one.
The Denver Market
The Rockets can also go after higher priced players or multiple players, provided if they are available. The current roster is purposefully stocked with moving parts. Both Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved can be moved again by the February deadline. Kostas Papanikolaou and Jason Terry both have trade-friendly contracts. Between the four of them, there's about $16 million of salary that can be moved around and fairly easy to liquidate in the off season. Along with the guaranteed lottery-ish pick acquired from the Omer Asik deal, some extra 2nd round picks, and some intriguing international draft prospects(shout out to Marko Todorovic having a mini breakout season), Rocket can still present an intriguing trade package.
Denver is a team to watch in the coming month. With Danilo Gallinari's future uncertain and Kennith Faried's unexpected drop in production after his extension, the team is very quickly coming up to a organizational crossroads. What that means for guys like Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler can be drastically different, dependent on the direction they decide to make.
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Arron Afflalo/Timofey Mozgov
Arron Afflalo isn't exactly a playmaker, but he is a very capable shooter and scorer, shooting 39 percent from 3 in his career. He would effectively render Jason Terry obsolete, since he's basically an 8 years younger version of Terry. He can be someone that handles the offense for a short period of time, and someone you can play next to Patrick Beverley comfortably without the offense coming to a screeching halt. For a team that get almost no bench points, and need some hierarchy off the bench, Affalo would be the offensive punch off the bench that the Rockets need.
One thing I haven't mention in the need section is size, mainly because Shved, Brewer and Smith added a lot of length to the team. However, since Clint Capela is still far from ready to contribute, the Rocket's front court overall is one of the shorter front courts in the NBA. Josh Smith and Dwight Howard proved to be capable shot blockers despite being under 7 foot, but teams like Portland, San Antonio, and Memphis are still going to be tough to handle upfront.
Timofey Mozgov would not be a bad addition packaged with Afflalo. Mozgov is 7'1 and has evolved into a strong pick and roll defender under Brian Shaw. He brings a little more sure-handedness on the rebounding front and he brings a dimension of the game that none of our current big man brings: free throw shooting. Given that both Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are horrible free throw shooters, and D-Mo and Jones are not really much better, a solid free-throw shooting big can be a key strategic piece for the Rockets.
It's a little costly for what would essentially be a third center, and Mozgov may not be very receptive to a limited role after finally earning a starting job, but it could end up being a very useful and maybe critical move.
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The really outlandish scenario would be if Denver is willing to part with Ty Lawson. Lawson's numbers are down this season dealing with various ailments, but when he's healthy, he's a top 10 PG candidate. He's quietly one of the best passers in the NBA, leads the league in assist opportunities with 21 a game, and trails only behind Rondo and Wall in points created by assist per 48 minute with 31.4 points per 48 minutes.
He's quick as hell and has always been an efficient shooter on the floor. He thrived in George Karl's uptempo offense, and he is used to carving out spacing playing with non-shooting bigs like Faried and Kosta Koufus. The team will suffer on defense because Lawson is undersized, but with the back line defense and Harden's improvement, the offensive gain will probably outweigh the defensive loss. A player of his caliber, I think the Rockets would be willing to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Denver to get him. Whether it will be enough is anyone's guess, but it never hurts to ask.
It's a little early to talk about blockbuster trades with the trade deadline still two months away, so a lot of this conjecture will probably be wrong in just a couple of weeks. New possibilities may also pop up. I never discuss scenarios with Eastern Conference teams, but several teams there are probably already in a seller's state of mind.
I'd like to add that I'm almost always wrong on Morey trades or draft picks, so none of what you read are in any way prophetic. Feel free to share your idea of what Morey's final move will be if we're going for the chip this year.