As the Rockets head into free agency, seven players are under contract. The Rockets have zero selections in next month’s draft, which means Daryl Morey has some spaces to fill.
This time last year, the team was one win away from an NBA Finals appearance and perhaps a championship, so there was little room for improvement.
However, after taking a step backwards this season, the room for improvement has grown in the past year.
Morey has seven players he can deal: James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Nene, and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Here’s the breakdown for each player and the likelihood that they will be dealt from least to greatest:
Likeliness of trade: Extremely unlikely
While Woj’s tweet did not rule out a potential James Harden trade, it’s hard to fathom Daryl Morey even considering dealing the Beard. I’m sure all 29 teams would offer the Rockets a significant package for the reigning MVP, but there’s no way Morey would trade the Rockets’ best player, right?
Harden is on the books for three more seasons up until a $46 million player option in 2022-23, which he will likely opt out of if he is still on a similar level to where he is currently.
It’s hard to even imagine what the receiving end of a James Harden trade would be like now. It would have to be enough first-round picks to satisfy the Rockets through the next millennium and seven quality All-Stars, and that’s when I would start listening... maybe.
James Harden will be a Rocket next season guys. There is no need to panic. Though his supporting cast might look very different.
Likeliness of trade: Very unlikely
Nene appears on this list following Harden because he has the least value of any of the potential traded players.
Though his contract only lasts through next season and is valued at less than $4 million, very few teams will be seeking a 37 year-old free-agent-to-be at the beginning of next season.
He played in just 42 of the Rockets’ 82 games this season and has contemplated retirement. Though he did show signs of a motor in the playoffs, it is not reliable enough throughout a long season.
If he is dealt, it will be to satisfy cap room for the Rockets and it will be in conjunction with another player.
However, I do expect Nene to hang it up after his brilliant 17-year career, so no trade is in the cards for him.
Likeliness of trade: Unlikely
The Tuckwagon has been critical towards the Rockets’ success for the past two seasons. He has suited up in every game for Houston in the past two years, often as a starter, and is arguably the team’s best defender.
He finished 7th in the league in total minutes this season, led the league in corner three-point percentage.
For someone making a little more than $8 million, Tucker is a bargain.
The reasons to keep Tucker are also the reasons why he would be traded.
However, the reason why I think he is unlikely to be traded is that he is too crucial to the Rockets’ success.
He is possibly the second-most important Rocket other than Harden. In the playoffs, it certainly looked that way.
His presence gives the Rockets an identity that the team would lack if he were not on the floor. Every team needs a guy like Tucker, and replacing him is harder than one would expect.
Fielding offers for Tucker is not a bad thing though because his value might be as high as it ever will be at this moment. However, I think his value is too high for the Rockets to send him elsewhere.
Likeliness of trade: Unlikely
Hartenstein jumps in the “Unlikely” boat because he’s the prospect with the most upside signed on for next season.
The lone Rockets rookie shined in the G-League all season long, winning Finals MVP honors with the Vipers.
The Rockets are high on Hartenstein, so it will be difficult for the Rockets to move on from him. However, he could be used as a sweetener in a deal with CP3.
Hartenstein is projected to crack the Rockets’ rotation next season, usurping the minutes once occupied by Nene and Kenneth Faried.
With the Rockets lack of draft capital this season and beyond, Hartenstein’s presence as the only thing close to a prospect for the Rockets could be enough to keep him on the roster.
Likeliness of trade: Unlikely
Chris Paul has to be one of the happiest people on the planet. At 34, he still is scheduled to make more than $124 million over the next three seasons after inking a max 4-year deal last summer.
While there is no question CP3 is not the player he once was, I think most of Red Nation can agree with me that the Rockets were cornered into giving Paul this contract.
After his performance in the 2018 Playoffs, there was no chance Houston could say goodbye to CP3 after he practically carried the Rockets to a heroic Game 5 win in the Western Conference Finals that saw him exit with a hamstring injury.
However, given CP3’s age, there was no way he was settling for anything less than the max, so the Rockets agreed to pay CP3 nearly $160 million through 2021-22, his age-36 season.
In hindsight, paying CP3 was the right move. But now, the Rockets appear foolish for giving CP3 the contract after he understandably took a step backwards following his age-33 season.
There is no denying the fact that Morey will try to trade Paul this summer as the Rockets are stuck with a player who won’t be playing for what he is worth for the next three seasons. CP3 creates a huge dent in the Rockets’ cap space.
What the team can hope for is that some team who is definitely tanking for the next few years will take on CP3’s contract. However, it will have to come attached with picks galore and the return package for Paul won’t be great either. It will likely feature players who are in the same overpaid boat as the Rockets.
The one team that I can think of that fits the bill is CP3’s hometown Charlotte Hornets, who could lose Kemba Walker to free agency this summer.
I don’t think that the Rockets will abandon the CP3 era after just two seasons, but the Rockets owe it to themselves to at least listen to some offers to save the financial future of the team.
Likeliness of trade: 50/50
Clint Capela’s development from a raw prospect to double-double machine has been extraordinary. What he’s been able to do in the first five years of his career is incredible. However, the honeymoon phase with Capela is over.
He’s now a 25 year-old rising center nearing the prime of his career. The Rockets paid him handsomely to the tune of $90 million last summer and the Rockets are counting on him to be the bonafide center they built him to be.
Unfortunately in the playoffs this past season, for the first time in his career, Capela took a step backwards.
It got to the point where Capela looked lost and unplayable at times during the Warriors series and it certainly sparked debate as to whether Clint should be in this position to begin with.
It’s one thing to show up in the regular season, but the Rockets are championship contenders — they need playoff gratification, something he could not provide when it mattered most.
Capela still holds a ton of value and would start on majority of the teams in the NBA, which is why there is interest there.
I do believe that we have yet to see the best from Capela, but the Rockets’ patience is wearing thin.
The question Daryl Morey has to answer is: Can the Rockets continue to be patient with someone they have given five years of patience towards?
Likeliness of trade: Likely
Eric Gordon is the likeliest Rocket to be traded this offseason, which is an utter shame.
But if the Rockets are to make a significant trade, it will almost certainly involve the 30 year-old sharpshooter.
EG becomes a free agent next summer and his $14 million expiring contract won’t be hard to move given his talents.
Gordon has proven that a player like him is critical for a championship-caliber roster and he can play at the highest level.
If the Rockets wanted to upgrade and acquire a star to combine with Chris Paul and James Harden, Gordon will likely have to go in any deal.
From what we’ve seen from Morey, all signs point to Gordon moving out of town.
I hope this is not the case because EG has become a major part of the team, but he might just become another casualty in the Rockets revolving door.
Which Rocket is the most likely to be traded?
This poll is closed