NBA trade deadline 2024: Rockets’ priorities shifting as NBA trade deadline nears

On the surface, Houston trading three second-round picks and Victor Oladipo on Thursday to Memphis for injured center Steven Adams – one full week before the NBA’s trade deadline — was a bit of a head scratcher. For the Grizzlies, this deal brought obvious savings and financial flexibility for this upcoming offseason, as Memphis is likely to receive an unexpected top-10 pick after a lost campaign. Yet for the Rockets, there had been plenty of information suggesting they were looking to upgrade for this postseason run — not add an out-for-the-season veteran who plays the same position as their best player, Alperen Şengün.

The noise surrounding Houston’s approach for 27-year-old Nets swingman Mikal Bridges reached most corners of the league the weekend before the team landed Adams, right as the Rockets were visiting Barclays Center. Rival front offices were abuzz about the Rockets’ willingness to include former No. 2 pick Jalen Green in packages for Bridges and other marquee wings, league sources told Yahoo Sports, but conversations with Brooklyn never generated any traction, sources said.

Still, many teams looked at the idea of trading Green and believed Houston was showing a desire to continue expediting a years-long rebuild after already signing veterans Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks this past July. And at a minimum, Houston was armed with Oladipo’s expiring salary plus Jock Landale’s inventive long-term but non-guaranteed deal to pursue centers like Clint Capela and Daniel Gafford, sources said.

The Adams trade, though, represents a clear signal Houston has more patience than previously advertised when it comes to making the play-in tournament, let alone the playoffs. Remember, the Rockets had already sent two second-round picks along with Kevin Porter Jr.’s salary to acquire Oladipo’s contract in October. So that’s a total of five seconds out the door to land Adams, while Houston stands just 11th in the West.

So it seems more appropriate to categorize Houston as eager to be opportunistic when it comes to improving its roster, as opposed to shifting into a higher gear altogether. And, well, hasn’t that always been the Rockets’ brand? Not just dating back to their days run by Daryl Morey, but as recently as this summer, the front office implored candidates during its head coaching search — which ultimately landed on Ime Udoka — to discuss which of the young Rockets players they believed Houston should one day soon consider trading for a bigger fish, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets have the future draft picks, salary and young pieces to theoretically make as good an offer as any for the next proverbial disgruntled player. Houston, sources said, was indeed ready to enter that market this season, just like New York, if an All-Star such as Donovan Mitchell or Joel Embiid or Zion Williamson became available. Alas, there is no player of that magnitude currently up for grabs.

But there doesn’t seem to be a damn-the-torpedoes shift happening for Houston at present. Keep an eye on the Rockets, sources said, to search for ways to improve their roster in the interim before the deadline at 3 p.m. ET Thursday. Yet anything that would mark a colossal deal has a much higher chance of being completed this offseason.

Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) reacts after making a three point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Is Jalen Green part of the Rockets' long-term plans? (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Milwaukee staying aggressive

After switching head coaches midseason, the Bucks remain committed to improving their roster, “shopping hard for help,” as described by one league source with knowledge of the situation. Milwaukee has limited options of outgoing packages, with the No. 35 pick, Pat Connaughton and Cam Payne as the Bucks’ most likely outgoing scenario, sources said, and Bobby Portis would need to be included for Milwaukee to chase a bigger salary player like Dejounte Murray, Bruce Brown or Andrew Wiggins, sources said.

Washington’s yard sale

Among options at a smaller number, another name that’s been linked to the Bucks conversations is Wizards guard Delon Wright, sources said, although it’s unclear if he truly ranks on Milwaukee’s wide board of options. An eight-year veteran, Wright might have the widest market of any player in Washington, based on his salary and the Wizards’ asking price, in comparison to Tyus Jones.

What Magic is up Orlando’s sleeve?

There have been whispers among league personnel about the Magic pursuing veteran point guards. The NBA’s game of telephone has led many rival executives to believe Orlando has been actively targeting Chris Paul in Golden State and Kyle Lowry in Charlotte.

Those whispers don’t seem to be accurate. Perhaps Orlando would look to add Lowry if the 37-year-old does reach the buyout market, but there has been no trade interest from the Magic to make a deal with the Hornets at this juncture, according to league sources. The same goes for Paul in Golden State, sources said.

