The Houston Rockets had a rough start to free agency, losing forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. They’ve since added James Ennis, Marquese Chriss, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Knight, and Michael Carter-Williams. But these players don’t exactly seem like they’ll keep Houston’s defensive prowess up (sixth in defensive efficiency last season).
That said, Houston has been looking for a two-way impact player who can help them realize what they just barely missed out on last season – an NBA championship appearance. Rockets GM Daryl Morey hasn’t let off the gas in looking for this player.
“We need our best team on April 15,” he said, likely suggesting that Houston must beat Golden State in order to take the Western Conference.
Considering Morey’s words, it’s no surprise that the Rockets are one of the teams that have expressed interest in Jimmy Butler. The Minnesota Timberwolves Guard/forward has requested a trade out of Minnesota.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is pushing for Butler to be traded, hopefully before the season starts.
General manager Scott Layden and head coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau want the franchise to take its time with this matter. They want potential suitors to come to them and offer a serious trade proposal.
Houston Has Some Competition in the Jimmy Butler Sweepstakes
Miami, Brooklyn, and the LA Clippers have also expressed interest in bringing Butler to their teams. Here’s what ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports on the matter:
Sources: Miami has been the most engaged team with Minnesota on a Jimmy Butler trade. So far, no traction with Clippers and Nets. Houston's tried to be creative in its pursuit. It'll be a challenge — although not impossible — to get any Butler deal done without a third team.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 26, 2018
It’s likely that one or more of these teams have more assets on the surface to offer Minnesota. But Morey is quite good at figuring out ways to get players for less.
He put a nice trade package together to get James Harden away from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He created the “poison pill” contracts that brought in Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in 2012. He waived or traded players like Royce White, James Anderson, Thomas Robinson, and Furkan Aldemir to create enough cap space to sign Dwight Howard in 2013.
Other inventive moves by Morey include the three-team, six-player deal that brought Ariza to Houston in 2014, and accumulating non-guaranteed contracts to build a large enough trade package to land Chris Paul in 2017.
The last move was quite incredible when considering that Morey sent a bunch of bench players and lower draft picks to the Clippers in return for a game-changing point guard.
“There’s always fine-tuning, you can always get better,” said Morey. “We have all our draft picks going forward.
“So if something presents itself that allows us to make a trade to improve the team, we won’t hesitate to do that.”
What can the Rockets Offer for Jimmy Butler?
One speculated move involves sending Sixth Man of the Year Erik Gordon, forward P.J. Tucker, and an unprotected first-round pick to Minnesota. Gordon and Tucker would help the Twolves immediately, while the first-round pick would enable them to add more talent in the future.
Minnesota could also get rid of a bad contract in the process, including reserve big man Gorgui Dieng, who’s still due $48.7 million over the next three years.
Of course, the problem with this is that Houston must involve a third team (and potentially fourth), because they don’t have a lot of salary cap space either. Morey shouldn’t have a problem getting this done, though, when looking at the deals he’s worked in the past.
Another problem is that they’ll have to give away another one or two rotational pieces in order to land Butler. That said, they’d be working with a team of three stars in Paul, Harden, and Butler, along with several backups who must be integrated.
Is Butler Worth the Cost?
The question, though, is whether what they’d be giving up is worth it. Odds are that, yes, the Rockets would improve if they got Butler for the cost of Tucker and Gordon.
But you also have to factor in the loss of Ariza and Mbah a Moute, who were instrumental in helping this team improve from 18th to 6th in defensive efficiency last season.
Depth is obviously important, as the Warriors have shown. But so is having star players, which the Rockets showed by unloading several veterans in exchange for Paul. Assuming Morey can put together a deal that brings Butler in, it should help the Rockets get better on offense and defense. The major question would be if they can integrate all their new pieces in time for the playoffs.
Houston Rockets Odds in 2018-19
Houston currently trails Golden State by a sizable margin in our GTBets odds. But the Rockets still have the second-best odds of winning the conference at the time of this post.
Here’s a look at our current 2018-19 NBA Western Conference odds:
- Dallas +10000
- Denver +5000
- Golden State -245
- Houston +500
- LA Clippers +10000
- LA Lakers +800
- Memphis +15000
- Minnesota +4000
- New Orleans +4500
- Oklahoma City +2200
- Phoenix +10000
- Portland +5000
- Sacramento +25000
- San Antonio +4000
- Utah +2500
Assuming the Rockets can make a trade for Butler, it would likely inch them forward in the odds category. Maybe not enough to match the Warriors, but definitely closer.
It’ll be interesting to see if Morey can work his magic again and get Butler on this team.