The Houston Rockets need to trade Alperen Sengun.
Joking! I’m joking. Let’s start by establishing some terms. The only players on this roster who the front office should consider trading this year are Victor Oladipo, Jock Landale and, if the offer is irresistible, Jae’Sean Tate. Any Rockets trade offer should be centered around cap relief and draft picks.
Sengun is a cornerstone. With that said, the Rockets do need a viable backup for him. Although, they could even let the season ride out with Jeff Green as the primary backup five. It works more often than it doesn’t. Still, Green is older than the internet. He may retire this summer. The Rockets will eventually need a backup for Sengun either way.
They could draft him. This year’s class is ripe with big men. If the Rockets get exceedingly lucky, the Nets could gift them Alexandre Sarr. It’s unlikely, but any of Yves Missi, Donovan Clingan or Kel’El Ware would also suffice.
Wow. Do the Rockets need to trade for a backup big man? No, right? Let’s reframe it - the Rockets could justify trading for a backup big man.
What should they be looking for?
Who are the best backup big-man targets for the Rockets?
The Atlanta Hawks may have a pair of big men available. The Rockets should probably pass on both. Onyeka Onkongwu is a starting-caliber player. Why create a log jam? He’s precisely in a range where he’ll never usurp Sengun, but he won’t be content behind him either. Onkongwu is destined for another team.
Clint Capela is a cute idea. It wouldn’t be the worst decision. Still, his price tag is likely to be a bit high for a backup who can’t play alongside Sengun. He’s also aging out of his effectiveness pretty rapidly.
Sometimes, you’ve got to identify what you don’t want to understand what you’re looking for. If the Rockets trade for a backup big man, it should either be someone young or a combo big who can both backup Sengun or play alongside him.
P.J. Washington fits both criteria. Yet, he’s not the right target either. Washington is barely a five. He won’t do much that Green doesn’t already do. He’d be an interesting acquisition, but an imperfect one. Who is the perfect big to fill out this roster?
The answer was right in front of us all along. This is a romantic comedy where the protagonist’s best friend is always their ideal life partner. It’s Kelly Olynyk. It’s always been Kelly Olynyk.
He’s not exactly a rim protector. Still, Olynyk is perfectly suited for Ime Udoka’s hedge-and-recover scheme. In theory, the Rockets could trade for Olynyk and still land their future rim protector in the upcoming draft. From there, they extend Olynyk, bring Missi, Clingan or Ware along slowly, with a solid big-man rotation in place until they’re ready to contribute.
Trade with Trader Danny? Are you serious? Sure. This is simple - you offer market value. If Ainge counters with a far-above-market value offer, you counter back - with market value. I’m saying Olynyk would be a great target. I’m not saying that the Rockets need him so badly that they should give up an unprotected first for him.
With that said, Jalen Smith of the Indiana Pacers would be an even better target. He’s functionally similar to Olynyk as a combo big and floor spacer, and he’s a better rim protector - and he’s much younger. He just probably isn't available. Rafael Stone should kick the tires, but he shouldn’t expect them to roll.
One more: Daniel Gafford of the Washington Wizards. His fit alongside Sengun is suboptimal, but he’s young, he protects the rim, and he should help Amen Thompson as a lob threat in the pick-and-roll. Most of all (and I think you’ll like this):
He’ll never replace Alperen Sengun.