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OKC’s Nerlens Noel targeted by Rockets at last season’s trade deadline

Rockets, Nerlens Noel, Thunder

The Houston Rockets attempted to complete a trade with Oklahoma City for backup center Nerlens Noel during last season’s trade deadline, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

Having traded away starting center Clint Capela earlier in the year, the Rockets committed to an extreme version of the smaller lineups that have grown popular around the league, eventually coming to be termed “micro-ball”. An attempt to remedy the spacing issues caused by point guard Russell Westbrook’s shooting troubles, the move was successful in helping to propel the streaky Rockets into the conference semifinals. However, Houston was ultimately outdone by a Lakers squad that feasted on the lack of an interior presence for James Harden and company.

Speaking on Zach Lowe’s podcast–‘The Lowe Post”–MacMahon said the potential deal was meant to provide the Rockets’ insurance and lineup flexibility at a discount price. As he put it, “if Clint Capela was a full-service Marriott, they thought they could find a Courtyard by Marriott type of big man to at least be in the rotation.”

Though they were unsuccessful in completing the transaction, Houston’s interest in Noel is not surprising since the former Duke product is renowned not only for his post defense, but for his lateral quickness in pick-and-roll coverages — a spot many big men are at their most vulnerable.

While it isn’t likely that Noel’s presence would have been sufficient enough for the Rockets to overcome the eventual champion Lakers, the revealing of the potential move does at the very least provide an insight into Houston’s awareness that a lack of interior depth might stymie them. Despite protesting that they had little doubt their version of “micro-ball” could be successful, it appears Daryl Morey tried to create a backup plan just in case he was mistaken.