Every year at the trade deadline, Daryl Morey struts into the fray with a full chamber of assets at his disposal and with nothing less than NBA supremacy at stake. It's an arms race every season, and the last-minute action seems to get faster and more furious every year.
But make no mistake about it: Morey packs heat at the trade deadline and isn't afraid to use it. Morey has had no qualms about shipping fan favorites Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, numerous other fringe players and a plethora of draft picks during deadlines past to varying degrees of success. In fact, Morey has made a deadline deal every season since he signed on as Rockets GM.
This year was no different, with Morey shipping off three second-round draft picks and two young guards with potential in Alexey Shved and Isaiah Canaan. And while the quality of the returns in Pablo Prigioni and K.J. McDaniels are certainly debatable (I happen to think higher of Prigioni than most; this team could use another veteran presence), this year's trade deadline will end up being more notable for the bullets Morey saved for later than the ones that he used.
Take first, the one valuable piece fans and pundits thought the Rockets were most likely to move in power forward Terrence Jones. Jones has been battling injuries all season long, and with the emergence of Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith finally getting his mojo back, many thought of Jones as expendable. Yet he's still valuable enough to get something useful in return. Possibly even point guard upgrades Goran Dragic or Ty Lawson if the other moving parts were right.
However, with Dwight Howard's health very much in doubt, a lack of extensive big man depth, Jones' low cap figure ($2.5 million this year and $3.5 million this year) and a contract that becomes an expiring one next season, Morey made the smart move keeping this one in the holster.
Jones' value has never been lower. Since returning from injury, the Rockets have been careful with his minutes, and though he's flashed, it's clear he's not yet in full game shape. If Morey wishes to move Jones, his value skyrockets moving into next season.
Morey also managed to hang on to another one of his best young assets in Motiejunas. D-Mo's development and growing value to the team has been covered here in recent days, but one train of thought again had Morey willing to move a young, inexpensive and talented power forward for help at the point guard position.
Morey wisely kept his trigger finger in check, and the Rockets can ride out the remainder of Motiejunas' contract, which includes an incredibly cap friendly team option of $2.2 million next year, which the Rockets will surely exercise. Coincidentally, that also makes Donuts' contract expiring in 2016, and similar to Jones, drives up his potential trade market value next season.
Our trusty gun-slinging GM also managed to save himself a silver bullet in the form of a protected 2015 first-round pick acquired from the Pelicans, opening up a variety of options in the offseason. With the 2015 draft projecting to be relatively weak at the top, a possible scenario could see Morey trading out of the 2015 draft altogether and stockpiling additional picks in the 2016 draft.
The following players are potential free agents in 2016: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Jamal Crawford, Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki, Andre Drummond and Ryan Anderson. And while they certainly won't all be attainable, Morey will want as much firepower available as possible in case their respective teams decide to shop them rather than potentially lose them. Multiple first-round picks, an expiring contract or two and some young talent is certainly a recipe for an upgrade.
Rockets fans waited through this year's deadline with bated breath, only to be somewhat let down by an underwhelming move that advanced this year's squad only incrementally.
However, with Morey's prudence in keeping future stockpiles while still seriously competing for a title this season, combined with high-level roster flexibility and a massive crop of potential upcoming free agents, there'll only be one thing left to say to rival GMs when Morey swaggers into the next two seasons with his full ammo belt intact: "Do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk?"