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The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies hooked up on a deal that will have no impact on the current season, but could have a major impact down the line.

Here are the particulars:

Houston Rockets acquire: Steven Adams

Memphis Grizzlies acquire: Victor Oladipo, three future second-round picks.

Fun little trade between two division rivals. Let’s dive in!

Houston Rockets

Incoming salary: $12.6 million in 2023-24

  • Steven Adams (C, two years, $25.2 million, $12.6 million in 2023-24)

Outgoing salary: $9.5 million in 2023-24

  • Victor Oladipo (SG, one year, $9.5 million)

It’s important to note from the jump that Steven Adams is injured and will miss the remainder of the 2023-24 season. So, the on-court impact for this trade won’t be felt until next season. But when it is, it should be a big one for the Rockets.

When we last saw Adams, he was in the midst of the best rebounding season of his career at 11.5 rebounds per game. In fact, Adams run with the Grizzlies saw him average double-digit rebounds for the first two times in his career.

When we next see Adams, he’ll be a 31-year-old coming off having missed an entire season. Will he still be a rebounding, defending, screen-setting force? Or will Adams be unable to stay healthy and slowed enough that his impact is negligible.

Clearly, the Rockets are betting on the former.

Even if he is healthy, Adams probably isn’t a starting center anymore. His offensive impact is setting screens, keeping the ball moving and cleaning up on the offensive glass. Those are all great skills, but Adams isn’t someone teams gameplan around on offense.

On defense, Adams is still pretty rugged. He gets on the defensive glass and he’ll block the occasional shot. He’s also a good backline defender, because he can set and call out coverages for his teammates.

Coming off a right knee injury, and subsequent surgery, that cost him the latter half of last season and all of this season, the veteran center is probably going to see his minutes limited. He’d already dipped under 30 minutes per game the last few years, but that number may now fall below 20 minutes per game.

For Houston, that’s actually fine. The Rockets starting center is burgeoning star Alperen Sengun. Houston had been looking for weeks to find a physical veteran to pair with Sengun. That’s now Adams.

Ime Udoka can now go into next season knowing he has 48 minutes of center play covered most nights between Sengun, Adams and various small-ball options. And Adams’ $12.6 million for 2024-25 is of minimal concern, since Houston should still be well below the luxury tax. The Rockets can also create even more distance under the tax line if they waive Jock Landale or, less likely, Jeff Green.

The three second-round picks are a steep cost for the Rockets. However, there needs to be a bit of context factored in. Two picks are reportedly coming in 2024 and one in 2025. In 2024, the Rockets have picks from the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. None of those are projected to be particularly juicy, meaning near the top of the second-round. In 2025, the Rockets only have the Thunder’s pick. Again, that’s likely to be in the back half of the round, if not deep into the 50s.

In addition to the picks being potentially less-then-stellar, Houston is kind of running out of roster spots, especially ones for developmental prospects. The Rockets seem committed to making a run at the playoffs in 2025. They’d rather use their end-of-the-bench spots on veterans who could play a real role in a playoff run.

Memphis Grizzlies

Incoming salary: $9.5 million in 2023-24

  • Victor Oladipo (SG, one year, $9.5 million)

Outgoing salary: $12.6 million in 2023-24

  • Steven Adams (C, two years, $25.2 million, $12.6 million in 2023-24)
  • The Grizzlies will likely create a $12.6 million Traded Player Exception (TPE) for Steven Adams in this deal. They’ll do this by bringing Victor Oladipo into the Disabled Player Exception (DPE) that they have for Ja Morant. Memphis will also forfeit the DPE they currently have for Adams, once the deal is completed.

This trade is all about flexibility for Memphis. With Adams on the books for next season, the Grizzlies were facing being a potential second apron team. With Adams off the books, and Oladipo on an expiring contract, Memphis projects to be only $2 million over the tax line. That’s close enough that another move or two could see the Grizzlies get out of the tax entirely.

And that’s what this trade is all about: Flexibility.

Memphis was previously in a tough spot, as second apron teams will have the full boat of restrictions placed upon them next season. Making trades is more difficult, as the second apron teams can’t aggregate salaries and they have to match salary dollar for dollar. They also don’t have any of the better signing exceptions. Essentially, second apron teams are limited to signing their own draft picks and signing players to minimum contracts.

Before making this deal, Memphis would likely have been making a difficult decision on picking up their $14.8 million team option for Luke Kennard for 2024-25. Now, the Grizzlies can pick up Kennard’s option and make only a smaller move or two to dip under the tax line next season.

That’s big for a team that is hoping to bounce back in a major way next season, when Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and others will hopefully return to full health.

One of those “others” is Brandon Clarke. He’ll now take on a bigger role than ever with Adams out of the mix. Memphis should be in a position where they have enough to get by at the center position, even without the veteran center. Jaren Jackson Jr. has held down that spot for long stretches this season, and Clarke can also play the five. Santi Aldama has shown he’s ready for a bigger role too.

The increased flexibility around the tax should also give Memphis greater leeway to re-sign Xavier Tillman Sr. The Grizzlies love Tillman’s game and would be happy to keep him, especially with an increased role lined up in place of Adams.

Acquiring Oladipo won’t have any sort of on-court impact, even if the Grizzlies continue to be banged up and undermanned. It’s unlikely Oladipo will even play in a game for Memphis. The Grizzlies may retain Oladipo through the trade deadline, while they see if another deal emerges. If no other deal develops, Memphis may either work a buyout with Oladipo or could simply waive him.

Waiving Oladipo would free up a roster spot for the Grizzlies. That’s crucial because two-way player G.G. Jackson is looking increasingly like someone Memphis should get signed to a long-term deal.

Getting three second-round picks is also good the Grizzlies. They have been one of the league’s better draft-and-develop teams in the league. Even if none of the picks come in at the top part of the second-round, Memphis can use these picks to fill two-way spots, or to select draft-and-stash players.



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