And look, an aging, smaller floor general would be incongruent to the rest of Orlando’s build, which is flush with rangy defensive-minded athletes. While the Magic are certainly in need of perimeter shooting, it seems Orlando won’t consider upgrades there either, sources said, unless it considers that long-range threat a sheer positive on the other side of the floor as well. Kevin Huerter, for example, is not on the Magic’s wish list, sources said.

Status in Charlotte

Phoenix continues to be mentioned as the leading suitor for Charlotte forward Miles Bridges, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Suns see Bridges, a Michigan State product, as a strong fit with their big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. However, the Suns only have second-round draft capital to play with. And while Phoenix has indicated a willingness to add Josh Okogie into a package of Nassir Little and two second-round picks for Bridges, sources said, Charlotte remains hopeful it can generate a first-round pick in return for Bridges.

If not, Charlotte now has the upcoming cap space to re-sign Bridges, and getting the swingman on a multi-year deal would surely increase his trade value next season. The fact Bridges is playing this 2023-24 campaign on a one-year qualifying offer not only affords Bridges veto power in any trade, but dealing him elsewhere would squander Bridges’ Bird rights, preventing any team that acquired him before Thursday to re-sign him this summer if it is going to be over the salary cap on June 30. So there may even be stronger options for Charlotte to move Bridges as a sign-and-trade candidate this summer as well. Detroit and Utah remain the two other teams connected to Bridges, sources said. While Dallas is indeed looking for forward help, the Mavericks have not shown interest in Bridges or Nets forward Dorian Finney-Smith in recent conversations, sources said.

PJ Washington is another Hornets forward who’s commanding inquiries from rival teams, with Dallas among the interested suitors, sources said. Over this past weekend, the Clippers’ purported pursuit of Washington became noted across the league. But according to various league personnel involved in these talks, Los Angeles has not had a meaningful conversation with Charlotte in quite some time about Washington. One source went so far as to describe that Clippers-Washington connection as “bad info.”

What will the Knicks do?

The Knicks have shown legitimate interest in Washington, sources said, as they examine their options. The Knicks appear more interested in Toronto guard Bruce Brown Jr., for whom the Raptors are seeking some return in the range of a first-round pick, compared to Atlanta’s steeper asking price of two picks and then some for Murray. It’s become clear the Knicks aren’t willing to part with Quentin Grimes unless New York is trading the young swingman for a perceived upgrade, sources said, as opposed to swapping him for a different back-of-the-rotation piece.

Grimes continues to have fans in Atlanta and Utah, sources said. The Jazz roster several players, most notably Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Clarkson, whom the Knicks still have on their radar, according to league sources.

Could Dejounte Murray stay put?

The Hawks, despite making the bulk of their roster available, have won four straight games as Murray helped Trae Young top Phoenix and Golden State in back-to-back contests over the weekend. Murray hit a clutch jumper to send the Warriors game into overtime Saturday before scoring seven points in the Hawks’ 11-0 run to open the extra period.

From the beginning of this trade cycle, league sources familiar with Atlanta’s thinking insisted the Hawks did not have to move Murray before the deadline. Hawks fans will surely remember the consecutive years that John Collins lingered on the trade block, only for Atlanta to not be satisfied with its offers. For Murray, it should be noted that Atlanta will have a much easier time finding the draft capital — at least two first-round picks, sources said — it seeks for the former All-Star point guard this summer, when teams will gain access to future picks once the calendar flips to 2024-25. The Lakers, for example, will be eligible to deal two more future selections come draft time.

The lack of teams with legitimate first-round ammo to trade before the deadline has been apparent around the league. In addition, the more stringent salary-matching rules for tax teams also seems to be posing greater challenges for front offices.

Point guard updates

After he was considered available at last year’s trade deadline and before the 2023 NBA Draft, Coby White is now considered off limits in Chicago, sources said, after this breakout season. The Bulls seem all but guaranteed to hold onto Zach LaVine after the All-Star guard underwent season-ending surgery, leaving reserve center Andre Drummond considered to be the most likely Chicago player to be moved by Thursday, sources said. Alex Caruso has indeed drawn interest from various postseason contenders, but the Bulls’ asking price is known to be quite steep, according to league sources.

Lakers guard Gabe Vincent, who’s become included in Los Angeles’ outgoing trade conversations, sources said, appears on track to return by early March. Vincent underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the final days of December. He was given an 8-10 week recovery period and has so far been recuperating on schedule, sources said.