Another year, another disappointment for the Houston Rockets.
It seems like a premature NBA playoff exit has become an annual tradition for the squad. After getting rolled over by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is once again left to ponder things: Are we doing it wrong? Who should we get? Should we fire our entire analytics department?
Plus, with Mike D’Antoni leaving, it looks like it will be a period of transition for H-Town.
One of the best ways to immediately change things up? A trade, of course. With D’Antoni on his way out, it’s safe to assume that the seemingly gimmicky “micro ball” has already seen its final hurrah. So it might be time for the Rockets to return to good old basketball. You know, like having a legitimate big man, perhaps? Or just find a more suitable superstar to pair with James Harden. You know, the one who isn’t Russell Westbrook, maybe?
Realistically, the Rockets’ hands are tied, given their financial situation. So this is just a sort of dream trade scenarios. But hey, crazier things have happened, and nobody saw the Westbrook for Chris Paul trade coming. So Morey could cook up something once again.
1. Blake Griffin for Russell Westbrook
Griffin is still an elite player. Just a little caveat: When he’s healthy. But the high-flying forward is now reportedly in great shape eight months after his left knee surgery. He told Eric Woodyard of ESPN that he feels a world of difference. The Rockets could the say same about him if they pull off the trade.
The 31-year-old veteran might be hampered by injuries in recent years but he’s still a top-tier player. He was able to stay healthy for 75 games in the 2018-2019 season with the Detroit Pistons—his most since playing 80 games in his fourth year—and put up 24.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.4 APG and made his sixth All-Star appearance. That just goes to show he can still produce. Plus, with his much-improved outside shot, averaging 36.2% from downtown that same year, he can fit right in with Harden’s style.
But perhaps the most important thing to note is that Griffin won’t be sharing a high usage rate with Harden as Westbrook does. The former Slam Dunk champion could just play off the ball, dive for pick-and-rolls, or make shots from pick-and-pops. He could really benefit from all the double teams Harden faces. The Rockets, however, also need more interior defense, so that’s something Griffin has to work on since he’s never been known as a stopper or rim protector. But he’s strong enough to battle big guys and quick enough to stay with wingmen.
2. Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, and Taj Gibson for Russell Westbrook and Ben McLemore
With how badly Westbrook played in this year’s NBA Playoffs, it’s easy to view him as the expendable piece with good trade value. Logic dictates two heavy ball-handlers just won’t work and a Rockets team in transition mode could find more traditional pieces.
Randle has all the tools to become an elite big man. He’s averaged 20.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 3.1 APG in his last two seasons. He has shown he can pile up the points and he could provide the inside scoring punch the Rockets need. Payton is the exact opposite of Westbrook. He’s a more prototypical playmaker who likes to set up teammates. He had a solid run with the New York Knicks this season, averaging 10.0 PPG and career second-bests 7.2 APG and 1.6 SPG. With D’Antoni’s system’s out, the Rockets could once again move up Harden to his natural position at shooting guard. With Payton handling the playmaking duties, it could ease Harden off more responsibilities and just focus on finding his spots and moving through screens. At 35 years old, Gibson feels like a throwaway, but he’s still one of the toughest guys in the league.
As for the Knicks, why wouldn’t they want to land someone like Westbrook? Wouldn’t they want his star power and enigmatic personality to resuscitate the flatlining hopes of the fans? Just imagine him going wild at Madison Square Garden! If it doesn’t work, well, there’s always this: Hey, they’re the Knicks.
3. Myles Turner for Eric Gordon
Turner turned many heads during his sophomore season. Since then, every year, people expect him to make the All-Star jump. But already in his fifth season, he has yet to do so. Instead, it was Domantas Sabonis who made the leap for the Indiana Pacers. So a change in zip codes might do wonders for Turner and the Rockets could be a nice little landing spot. There’s not much appeal for the Pacers from a personnel standpoint since they are already set in the guard spots with Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon and some shooters off the bench, but with Eric Gordon having a significantly shorter contract and a veteran, they could probably use his presence to mentor the younger players while serving as cap relief.
Turner still has the tools to be one of the top centers in the NBA, tallying 12.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG in less than 30 minutes per game this season. But here’s the best part: He’s only 24 years old. His game and more significantly, his mentality will still develop. He’s never played with a high-caliber and experienced guard like Harden, who could fast-track the maturity process. Turner is unquestionably talented. He played for Team USA in last year’s FIBA World Cup. But it feels like he’s not truly maximizing his potential. A recalibrated Rockets could change that.
The Rockets haven’t had an elite center in years. Their only true big man this season: A 37-year-old Tyson Chandler. Let that sink in for a bit. They struggled in protecting the paint, so why not get the guy who led the NBA in blocks last season? The team won’t be giving up too much as well. Gordon looks like he’s on a decline with a hefty salary to boot. But he could still help the Pacers with instant scoring off the bench, something they sorely lacked in the postseason.