By Chad Ford and Marc Stein
For the past several years, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been trying to package assets together to make a big deal on draft night. The 2012 draft is no different.
Sources say that Houston has discussed deals with several teams in the top 10 about moving up in the draft. And the Rockets might have found two willing partners.
Although sources stressed that no deal is imminent, Sacramento (No. 5) and Toronto (No. 8 ) have let Houston know that their top-10 selections are available. Sources say that the Rockets, in turn, have made both of their first-round picks available (No. 14 and No. 16), but the key to any trade going through could be point guard Kyle Lowry.
The Raptors have been especially fond of Lowry, who has been regarded for months as a borderline untouchable in Houston but more recently has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Whether the Rockets are indeed prepared to part with Lowry, as talks with the Kings, Raptors and other teams continue, figures to be one of the bigger stories of draft week.
What’s clear from the Rockets’ end, sources say, is the player they’re fondest of in the upper reaches of the draft: UConn big man Andre Drummond. Many scouts believe Drummond has the second highest upside of any player in the draft behind consensus No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, but the 7-foot, 279-pounder would almost certainly still be available at No. 5.
Drummond, as the second youngest player in the draft at 18, registered an impressive 7-foot-6 wingspan at the NBA draft combine earlier this month. Personnel experts regard him as an elite athlete and shot-blocker who moves laterally especially well. But Drummond’s inconsistent play as a freshman, combined with questions about his passion for the game, have caused his draft stock to take a slight hit in recent weeks.
The tipoff that the Kings are likely to deal the No. 5 pick between now and Thursday night, sources say, is the handful of players they’ve brought in who are expected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. Sources say two of those players in particular -- North Carolina’s John Henson and St. John’s Moe Harkless -- are high on the Kings’ draft board.
Henson has already worked out for the Kings and Harkless is scheduled to work out on Monday. Sacramento has also tried to get several other candidates for the middle of the first round, including UConn’s Jeremy Lamb and Washington’s Terrence Ross, into town for 11th-hour workouts.
UPDATE (12:48 a.m. ET): Upon hearing of Sunday night's developments, one rival general manager told ESPN.com that he believes Houston's real aim is acquiring two top-10 picks this week to turn around quickly and offer both to the Orlando Magic as part of a considerable trade offer for Dwight Howard.
The Rockets' willingness to trade for Howard -- even without the All-Star center's signature on a contract extension -- is an open secret around the league. But it's believed that two top-eight picks, assuming Houston managed to complete trades with both Sacramento and Toronto, would seriously pique the interest of new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, who could then quickly start following the same sort of roster-building blueprint relied on by his previous employers in Oklahoma City.
Acquiring those early lottery picks, though, only represents half of Houston's challenge if Howard is indeed the Rockets' target. The other hurdle is convincing Hennigan, who hasn't even been on the job for a week in Central Florida, to part with Howard so quickly. As much as he's been schooled in building through the draft while working alongside Thunder GM Sam Presti, Hennigan could opt to take a more measured approach, make one more run at trying to convince Howard to sign an extension before entering the final year of his contract and then trade him later in the summer if those efforts go nowhere.