After the busiest NBA Trade Deadline in NBA history, the Houston Rockets made their move right before the buzzer to an underwhelming response.
Before I delve more into my opinion, I want to throw this out there.
The Rockets lost the Oladipo trade.
They took a risk in January by acquiring him, and the risk didn’t pay off. However, the game of an NBA general manager is simply that — a game of chances.
Every acquisition you make is a risk in order to try and win an NBA title. But if you use that logic, then perhaps 99 percent of all acquisitions are failed risks, because only one team can win a championship at the end of the day. Using this logic, you could argue that Daryl Morey trading for James Harden was a failure because it didn’t lead to a championship. You and I both know that isn’t true.
I think most of Red Nation’s frustrations with the trade have to do with the linear comparison to the haul the Rockets got in the James Harden deal.
I don’t want to sugarcoat the linear look at this trade. It looks bad, but the James Harden trade was never about Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen or Victor Oladipo. It was always about those picks and assets that will continue to benefit the Houston Rockets into the 2027 NBA Draft.
Some of those picks will work out for the Rockets, especially down the line. Look at what happened to the Nets when they traded all of their picks to the Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. It landed them Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two All-Stars which will set their team up for a long time. Some of those picks will be high picks. I can’t imagine Durant, Harden and Irving will be together until 2027, and if they are, I can’t imagine they will be playing at the same high level they’re playing at now. Their championship window should expire before then and the Rockets will reap the benefits.
There’s also a lot of backlash as to why the team decided to acquire LeVert or Allen rather than Oladipo, but the Rockets needed to take on Oladipo to give them as much flexibility as possible.
At the time of the Harden trade, the team was just 3-6 and the front office didn’t know if this season would be a contending one or a rebuilding one. If they had a chance to put out a competitive product, they were going to do so.
GM Rafael Stone opted to go with Oladipo for his higher ceiling compared to LeVert, the awkward fit Allen would have been next to Wood as the team views both players as centers, and the ability to contend this season if the Rockets could piece it together.
Personally, I don’t find this to be a compelling argument. LeVert and Allen are pieces to sub-.500 teams and would not have made the Rockets much better than what they are. If they did make them better, that might actually be a hindrance to the Rockets as they would not have as good of a chance to retain their draft pick for this season. LeVert also has three years left on his deal, while Allen, a restricted free agent this summer, was going to get an offer that the Rockets simply couldn’t match because they could not devote that much cash to the center position after giving Christian Wood nearly $14 million per year.
The one thing that’s remained constant in the front office transition from Morey to Stone is the desire for flexibility. Being able to pivot and go in a different direction at any given point is a positive in a league that’s changing every day. Another positive to acquiring Oladipo was giving the team the ability to sign whichever player they wanted in free agency with ample cap space. They can now go acquire any free agent they wish rather than just the players within the teams of the Harden trade.
With the benefits came the risks, just as any acquisition is in the NBA. In the best case scenario, the Rockets are likely a team seeded somewhere between 6-10 and they would at least have a shot in the play-in series. The worst case scenario? Well, that’s exactly what happened.
Despite an 8-4 start after the Harden trade, the Rockets caught the injury bug with multiple players and the losses continued to compound. 20 losses in a row and it was clear that the right move was to trade Oladipo in order to get some value out of him before he walks in free agency.
While the Rockets failed to net the young player and pick they desired, they were able to get something. The 2022 pick they now own from the Nets can be swapped with the Heat’s 2022 pick, which will likely be an improvement of somewhere between 5-10 picks.
I think ultimately the Rockets and Rafael Stone should have gone with another offer, but according to Evan Massey, the Rockets wanted Duncan Robinson in the trade and the Heat were waiting to see if the Kyle Lowry trade would follow through.
#NBA agent on the Victor Oladipo to #Heat trade. @HoopAnalysisNet— Evan Massey (@massey_evan) March 25, 2021
“Miami played this exactly right. Up until the last second, the Rockets were demanding Duncan Robinson. Heat waited and Houston knew they’d lose Oladipo for nothing. Big win for Pat Riley.”
Once the Raptors declined the Heat’s offer, Pat Riley set his sights on Houston knowing they held all the leverage with minimal time. Houston caved and took the small package.
While the trade may not have been Stone’s brightest moment as GM, to completely dismiss all of his moves he’s made as GM so far is completely Ludacris.
So far, he’s signed strong value contracts for Christian Wood and Jae’Sean Tate, crafted savvy trades with Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker, and poached Kevin Porter Jr. basically for nothing. He also got positive draft assets for Russell Westbrook and James Harden when their values were deteriorating.
Houston fans are used to winning basketball. We’ve held the second-best record in the NBA over the past 10 years. We’ve been the only team to qualify for the playoffs in every season since 2013. We’ve seen just one losing season since Yao Ming came to town nearly 20 years ago.
The James Harden trade ended this era of championship-contending basketball in Houston and yesterday’s trade marked the true beginning of Houston’s first true rebuild since Hakeem Olajuwon left.
Keep in mind that Sam Hinkie, the architect of the “Trust The Process” 76ers was a disciple of the Daryl Morey tree, just like Rafael Stone. And look at the Sixers now, they’re on top of the Eastern Conference and have a core group that’s ready to contend for the next decade.
However, the biggest difference between the Sixers and the Rockets is that the Rockets have pieces already built in place that can make them great. It might take time, but not as much time as you think.
The team will take risks, but some of these risks will hit. Some of them already have and when one risk doesn’t work out, it isn’t time to hit the panic button.