The 2013 NBA trade deadline began with quite the stunner when the Houston Rockets acquired Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas. Robinson was not involved in any trade rumors prior to Wednesday; now, he becomes just the fifth top-five draft pick in the last 20 years to be traded midway through his rookie season. (Derrick Favors, Chauncey Billups, Drew Gooden and Donyell Marshall are the other four).
Figuring out the motivation for one team here is easy. Figuring it out for the other is trickier. Let's assess this deal from each team's perspective.
The motivation here is simple: money. Sacramento is sending out $10.3 million of salary for 2012-12 and taking only $6.6 million back, which was made possible by the Rockets having nearly $7 million in cap space. (Note: these numbers must be pro-rated for the rest of the season, so the Kings won't save as much as one would think. Still, they will save.)
In addition, Aldrich has an expiring contract, while Douglas has a $3.1 million qualifying offer. If Sacramento doesn't pick that up, they'll save an additional $500,000 next season and potentially more in future years if they don't keep Patterson beyond next season. (Garcia had a $6.4 million team option for 2013-14 that was unlikely to be picked up.) Oh, and the Kings are also reportedly receiving $1 million in cash as part of the deal.
So, yeah, the Kings' motivation is pretty clear. This is a way for the Maloofs to save a few more bucks right before a big sale and possible relocation. Robinson has struggled as a rookie, but from a basketball perspective, it's far too early to give up on him like this. It's a shame for Kings fans, but it's all too common before teams get sold.
In the short term, Patterson may give the Kings more production than Robinson, but he runs into the same problem Robinson will. With DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson firmly entrenched at the starting power positions, Patterson will likely see fewer minutes. Douglas and Aldrich are likely deep bench players.
This is classic Daryl Morey: trade away a better player today to pick up a player that will potentially be better tomorrow. Patterson's statistics aren't impressive and he's battled a foot injury, but he's been a valuable part of the Rockets' resurgence over the past few weeks. He's been hyper-efficient without getting many touches, posting a 57.1-percent true shooting percentage and hitting over 48 percent of his shots from 10-23 feet. Patterson also stretched his range out to the three-point line this season, and he displays great footwork and leverage when defending post players. In short, he did a lot of the little things good teams need to win.
Now, Robinson must step in his place, and that'll be a difficult challenge. Robinson has the potential to be so much more than he was in Sacramento, but he struggled to adjust to the NBA game. He had a tendency to force drives, launch poor-percentage jump shots and do too many things that he can't do. Whereas Patterson is a master of the mid-range, Robison has hit just 33 percent of his shots from 10-23 feet. Finishing inside hasn't been much easier, as he's hitting just 52 percent of his shots at the rim and 31 percent from 3-10 feet. Robinson should eventually be better than Patterson, but he's not there right now, which will likely hurt Houston in the short term.
The swap of Morris to Phoenix will also hurt Houston in the interim. Morris has struggled since returning to the bench for Patterson, but he was still a 38-percent three-point shooter that stretched the defense. His absence frees minutes for 2012 first-round pick Terrence Jones, who impressed in Summer League, but hasn't proven anything since. I would expect Kevin McHale to use more small lineups with Chandler Parsons playing power forward to recapture the floor spacing that Houston had when Morris was on the court.
Long-term, this is an obvious win for Houston. Robinson was the No. 5 pick for a reason, and one half-season in an awful situation like Sacramento shouldn't dampen that too much. Morris was a useful player this year, but Jones has a much higher ceiling. But I would expect some struggles early on, and if those continue, Houston might surrender its playoff spot.
They get a useful young player for free and reunite the Morris twins. Hard to argue too much with this one.
If it seems like I'm being unusually lukewarm about this deal for Houston, it's because I really do think Patterson was an underrated key to their success this year. As great as the move is for them going forward, I imagine McHale is not too thrilled about losing one of his most coachable players. It'll be interesting to see how he integrates his new young players into the rotation. Knowing McHale's preference for veteran players, it might not be as seamless as one would think.