Rockets still waiting for trading to begin

The Houston Rockets, in a total non-surprise for anyone who has tracked their movements during the Daryl Morey Era, are looking for a deal as hard as any team in the league as NBA trade season heats up.

More than 110 players who signed new contracts last sum‎mer became eligible to be dealt Tuesday. And Houston, as our own Calvin Watkins summed up neatly earlier this week, is ready to move.

Morey actually came into the season believing that he finally had a roster to contend for the championship without midstream tweaking, but a 13-14 start that cost Kevin McHale his job after 11 games and includes two losses to the Brooklyn Nets and three more to the Denver Nuggets quickly forced a re-think.

Yet it turns out that a trade that intrigues Houston greatly and might well have gone down this week, according to league sources, still can't happen, thanks to the NBA's (occasionally) complex trade-eligibility rules.

As ESPN.com reported Dec. 6, Houston has serious interest in the Phoenix Suns' very available Markieff Morris.

And a Rockets offer of Corey Brewer and Terrence Jones, sources say, has not only been seriously discussed but the teams could get that deal done.

‎The problem: Brewer isn't quite clear to be dealt yet. Because the Rockets re-signed Brewer to a salary ($8.2 million) that exceeds his prior salary ($4.7 million) by more than 20 percent -- and because Houston is over the salary cap -- Houston can't deal the veteran swingman until Jan. 15 as opposed to Dec. 15.

Turns out, furthermore, that there are 25 more players on new deals around the league who fall under the same restriction and thus shall remain off the trade market for at least four more weeks.

The complete array of Jan. 15ers follows:

Boston: Jae Crowder

Brooklyn: Brook Lopez

Chicago: Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy

Cleveland: Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert

Detroit: Reggie Jackson

Golden State: Draymond Green

Houston: Patrick Beverley and Brewer

Indiana: Lavoy Allen

Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers

Memphis: Marc Gasol

Miami: Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade

Milwaukee: Khris Middleton

New Orleans: Alexis Ajinca and Norris Cole

Oklahoma City: Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler

Orlando: Tobias Harris

Phoenix: Brandon Knight

San Antonio: Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard

Washington: Drew Gooden

Western Conference

External interest in DeMarcus Cousins never‎ lets up. Teams didn't wait until Dec. 15 to start chasing him, clinging to the hope that Sacramento can be coerced into moving its franchise player and starting over, but Kings general manager Vlade Divac was adamant this week when he told ESPN.com that Cousins is "off the table." ‎... Similar messaging has emanated from New Orleans this week, where sources familiar with the Pelicans' thinking insist that the Pels -- while as active as Houston in pursuing roster tweaks after a highly disappointing start -- are not shopping stretch 4 Ryan Anderson. Word is that the Pels are indeed getting a lot of calls for Anderson, who is in the final year of his current contract at a very movable $8.5 million, but New Orleans is said to be just listening at this stage. ... Very much on the table, by contrast, is Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin, as the Associated Press reported earlier this week. Martin joins the Clippers' Jamal Crawford on the list of proven scorers who can be had before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Eastern Conference

Although the Bucks met with free-agent big man Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles this week, I'm told Milwaukee remains focused on a trade for Sacramento's Caron Butler in coming days, as ESPN.com reported Wednesday. Butler appeals to the Bucks given their obvious need for a veteran voice with such a young squad, while they continue to shop big man Miles Plumlee in separate deals. ... I can't visit Milwaukee, as I did last weekend to cover Golden State's first loss of the season, without being instantly transported back to the summer of 1990 and (if you allow me to get my Peter King on) one of my most memorable travel tales ever. Famed Washington Post sports editor George Solomon, needing a reporter to head to Brewtown immediately to cover Nolan Ryan's bid for his 300th victory, spotted a spare young intern in the newsroom and told him to get to the airport immediately to make sure he was on the ground in time for the first pitch. It will always be one of the most memorable assignments of my career, not only because Ryan went on to notch win No. 300, but because I was dispatched to the old County Stadium with no time to go back to my apartment and get some luggage. Which meant flying home the next day in the same clothes I worked the game in. ... Al Jefferson's five-game suspension in Charlotte will cost him $613,636 of his $13.5 million salary this season.

The List

Minor-league junkies (like me) will have loved the recent announcement that Detroit's Brandon Jennings is booked for an injury rehab stint with the Pistons' D-League affiliate as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.

‎The overall talent pool in the D-League at present appears to be somewhat down in terms of NBA-ready talent -- given that we've only seen two call-ups so far (Bryce Cotton and Phil Pressey) -- but baseball-style rehab assignments like the one Jennings has consented to always serve as a spike of legitimacy that (in my optimistic view) inches us closer to the eventual day that we see 30 D-League teams -- one for every NBA franchise.

For you budding D-League historians out there, we offer a compilation of the established players who, like Jennings, have been dispatched on a get-well rehab stint in recent years:

• Golden State's Festus Ezeli (2014-15/Santa Cruz Warriors)

• Boston's Marcus Smart (2014-15/Maine Red Claws)

• Then-Laker Xavier Henry (2014-15/Los Angeles D-Fenders)

• Portland's C.J. McCollum (2013-14/Idaho Stampede)

• Then-Clipper Eric Bledsoe (2011-12/Bakersfield Jam)

• Then-Timberwolf Jonny Flynn (2010-11/Sioux Falls Skyforce)

• Then-Blazer Patty Mills (2009-10/Idaho Stampede) ‎

The D-League, for the record, doesn't employ an official "rehab assignment" designation like we see in baseball's minor leagues. But there have likewise been several notable NBA vets who have made trips down to practice with their big club's D-Leaguers while working their way back from injury. They are:

• Philadelphia's Carl Landry (currently on a practice-only assignment with the Delaware 87ers as we speak)

• Philadelphia's Tony Wroten (same deal as Landry)

• Then-Celtic Rajon Rondo (2013-14/Maine Red Claws)

• Then-Knick Amar’e Stoudemire (2012-13/Erie BayHawks

• San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard (2012-13/Austin Spurs)

• Then-Spur TJ Ford (2011-12/Austin Spurs)

P.S.: Hearty hat tip to the NBA's tireless Joey Shapiro for her help with this research. Shapiro also reminds us that current Golden State bench sparkplug Shaun Livingston signed a D-League contract during the 2009-10 season as a free agent to prove his NBA-readiness and quickly played his way back to the NBA with the Tulsa 66ers after years of considerable injury woe.