Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 6/27/12
HOUSTON Gone are Chase Budinger and Samuel Dalembert, and with them any reasonable amount of job security for Rockets guards Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. What has been a whirlwind of frenetic activity has yet to reach a crescendo for the Rockets, with the assurance of something grander likely to follow as the NBA Draft commences on Thursday night. At stake: a fleeting opportunity to strike while the iron is hot for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose dogged pursuit of a superstar around which he could construct a roster hasnt materialized since Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming first showed signs of dilapidation. At play: Magic franchise center Dwight Howard, who will enter the final year of his contract in Orlando after spending the bulk of the recently-completed, lockout-shortened season waffling on his future there. Even given the reality that Howard might balk at signing a max-deal contract with the Rockets, Morey has leaped headlong into an effort to assemble the chips deemed necessary to inspire the intrigue of Magic general manager Rob Hennigan. Thus he traded Budinger to Minnesota on Tuesday for the right to the Timberwolves first-round pick (18th overall). Then he shipped Dalembert to Milwaukee Wednesday for three players (guard Shaun Livingston, and forwards Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer) and, of greater significance, a two-spot jump in the draft lottery. Now the Rockets will pick 12th (via the Bucks), 16th (via the Knicks via through Jordan Hill acquisition that shipped McGrady to New York), and 18th. Well, thats the current format. Considering the sequence of events and the ultimate goal, the Rockets position could change in the next 15 minutes. The last 48 hours have been as unpredictable as the next 48 hours promise to be. Morey has zero desire to add three rookies to a roster already featuring five forwards with fewer than three seasons of NBA experience (including Leuer and Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas, who will join the team for the 2012-13 season). If the Rockets cant accumulate enough assets, either attractive personnel or valuable draft picks, to convince the Magic to send Howard to Houston, Morey will trade his way into the top 10 and select what he hopes is an impact player with star potential. If neither of those scenarios plays out, the Rockets could reboot their pursuit of Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, who was briefly in their clutches just prior to last season before NBA commissioner David Stern nixed a three-way trade that also included the then-league-owned Hornets. With so many scenarios in play its difficult to predict what will happen and who will be involved, although some components of future trades are as obvious as the Rockets desperation to escape mediocrity. Lowry, whose ascendant play and manageable contract (two years, 11.96 million), has been bandied about as bait thanks in part to his publicizing a rift with coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets desire to re-sign point guard Goran Dragic, an unrestricted free agent who performed marvelously while Lowry was sidelined by a bacterial infection. If every member of the Rockets roster is available, Lowry is the most desirous by a healthy margin. In turn, he should command the most in return. In Martin the Rockets possess an expiring contract (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NBA) worth 12.9 million and someone who wasnt exactly missed when a shoulder injury contributed to his missing 26 games. By jettisoning Budinger the Rockets not only got a healthy return on their initial investment (Budinger was the 44th overall pick of the 2009 draft), they alleviated a logjam in the youthful frontcourt. With the emergence of Courtney Lee, Martin was proven dispensable. If Morey makes good on his declaration to re-sign Lee, a restricted free agent, the Rockets need for Martin would be nil. Of course, Morey also proclaimed Dalembert would return for a second season with the club. Old plans were altered and new ones took form. The ball began to roll. On Thursday more moves are anticipated, with the assumption that everyone on the payroll has a travel bag sitting by their front door. While preparing for the arrival of someone expected to alter the course of their franchise, the Rockets are poised for additional departures. Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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