HOUSTON — Legend has it that the famous Johnstown Flood started with a leaky faucet in Altoona.
So when the Rockets send Chase Budinger to the Timberwolves for the No. 18 pick in Thursday’s draft, it would be wise to pay attention to the drip, drip, drip that could lead to a tsunami of a deal.
The Rockets now own the 14th, 16th and 18th picks in the first round and have made no secret that they are looking to trade up. Way up.
To Dwight Howard.
Houston is trying to woo the Magic with a whopping package of draft picks and players to pry loose the All-NBA first team center. Morey will continue trying to trade up for a higher pick to make the deal more attractive to the Magic. The Rockets have been talking to Sacramento about a deal to secure the No. 5 pick, which could then be sent to Orlando.
Just as was the case at the trade deadline in March, the Rockets are willing to take on Howard without an upfront guarantee that he will sign a long-term contract extension.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey see it as their way out of the rut they’ve been stuck in for the past three seasons, as the team with the best record not to make the playoffs. That’s been mostly due to the injuries that brought the premature end to the combination of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming as franchise cornerstones and has left the team tied up in financial knots. This will be the first offseason in which the Rockets aren’t bound by contract and salary cap restrictions left by McGrady and Yao.
“To me, we’re not on any timetable to getting back to being a championship contender,” Morey told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “It often takes a much longer time than anyone wants to talk about.
“We’re trying to find a way that shortens that timetable to do it as quickly as possible in a smart way. We’re using free agency and trades as tools. When you lose two franchise players — we’re really on year two. Last year was the first season we were not betting on Yao being a franchise player.”
The approach is really nothing new for the Rockets. Morey has aggressively tried to deal high up in the draft virtually every season that he’s been on the job in Houston and been forthright in saying the team has tried to land a new franchise player. He attempted to trade with Denver for Carmelo Anthony before he landed in New York, again without a guarantee that he would sign a long-term contract.
Prior to the start of last season, the Rockets thought they had landed Pau Gasol from the Lakers in the three-team deal that also involved the Hornets and Chris Paul. But when commissioner David Stern vetoed that trade, it not only left the Rockets without Gasol, but ended their hopes of adding free Nene in a bid to totally revamp their front line.
The question now is whether the Rockets can convince Magic management to cut its losses with Howard now and make the best deal possible to begin the rebuilding process in Orlando. Luis Scola has often been mentioned as trade bait and was included in the cancelled deal with New Orleans. Unhappy point guard Kyle Lowry could also be a major part of a deal. Truth is, the Rockets would likely give up anyone on their roster if it meant landing Howard.
Chase Budinger goes to Minnesota.
Drip, drip, drip … Listen for the bigger wave.