The Rockets had their first quiet trade deadline in a decade, and it’s no wonder why: they’re off to their best start in franchise history, and, at 40-13, are just a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA.
But dealing in the NBA is never over, and there will be lots of veteran free agents available after their teams buy them out. The most appealing name on that list, to me and, reportedly, to Daryl Morey is Joe Johnson. He was traded to the Kings from the Jazz in the three-team Rodney Hood and George Hill trade, and Sacramento is reportedly going to buy him out. The interest is already out there.
Rockets have been, and are, very interested in Joe Johnson as a potential add, and have been working on the assumption that he’d be available one way or the other after trade deadline, per source.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) February 8, 2018
The Rockets have a ton of salary on the books — not a shocker, considering they weren’t able to offload Ryan Anderson — and can only offer a free agent a little more than $800,000, according to Rockets cap guru @BimaThug. That might be an issue, because the Oklahoma City Thunder are also likely hot on the trail for Johnson, and they have more money to offer. With no Andre Roberson, Johnson would see a ton more minutes on the Thunder than he would on the Rockets, where he’d still be behind Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker (probably) in the rotation.
There’s a lot of chatter among Rockets fans about what this team actually needs. Another ball-handler is high on that list. Johnson fills that role, as he’s been an All-Star point guard in the past for the Hawks and is comfortable running an offense in high-leverage situations, like he did for the Jazz in the playoffs last year.
Another need would be a backup center to slot in behind Clint Capela and Nene in the rotation. Tarik Black is plenty good enough for that role, unless one of Nene or Capela goes down. If that’s the case, I’m not sure anyone currently available would make much of a difference in a seven-game series against the Warriors. Those two are just too important.
The one glaring hole, to me, is someone who can shoot three-pointers that can fill Anderson’s role if he goes ice cold again. LMAM and Ariza are quite the combination, but neither of them are as lethal from deep as Ryno can be and Joe Johnson is.
An no one on the Rockets, not even Chris Paul or James Harden, has the big-shot credentials of Joe Jesus. No one in the NBA does.
He is a legend, and his presence on any playoff team is significant because of this history. If he doesn’t go to Houston, the last place I want to see him is on the Thunder or Warriors.
Johnson has a history with Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who jump-started his career in Phoenix. Lucky for the Rockets, D’Antoni has plenty of guys he can say this about (although fewer every season). Hopefully Johnson’s history with the formerly mustachioed coach will give the Rockets the edge in the buyout sweepstakes.