Rockets trade Budinger to Timberwolves for 18th pick
The Rockets now have the 14th, 16th and 18th picks in Thursday's draft
Houston is eyeing Dwight Howard, who isn't likely to commit to Houston long term
Budinger's three-point shooting will help Minnesota, which has lacked wing offense
The Rockets have agreed to trade small forward Chase Budinger and the rights to Israeli Lior Eliyahu to the Timberwolves in exchange for the No. 18 pick in the draft, sources confirmed to SI.com.
With the Rockets plotting an aggressive push to trade for Magic center Dwight Howard, they now have the No. 14, No. 16 and No. 18 picks in Thursday's draft to use to that end. What form such a proposal takes remains unknown, but it's clear that Houston general manager Daryl Morey is determined to land an All-Star talent who can return the Rockets to relevance after three consecutive seasons of narrowly missing the playoffs.
The push comes despite the fact that Howard appears to have no interest in staying in Houston beyond next season. But the Rockets, who are flush with potential salary-cap space and could sign another star to pair with Howard, appear willing to take the gamble. Sources said the Rockets have yet to engage Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, on the idea of playing in Houston. If and when they do, one of the sources said, it would be made clear that, even if the Rockets were to win a championship, Howard would still intend to become a free agent next summer.
Nonetheless, the change in the Magic's front office could be playing a part in Morey's newfound aggressiveness. Sources said new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is well aware that Howard likely needs to be dealt, and Morey is well aware that Hennigan would be looking for a laundry list of assets in return.
What comes next remains to be seen. The Rockets are known to have had recent discussions with Sacramento, and rival executives believe that Houston has proposed dealing the 14th and 16th picks for the Kings' No. 5. Two sources involved in the Houston-Sacramento talks refuted a report that the Rockets had offered Nos. 14 and 16 and point guard Kyle Lowry for the fifth pick and guard Tyreke Evans. The Rockets have reportedly had talks with Toronto as well, with Lowry mentioned as a possible piece in a deal that would give the Raptors' No. 8 pick to Houston. Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin is also a possibility to be dealt. He has just one year left on his contract (worth $12.9 million) and is not looking to re-sign in Houston, according to sources close to him.
There are mixed signals as to whether the Kings are considering moving back. A source said president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie has been doing his homework in recent days on Mississippi State power forward Arnett Moultrie, who is widely expected to be taken in the middle-to-late first round and who worked out in Sacramento on Sunday. Meanwhile, Petrie is also known to have been inquiring about a player who would qualify as a surprise pick at No. 5, Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters.
Evans' production has declined since he won the Rookie of the Year award for the 2009-10 season while playing point guard, and sources said he's disenchanted with the Kings after being moved to small forward last season. Evans, who is eligible for an extension this summer but is instead headed for restricted free agency next summer, wants to return to a ball-dominant role and has informed the team that he no longer wants to play small forward.
A source close to Nets point guard Deron Williams said Houston is not likely to be added to his free-agent wish list even if the Rockets get Howard. Williams is focused on the Nets or his hometown team in Dallas, though he is known to be open to joining the Lakers if they were able to pull off a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn.
As for the Magic, Hennigan -- who came up from a Thunder organization acclaimed for building through the draft -- would have a tough decision to make if Houston is able to combine two top 10 picks with other key players in a proposal. Atlanta's recent front-office change could come into play, too, as new general manager Danny Ferry is expected to retool the Hawks' roster and one of Howard's closest friends, Josh Smith, is likely to be available. Smith, who has a $13.2 million expiring contract next season, reportedly requested a trade last season. ESPN.com reported that Smith is a possible target for Houston.
Budinger, 24, averaged 9.6 points in 22.4 minutes and shot a career-high 40.2 percent from three-point range last season, his third in the NBA. The former second-round pick could help a Minnesota team that lacked scoring on the wing and ranked only 23rd in three-point accuracy in 2011-12.
Eliyahu was the 44th pick in the 2006 draft. He plays professionally in Israel.
The Rockets-Timberwolves trade was first reported the Houston Chronicle and DraftExpress.