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The Extra Pass: Analyzing the Kings-Rockets Trade

Feb 21, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Sacramento Kings v Boston Celtics Getty Images

The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine the trade between the Kings and the Rockets.

How often does a team save money and improve on the court in a trade?

That’s essentially what the Sacramento Kings did when they acquired Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and cash from the Houston Rockets for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt and a second round pick on the eve of the trade deadline.

And if the world were to end sometime in June, this would be a good trade — maybe even a great trade — for Sacramento. The Kings shed about 3.7 million of salary this year (that’s prorated, mind you), pick up a million in cash, and get the best player in the deal right now in Patterson, a 23-year-old power forward who can fly up the court and stretch the floor.

Of course, the world isn’t ending in June — unless your last name is Maloof or Petrie. If all goes according to plan, longtime GM Geoff Petrie will be on a beach somewhere with his cellphone off, while the owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, will finally (thankfully) be removed of basketball decision making power — something that would have happened long ago in a more just world. These are the final days for their basketball lives, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey just happened to stroll by their garage sale at sunset.

Of course, Morey is really good at this sort of thing, and so he walked right past all the junk Sacramento wanted to get rid of and instead went inside and found the newest, shiniest thing he could. And that shiny thing was this year’s 5th pick in the NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson.

The reason this trade stunned people around the league so much was because it was assumed the Kings bumbling management group wouldn’t have the cohesiveness or the power to muck things up, but somehow (unfortunately, we don’t get to hear about the side deals) they were able to convince the Seattle group that this was something that would be beneficial for everyone.

For the Maloofs, this move is nothing more than a self-serving cash grab that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched the relocation drama unfold. Even beginning to dissect the “basketball reasons” for Sacramento making this deal is a useless exercise — there is only one real motivation here.

Houston’s motivations aren’t entirely different. As Zach Lowe of Grantland notes, the Rockets will save 1.6 million in 2013-14, which could make all the difference in being able to offer a max contract. Of course it goes beyond that for Houston — Robinson is by far the best asset in the trade, even if you don’t think he’s capable of playing up to his draft slot. I’d be hesitant to label Robinson a bust despite his shaky play so far this year, as Sacramento isn’t exactly a breeding ground for young promising talent. There’s no “royal jelly” going on there, as David Thorpe would like to say.

Robinson could of course use more time (he’s played 809 career minutes), but even with below average early season numbers like 42 percent shooting and a PER of 10.8, Robinson already does one thing great, and that’s hitting the offensive glass. Robinson averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per36 minutes –a number that would lead you to believe he can be a valuable role player as an energy guy off the bench, if nothing else.

That’s where the deal makes sense for Houston. They had three years and 3,500 minutes to evaluate Patterson, and though I’m sure they appreciated the solid production he provided (15.6 PER, 16 points per36), they likely weren’t sold enough to pay him a real contract once his rookie deal expired next season. But in Robinson, Houston gets to reset the clock and enjoy three and a half seasons of production on a rookie deal, or alternatively, they’ll have a more valuable asset to flip at some point due to Robinson’s potential — something Sacramento’s management has no time or use for.

Although trading Patterson and moving Marcus Morris to Phoenix for a second round draft pick makes the Rockets a little less stretchy, it does make them more flexible with playing time. Fellow rookies Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas will eventually need playing time, and moving Aldrich clears up some PT for promising young big man Greg Smith. In Garcia, the Rockets also get some wing depth and a veteran 3 and D guy in the mold of Carlos Delfino without having to commit any future salary. Losing a player and clearing a roster spot is actually a great thing for Houston.

While the move might not be popular with the team right now or Kevin McHale, who I’m sure enjoyed having “veterans” like Patterson and Douglas to call on, it’s a great asset acquisition at a steep discount. Would the Kings have ever traded the 5th pick  for a package of Patterson, Aldrich and Douglas before the draft? Of course not. They would have laughed at that offer.

But now? Selling Robinson’s potential, something that’s not tangible to Sacramento’s management but is to Houston, sadly makes dollars and sense.

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