It's never easy to understand what the analytical mind of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is thinking until he makes a move. Making an educated guess starts with looking at what the Rockets want to do (win) and when they want to do it (now).
Here's where his team stands as of the All-Star break: Houston is 36-17, in third place in the Western Conference and the hottest team in the NBA, having won seven games in a row.
According to Sham Sports, Morey's roster has a quite reasonable $63.4 million payroll this season, not too bad for a team with two surefire All-Stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden. Only four players on the roster -- Howard, Harden, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin -- make a base salary of more than $1.6 million this season.
Leaving the Rockets' two stars out of it, Asik and Lin are likely the most desirable players Morey has to offer. But expect him to be considering all options.
Will Asik or Lin be dealt?
Asik hasn't fit well alongside Howard, and he's been open about wanting a trade. Morey obliged and became most active in mid-December, making and taking phone calls in order to move the center's contract, which pays him $5 million this season but ramps up to $15 million in 2014-15, the final year of the deal.
An Asik trade on or before Dec. 19 would have allowed the Rockets to swap the players coming in exchange before the Feb. 20 trade deadline -- there's a two-month window where players cannot be moved as packages -- but a proposed deal was nixed at the ownership level, Morey later said. The Boston Celtics were the team reportedly pushing for such a trade.
Afterward, Morey seemed resigned to hanging on to Asik, whose value will likely become more realistic when other teams see the trade deadline looming this week. It doesn't help that the center was injured and only returned to play in three games before the All-Star break.
Lin has a similar back-heavy contract. His scoring and playmaking off the bench behind starter Patrick Beverley has obviously been more impactful than Asik's rebounding and shot-blocking.
Both players still have tremendous value with Houston, especially now that the team is making a push up the Western Conference ladder. Even a disgruntled Asik could be important coming off the bench in spot minutes.
At the 2013 trade deadline, Houston was active in putting together smaller trade packages. It dealt Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas to Sacramento in exchange for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt. The Rockets also traded Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round pick.
During the summer, Morey dealt Robinson's contract to Portland in exchange for two more second-round picks along with the rights to overseas prospects Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic. The series of trades opened up more cap space leading into the Howard free agent signing, and it gave the team a bevy of smaller trade chips.
It's quite likely Morey makes a move or two on the backend of the roster to add even a few million dollars of wiggle room. Houston plays the numbers game well, and the opportunity to add late-round draft picks in exchange for contracts of bench players will always be appealing.
Then again, this isn't last year, where clearing cap space long foretold the expectation that the Rockets would go hard after Howard in free agency.
This year, the Rockets could use immediate upgrades. Finding a wing player who can defend and shoot it appears to be the biggest need, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. Houston is missing a bench gunner like Carlos Delfino, whose rights were renounced this offseason before the Howard signing.
There are many minimum contracts that Houston can package together for a bigger piece. Young big man Donatas Motiejunas is stuck behind fellow big man Terrence Jones and might be intriguing to other teams, and the Rockets even have their own first-round picks along with a number of second-rounders that could be used in a trade.
Oh, and the Rockets have a reasonable payroll that shouldn't inhibit them in searching for a reasonably priced role player.