Re-Assessing Houston Rockets' Playoff Odds Post-NBA Trade Deadline

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIFebruary 23, 2013

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the No. 8 seed Houston Rockets (30-26) were relatively active in the trade market. Will that translate to a better chance of them making the playoffs?

Keep on reading to find out.


What The Rockets Did

In one of the most unexpected moves of this season's deadline, general manager Daryl Morey shipped out Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson and $1 million cash to the Sacramento Kings for reserves Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, along with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Thomas Robinson.

Robinson played limited minutes (15.9 per game) in 51 games for the Kings, scoring 4.8 points and grabbing 4.7 boards per contest.

He may not have shown much in terms of numbers, but he displayed his superb athleticism and potential to live up to his high draft position.

For some reason, the Kings thought it best to trade him.

The Rockets are happy for the head-scratching decision, as Robinson will immediately be given the minutes necessary to prove that he has what it takes to be a top NBA power forward.

Unfortunately, the Rockets may have hurt themselves for the rest of this season if he doesn't pan out right away.

Along with trading away Patterson (their starting power forward), the Rockets dealt Marcus Morris (their reserve power forward) to the Phoenix Suns for a future second-round pick.

Now their depth at the four consists of Robinson and Terrence Jones, two rookies who are unproven commodities.

The loss of Patterson could be especially hard to stomach. He was the team's fourth-leading scorer, checking in at 11.6 per game. This production may just be his ceiling, however, so the move does make some sense.

There's one potential positive of this deal that many have failed to mention. The departure of Douglas means that Jeremy Lin may finally be given his due minutes in the fourth quarter.

Douglas, the first point guard off the bench for most of the season, often spells Lin late in games and stays in for a majority of the final quarter. Lin hasn't played nearly as many clutch minutes as he should, especially considering the success he had late in games with the New York Knicks in 2011-12.

With Douglas gone, Lin may finally have those clutch moments to shine.

By just assessing the team, the Rockets will either improve drastically or drop in the Western Conference standings. If Robinson pans out and Jones plays up to his potential off the bench, the Rockets will add some amazing athleticism to the court.

If they don't produce, then the Rockets will essentially be playing with four capable starters and a black hole at the 4 for the rest of the season.

To give them a proper assessment, however, we must look at the teams that the Rockets are within two spots in the standings of—both behind and ahead.


The Teams Behind

The Los Angeles Lakers, sitting at No. 9 in the West at 26-29 and 3.5 games back of the Rockets, were inactive at the deadline.

Surprised? I'm not particularly shocked, to be honest.

Pau Gasol was the biggest name on the block for the Lakers, but there's plenty of talent on the roster to make a playoff push. It's baffling that a team with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant on it is three games under .500, so there's a good chance they reclaim some glory in the second half.

The Lakers have all the pieces to make a run at the Rockets, though they have yet to really come close. They'll be breathing down the Rockets' necks for the remainder of the season, unless the Robinson/Jones combination works out well enough for the Rockets to climb the ranks.

The Portland Trail Blazers are 10th in the West (25-29) and only a half-game back of the Lakers. Portland tried to find a suitor for starting center J.J. Hickson, but instead kept him on the team. They did make one move, though, acquiring reserve point guard Eric Maynor for the draft rights to Giorgios Printezis.

The Blazers featured a strong starting five of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Hickson, but lacked depth coming off the bench.

Maynor gives the team a more than capable reserve for star rookie Lillard, and he's a guy that could have more of an impact on the team than many expect.

Portland, similarly to Los Angeles, will be breathing down Houston's neck during the second half. Unlike the Lakers, though, they actually improved.


The Teams Ahead

The Utah Jazz's (31-24, 1.5 games ahead of Houston) inactivity at the trade deadline made me question general manager Dennis Lindsey. With four players capable of starting in the frontcourt—Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors—it's amazing that at least one of them wasn't dealt to improve other areas of the roster.

Throw in the fact that Millsap and Jefferson are both in the final years of their contracts, and there's even less sense to be made of the situation.

Luckily for the Rockets, the Jazz are a team that can easily be overtaken if their flaws in the backcourt or bench become more prevalent.

There's a good argument to be made that the Rockets are actually a better team than the Jazz because of their depth and young potential.

Sitting just a half-game ahead of the Jazz is the Golden State Warriors, a team that has surprised many in 2012-13.

The Warriors made two trades, albeit ones that likely won't have any implications at all on their playoff hopes. They dealt Jeremy Tyler to the Atlanta Hawks and Charles Jenkins to the Sixers, respectively, for basically nothing.

In their defense, Andrew Bogut did just make his first appearance in the starting lineup since November in late January, so the team is poised to improve even without any major moves.

The Warriors are a team that the Rockets may not be able to catch. Stephen Curry has his team playing at a very high level given their projections prior to the season, and they'll likely stand pat at sixth in the West.


Final Assessment

The Rockets improved—potentially.

But so did the Blazers, and the Lakers can't be counted out just yet.

If the Rockets remain the No. 8 seed during the second half, I actually don't like their chances to make the playoffs. Either the Blazers or Lakers will put it all together and make a run at the postseason.

If the Rockets can overtake the Jazz for the No. 7 seed, though, I like their chances a lot more. That's something that can be done relatively soon, and I'm of the belief that the sooner, the better.

Should the Rockets get a comfortable lead over the Jazz for the No. 7 seed, there's no doubt in my mind that they'll be in the playoffs.

A potential first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a difficult series for Houston, but they did take down the defending Western Conference champs on the night of the deadline.

Anything can happen in the postseason, so all the Rockets need to do is get there. I say they have about a 65 percent chance of doing so.


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