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From all indications, the first two picks in the NBA Draft are already locked in. It sounds like the Orlando Magic have already decided on Jabari Smith and the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely take Chet Holmgren. That means, for all intents and purposes, the Houston Rockets are on now on the clock with a little less than a month to make their selection.
That gives them plenty of time to scout possible picks at No. 3 but all time to really shop for potential trades. By most draft boards, Paolo Banchero is the third-best prospect, but his creation-heavy, offense-first skill set might not be the best fit in a young core that already includes Jalen Green, Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun. Fit isn’t necessarily the best criteria to be deciding on this high in the draft but the point is the Rockets have options.
There are a few different teams that could be eager to trade up for the No. 3 pick and offer the Rockets reasonably close to equal value. Here are a few of the most fun possibilities.
Houston Rockets trading back with the San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs (or their fans, at least) are chomping at the bit for an opportunity to trade up and would happily take Paolo Banchero with the No. 3 pick. They could offer the Rockets a reasonable, if not overwhelming, package that gives Houston a chance to improve in both the short- and long-term.
The Spurs could offer the No. 9 pick, Keldon Johnson and another player, depending on whether the Rockets prefer another raw wing (Josh Primo), a possible long-term backup point guard (Tre Jones) or another big body on a reasonable contract (Zach Collins). For Houston, moving to No. 9 could still give them a chance to nab either a foundational defensive big man like Jalen Duren or a versatile, two-way wing connector like Jeremy Sochan or Dyson Daniels. In addition, they’d pick up another potential rotation piece, as well as Keldon Johnson — a 22-year-old forward who can defend multiple positions, averaged 17.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, shooting 39.8 on 3-pointers.
For the Spurs, it’s a steep price to pay but they get Banchero is a frontcourt complement for Dejounte Murray. They’d also still have Devin Vassell, potentially Lonnie Walker and the No. 20 and No. 25 picks to continue adding more talent.
Landing Myles Turner from the Indiana Pacers
Turner is an elite interior defender and his floor-spacing ability makes him an incredibly useful big man, even if he’s somewhere below the star level. At 26 years old, he’s also early enough in his career that his timeline overlaps with what the Rockets are building. As a defensive anchor to help scaffold things for Sengun, Green and Porter Jr. he could help the Rockets pivot towards short-term competitiveness without sacrificing too much of their long-term upside.
To make this work, the Rockets would have to send the No. 3 pick and some contract filler like Eric Gordon, potentially taking back one more asset like the No. 31 pick in the draft or a young player like Oshae Brisset or Goga Bitadze.
For the Pacers, the No. 3 pick is incredible value for Turner, even if they have to include an additional asset to get the deal done. They’d then have the No. 3 and No. 6 picks to add talent around Tyrese Haliburton, along with up-and-coming young players like Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, with veterans like Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield that could be potentially flipped for other assets.
Letting the Sacramento Kings move up
The Sacramento Kings fell outside the top three and are reportedly interested in trading back for a veteran who can help them make the playoffs next season. However, they could conceivably go a different route and try to move up to accomplish the same goal.
The Rockets could send No. 3 and Eric Gordon to the Kings for the No. 4 pick and the No. 37 pick. The Kings would need to renounce Jeremy Lamb and possibly more to create cap space for Eric Gordon. But they get an experienced, veteran shooter to add depth for a playoff push as well as landing Banchero. It’s a less-than-ideal pairing with Domantas Sabonis defensively but on offense, they’d be a powerful combination.
For the Rockets, this only works if there’s someone other than Banchero they’re considering. They get the player they want anyway and shed a year of Gordon’s salary with a reasonably high second-round pick for their troubles. It’s not a home-run trade but it’s the kind of marginal value-add that the top teams always seem to find.
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Andrew Wiggins has been a difference-maker for the Golden State Warriors. It’s a far cry from his time with Minnesota where he put up oodles of points and never really made a difference at all.