Grade the trade: Rockets agree to deal Thomas Robinson to Blazers
The Rockets have agreed to trade forward Thomas Robinson to the Blazers for two European prospects and two draft picks, according to multiple reports.
Yahoo! Sports and the Houston Chronicle both report that Houston will receive Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou, Montenegrin forward/center Marko Todorovic and two future second-round picks in exchange for Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft.
The deal, which clears Robinson’s $3.5 million salary for 2013-14 off of Houston’s books as they court free-agent center Dwight Howard, can’t be officially consummated until after the free agency moratorium is lifted on July 10. The Blazers are under the salary cap and will absorb Robinson’s salary into their cap space.
Robinson, 22, was acquired by the Rockets from the Kings in a trade deadline move. He averaged 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game over 70 appearances for the Kings and Rockets.
Papanikolaou, 22, won the Euroleague’s Rising Stars Trophy this year as a member of Olympiacos. Selected by the Knicks with the No. 48 pick in the 2012 draft, Papanikolaou’s rights were included in a sign-and-trade agreement that sent Raymond Felton from Portland to New York last summer.
Todorovic, 21, was the No. 45 pick in this year’s draft and plays for Barcelona in Spain’s ACB league.
Robinson’s stay lasted just over four months, but it was a profitable one for the Rockets, even if he saw time in just 19 games and didn’t take the court for a single minute during their playoff series against the Thunder.
The February trade that landed Robinson in Houston also saw Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt head from the Kings to the Rockets in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich and cash. The meat of the deal was the power forward swap of Patterson for Robinson, as the other four players involved are all free agents this summer. Patterson will earn $3.1 million in 2013-14, and he offered fine production for the Kings down the stretch.
Of course, the issue facing Houston was that their salary cap space was at an absolute premium as they prepare to pitch the likes of Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and others this summer. There wasn’t going to be room for Patterson in that equation, there wasn’t room for Robinson in that equation, and other players, such as Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks, were also released to make way for the possibility of a max-level free agency addition.
The goal in any Robinson trade this summer, then, was to maximize the return package without compromising the cap space. Rockets GM Daryl Morey did that nicely here, adding the highly-coveted Papanikolaou, who has expressed a desire to make the jump to the NBA, and Todorovic, a player seen by Blazers GM Neil Olshey as being a few years away, plus picks that can be used as filler in future deals. It’s unlikely that Patterson — who doesn’t offer the potential upside of Robinson — would have commanded such a package this summer had the Rockets simply held on to him.
This trade’s final assessment will hinge on Houston’s ability to land Howard or another star-caliber player with their available space and on Papanikolaou’s ability to turn his potential into reality in the NBA. No matter how it plays out, though, it’s a good example of how to squeeze value out of every possible situation. With Robinson trade rumors swirling for weeks, everyone in the NBA world knew Morey had to dump his contract, and yet the final move still produced four assets.
The Blazers’ pitiful bench was the subject of never-ending wisecracks last season and the addition of any young player with physical talent and untapped capabilities is a plus. Even though he is already on his third NBA team, Robinson is still just a little more than one year removed from averaging 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds as a junior at Kansas, taking home All-America First Team honors. Back in May, The Point Forward listed Portland as one of six teams that might find it worth their while to roll the dice on Robinson. Is he salvageable? That answer won’t be known until he receives a bigger role than he’s been able to find to date.
Portland’s frontcourt rotation is nearly barren: All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has found his name in a number of trade rumors while 2012 first-round pick Meyers Leonard, 2012 rookie Joel Freeland and 2013 second-round pick Jeff Withey currently make up the entire list of bigs under contract. Last year’s starting center J.J. Hickson is expected to depart via free agency and, while the organization is targeting starting-caliber replacements this summer, it’s unclear whether they will be able to land an A, B or even C-list talent. In other words, there should be minutes for Robinson to play under virtually any scenario, particularly if Aldridge is dealt. Robinson seems well-equipped to replicate much of what Hickson offered as a rebounder and release-valve scoring option last season.
With no plans to bring Papanikolaou to the NBA and a wealthy owner in Paul Allen capable of purchasing second-round picks whenever they are needed, the outgoing assests for Robinson don’t amount to much for the Blazers. Getting something for virtually nothing is almost always a great idea, but the move’s timing and salary cap implications prevent this from being a slam dunk. Portland has meaningful cap space, but not oodles of it. Robinson’s $3.5 million salary slices their available cap space figure to a little less than $9 million. That cut could wind up taking them out of contention for restricted free agent centers like San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter or Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic.
Buying low on a top talent that’s fallen from grace like Robinson is a smart play, but it can’t be labeled a brilliant, no-risk move if it comes at the expense of adding a starting center, by far the Blazers’ biggest need. It’s possible that adding Robinson is a preemptive admission that the Blazers don’t foresee themselves being able to add one of those higher-caliber fives or don’t believe it’s in their best interests to compete financially for that type of player this summer. If that’s the case, their ability to keep Aldridge happy as he enters the final two years of his contract becomes an even stickier proposition.