The talk around town surrounding the Houston Rockets is the possibility of sending four first-round draft picks to Minnesota in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Coming off of an incredible 65-win season and falling one game shy of the finals a year ago, Houston has hit some early turbulence in a 1-4 start. Much to everyone's chagrin, as good as Jimmy Butler is, simply putting a package together for a trade is not going to solve the root of Houston's woes.
For starters, GM Daryl Morey offering four first-round picks feels like a panic move. Has everybody forgotten the big blockbuster deal between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets? For those who need reminding, USA today's Chris Martin reported a year ago what is still considered one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
Fast forward to Houston's proposed trade to Minnesota. Unlike Brooklyn, the Rockets would acquire one of the top two-way players in the game. Knowing Butler will be a free agent after the season, Morey very likely will not pull the trigger unless Butler guarantees long-term commitment with Houston.
If the Rockets were to pull off a trade for Butler this early in the season, there are two questions which would stand out to me. First, how would Butler affect the Rockets’ current chemistry? This current roster has not played much together due to injuries and Chris Paul's suspension. Given their lack of cohesion on the court, adding another star to the mix feels a little premature.
Second, how will these guys mesh under D'Antoni? Houston currently has three ball-dominant players in Melo, Paul, and Harden. The Harden and Paul duo worked extremely well last year because both James and Chris can score but also facilitate. By contrast, Melo tends towards being a ball stopper, disrupting the flow of the offense. Adding Butler, another ball-dominant player, to the mix makes me curious about how D'Antoni will be able to get the best out of the team while making everyone happy.
The first five games of the season have been a nightmare for the Rockets, though there is a long way to go. Coming into the season without departed free agents Ariza and Mbah a Moute and retired defensive assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the defense was bound to relapse. Last season, Houston's defense allowed just 103.9 points per game; this season the Rockets are giving up a whopping 118.8 points a night. The issues on the defensive end of the floor are a combination of health and just not putting the effort in.
Daryl Morey needs to give this current team an opportunity to get healthy and gel before exploring any deal. If things have not changed through 20 games, then by all means re-explore trading for Butler. Why is everyone so hot after Butler now? Looking all the way to next summer, assuming everyone opts out their current contracts: if the Rockets can position themselves nicely money-wise, they could set themselves up for a run at one of the top free agents. Rather than putting all his eggs in one basket by adding Butler, if Morey is truly willing to give up those draft picks, he could use them in a sign-and-trade deal. From there, not only would he have added one star to the mix, but also traded for another one. In doing so without completely depleting the roster, Morey will have reloaded for another run in 2019-20.
In the meantime, the Rockets have work to do as they try to right the ship Tuesday night against the Trailblazers.