The Houston Rockets have been making moves in the Western Conference standings almost exclusively due to James Harden’s heroics. Chris Paul has been out since injuring his hamstring against the Miami Heat on Dec. 20, and now, Clint Capela will be sidelined for four-to-six weeks with a thumb injury.
With Capela now out in addition to Paul, you have to wonder just how long Harden can keep the Rockets afloat, as they are now down two of their three most important players. The good news for Houston is that there is this thing called the trade market it can explore, and there should be quite a few names available that the Rockets can pursue.
Think about this, too: Capela will likely be back in at some point in February or early March, so if Houston does add somebody in the meantime, it will just have that much more depth when Capela does return.
So, let’s go over a few possibilities that Daryl Morey can explore to fill in for Capela:
4. Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is definitely the most unrealistic name on this list, but hear me out.
The Orlando Magic big man is making $12.8 million this season, which lines up almost perfectly with Brandon Knight’s $14.6 million contract. The Rockets could offer the Magic a package centered around Knight and a first-round draft pick.
The catch is that Knight’s contract runs through 2020, so whether or not Orlando would want to take on that money into next season is debatable. Still, the Magic are in dire need of backcourt help, so they might even see it fit to bring the 27-year-old Knight aboard.
As for what Vucevic would bring to the Rockets? He is a very efficient scorer and actually a passable defender, not to mention the fact that he is a terrific rebounder.
While Vooch does not possess the athleticism of Capela, he could represent a nice pick-and-pop option for Harden, as the 28-year-old is shooting 38 percent from three-point range this season.
Is it realistic? Probably not, but it is doable, and it is something the Rockets should certainly take a look at.
3. Robin Lopez
Lopez is a surefire trade candidate next month, and it would actually be surprising if he isn’t moved.
His minutes with the Chicago Bulls have plummeted this season, as he is playing just 16.3 minutes per game and averaging 5.6 points and 2.5 rebounds when he is on the floor.
However, Lopez has a proven track record of being a solid contributor on decent teams, so he could certainly represent a possibility for the Rockets.
One area in which Lopez truly excels is offensive rebounding. The seven-footer has averaged 3.8 offensive boards per 36 minutes throughout his career, and while he is not exactly Capela in that regard, he is still solid and can at least come close to replicating Capela’s production in that category.
Lopez is in the final year of a four-year deal and is making $14.3 million this season. What the Rockets could do is trade the contract of Knight and attach a first-round draft pick to it to try and entice Chicago into making the deal. As mentioned earlier, though, Knight’s contract does not expire until 2020, so the Bulls would be taking on extra salary beyond this season.
Think of Dedmon as a poor man’s Capela.
He is seven feet tall, he is athletic, he rebounds well, he blocks shots and he can make a great pick-and-roll partner with Harden.
Not only that, but Dedmon has actually developed some range, shooting 36 percent from three-point range last year after making threes at a respectable 35.5 percent clip last season.
A legitimate argument can be made that Dedmon is one of the more underrated bigs in the game and that he would fit very nicely on a contender like Houston.
The best part is that the 29-year-old is making just $6.3 million this year and will become a free agent over the summer, so matching salaries won’t be a problem, and the cost of attaining Dedmon would be minimal.
1. Noah Vonleh
Vonleh is having a very impressive year for the New York Knicks and will likely be a highly sought-after trade candidate at the deadline.
The 23-year-old is exactly what the Rockets would want: a young, athletic big man who can rebound, display some defensive versatility and even spread the floor.
Vonleh is big enough to hang with centers in the paint and has quick enough feet to adequately defend the perimeter and not get completely lost when guarding pick-and-rolls.
This year, Vonleh is averaging 8.6 points, 8.5 boards and 2.1 assists per game and is even making 41.1 percent of his three-pointers.
He is also earning just $1.6 million on the season and will be a free agent at year’s end, making him very attainable. Not only is he an easy salary to match, but he likely won’t cost all that much in terms of draft picks given his upcoming free-agent status.