According to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets are interested in Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith. Smith is someone the Cavs would definitely like to deal, as he is away from the team and has played his last game for Cleveland.
The Rockets have expressed exploratory interest in acquiring JR Smith, according to league sources. Smith is currently on hiatus from the Cavaliers as Cleveland seeks a new home for the veteran shooting guard via trade— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 11, 2018
Stein’s wording would seem to indicate that Houston’s interest in Smith has not evolved into any serious trade talks. But the Rockets do make sense as a trade partner because they are interested in acquiring wing players and have salaries they’d like to get off.
Smith is making $14.7 million this year and only has a small guarantee on his deal next year. A team that acquires him will be able to crate some extra cap space in the summer.
The most obvious player the Rockets could send to the Cavs in exchange for Smith is point guard Brandon Knight, who is signed through next season and will make $15.6 million in 2019-20. The Cavs could deal Smith for Knight straight up.
But Cleveland also will want compensation in the form of picks to eat Knight’s salary for next year. If Koby Altman could get a first-round pick attached to Smith — and have it be unprotected, ideally — then a deal makes sense here. Even one with light protections that mean it conveys if Houston makes the playoffs would be fine. Knight adds to the salary bill for next season, and the Cavs don’t really need more guards — so this is a deal Cleveland should absolutely push for compensation for.
Acquiring picks is good. The market for Smith likely won’t be robust and the Rockets are in a position where they seem to need to do something. Maybe that can help the Cavs get the type of assets they want.