As the trade deadline approaches, the trade chatter for Victor Oladipo is growing louder.
The Golden State Warriors are the latest team to have shown interest in trading for Oladipo, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. But the New York Knicks are still in the running based on Marc Berman of the New York Post and Scoop B’s latest reports.
Oladipo is averaging 19.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals in 15 games for the Rockets while shooting 39 percent from the field and just 31 percent from the three-point area. But he’s notched a season-high 33 and five triples in their recent loss to Brooklyn Nets.
Oladipo cost the Rockets a rising star in Caris LeVert, who is due for $35-million in the next two seasons, and a future second-round pick. Houston’s first-year general manager Rafael Stone said at that time that the Oladipo trade was all about creating flexibility.
“Your hope is that it’s a perfect marriage,” Stone said after essentially getting Oladipo for James Harden. “(Oladipo’s) an extremely talented player. He’s a two-way player. He’s played at an extraordinarily high level. He’s obviously had a significant injury. He’s back. He’s already really, really good, but I think in his own mind and in ours, there’s still room to grow, which is really exciting.
“I think for him and for us, this is like a really exciting time where we get to see if it works out. Hopefully, it just works out gangbusters, and then we take it from there.”
Two months after the trade, the Oladipo experiment appears to be a failure on the surface. But when the Rockets were healthy, Oladipo was their most valuable two-way player with the best defensive rating.
Despite a 13-game losing streak entering the NBA All-Star break, the Rockets have not seen enough of Oladipo, John Wall, and Christian Wood together that may factor in their trade deadline decisions.
The Rockets’ version of ‘diet Big 3’ in the post-Harden has only shared the court for only 53 minutes together this season.
Houston’s front office appears not ready to pull the trigger on a fire sale yet.
“The Rockets have no interest, according to an individual familiar with the team’s thinking, in pursuing their version of “The Process,” by trading off veterans to collect assets and losses that could help lottery chances,” Houston Chronicle and Rockets insider Jonathan Feigen recently wrote.
The Rockets owe their top four-protected 2021 first-round pick to Oklahoma City as part of the Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade. If the Rockets remain one of the three worst teams, the best they could have is a 52.1 percent chance of landing in the top four. There’s still a big chance that their pick goes to the Thunder; hence their hesitation to tanking is understandable.
So Houston is torn between full-scale rebuild and trying to stay relevant.
With Wood expected to return after the All-Star break, the Rockets will at least have four games left to gauge whether they flip or keep Oladipo.
This is where the flexibility Stone was talking about comes in.
The Rockets could create roughly $20 million in cap space if they let Oladipo and their veterans on expiring deals walk after the season.
There’s also a remote chance that the Rockets could work on a sign-and-trade with Oladipo akin to the Gordon Hayward deal between Boston and Charlotte to create a large amount of trade exception in the offseason.
Their best bet is to flip Oladipo at the trade deadline. But at what price?
“The Victor Oladipo situation, he will absolutely be of interest to teams, but the Rockets have to gauge what they bring back. If they’re bringing back $21 million worth of contracts, they better want those guys,” Feigen said on Texas Sports Nation recently.
The Rockets have given up LeVert and a draft pick for Oladipo, so we assume that they would want something more or the same value back.
The Miami Heat have Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, but they are standing pat, believing they could land Oladipo for free in the free agency.
The Warriors don’t have much to offer except Kelly Oubre, Jr., unless they want to flip the Minnesota Timberwolves’ top-three protected pick from the D’Angelo Russell trade.
Outside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks don’t have players that Rockets would view as a potential core piece. But they have expiring deals and the draft capital to lure the Rockets.
The crux of a potential Oladipo trade not only lies in what the Rockets would want in exchange but, more so, in how the Knicks view him at this stage of his career.
Will Oladipo ever be healthy?
He’s only 28, but he has never played a full season since he entered the league. The most he has played is 80 games during his rookie year. He’s only played a total of 55 games over the last two seasons. This season, he has yet to play in back-to-back games.
Is he a short-term rental, or do they believe they have a shot at keeping him beyond this season?
Oladipo is definitely an upgrade over Reggie Bullock for the offensively-challenged Knicks and can enhance their playoff chances. If the Knicks trade for him, the sense is that they are trying to one-up the Heat in the recruiting process; that they believe their new culture will convince Oladipo to stay in New York beyond the season.
But it’s a double-edged sword.
There’s that risk of the Knicks still not making the playoffs, and as a result, Oladipo would still want to go to the more established Heat organization.
If there is anything we have learned so far from Leon Rose’s leadership, they are navigating this Knicks rebuild with prudence and patience.
The overwhelming sense is that the Knicks will ride out the season with what they have and make the big moves in the summer.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo