Houston Rockets: Analyzing The K.J. McDaniels Trade

The Houston Rockets were one of the more active teams at the trade deadline, dealing a number of players including K.J. McDaniels. Was it the right move, and what does it mean for the team moving forward?

The Houston Rockets lost their final game before the All-Star break, falling at home to the Miami Heat 117-109. The Houston Rockets won their first game after the All-Star break by 30 points in a 129-99 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

In between, the Rockets took their bench and discarded pieces left a right. Corey Brewer (and a pick) was exchanged for Lou Williams to add some backcourt punch. James Ennis was swapped for Marcelo Huertas.

K.J. McDaniels finally moved from his permanent spot in the trade rumors to his new home in Brooklyn.

K.J. McDaniels was widely rumored to be on the table, but it was still a surprise to see him move for cash considerations. The Brooklyn Nets acquired a young player with team control for another season, and the Houston Rockets acquired cap space.

The primary impetus for the deal appears to be money, as it so often is around the league. Teams often seek to offload “bad” salary so they can use cap space on new contracts, ignoring the fact that they were the ones fooled into signing the bad contract in the first place.

That isn’t to say K.J. McDaniels is on a bad contract, because it is not. The three-year, $10 million per year is a bargain in today’s cap environment for a player still clinging to upside. Just two seasons ago this player was discussed as a steal for Houston in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

While that upside hasn’t been realized in Houston, that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Brooklyn had its reasons for making the deal, but Houston seemed to have a clear goal in mind with its moves this offseason: clear bad salary from the books.

McDaniels was not a player who was going to help Houston in the playoffs and therefore he was not a player this team needed to pay this season and beyond.

It’s a shame he couldn’t crack the rotation, because there is a role for him with the team. In that loss to Miami, Corey Brewer played more than 20 minutes, despite being consistently and blatantly ineffective this season.

An athletic forward with any shot whatsoever could have been an improvement, yet McDaniels only appeared in 29 games this season.

The shot has never materialized for McDaniels in Houston as it seemed like it might early in his career. A 29 percent three-point shooter for his career, McDaniels is not taking or making triples.

The young forward doesn’t rebound and indeed struggles in seemingly every major statistical category, hurting for assists, steals or blocks.

If McDaniels wasn’t going to be a meaningful playoff contributor, then the Rockets had to find someone else.

What trades were on the table remains to be seen, but McDaniels did not command much trade value and Houston was reluctant to give up major assets to bring a player in.

That left the buyout market for the Rockets, and trading McDaniels frees up another $3.3 million that may prove crucial in bidding for a buyout candidate. The team may target a big man, such as Andrew Bogut, or go after a replacement wing yet to be determined.

K.J. McDaniels is the tantalizing prospect every team wants to have, the wing with all the tools to turn into a 3-and-D starter.

But as Houston’s expectations for itself rose, their need to fill that roster spot with a player who can contribute in the postseason pushed out their need to hope for the future.

Could McDaniels have brought back value from another team? It’s easy to say yes, but Houston has a thorough and well-established front office. If there was something more out there, it’s reasonable to expect they would have found it.

Perhaps their expressed interest in Iman Shumpert fell apart because Cleveland had no interest in McDaniels.

This deal is light on the implications for both teams. There’s a small possibility McDaniels still develops into a strong rotation player, in which case Brooklyn will have spent its time well. Houston’s grade depends largely on who they sign into that newly opened cap space.

While the watching world hopes for blockbusters involving All-Stars and high draft picks, much of the work done at the trade deadline is on the margins, maximizing the seventh man, the 10th man, the 12th.

Houston did just that this season, and if the rewards come they will be in May — or, the Rockets hope, in June.

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