Rockets acquire Steven Adams for Victor

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The Houston Rockets have acquired center Steven Adams from the Memphis Grizzlies for guard Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks, the teams announced Thursday.

Adams has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury he suffered last January that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2022-23 season and the playoffs. As for Oladipo, he is dealing with a patellar tendon injury in his left knee and has not played a game since April of last season.

The Rockets are 22-25 entering Thursday, while the Grizzlies are 18-29.

Houston had made no secret of their desire to beef up their center depth behind starter Alperen Şengün, with coach Ime Udoka even addressing the issue prior to Monday night’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Enter Adams, one of the most respected and physical big men the league has to offer, a true rim protector and two-way rebounder.

For all the success the Rockets have had this season, they have struggled defending in the paint, a weakness that has reared its head on a routine basis. Adams obviously isn’t available to suit up for Houston this season, still recovering from offseason knee surgery, but he will continue his rehab in the city and is expected to make a full recovery ahead of the 2024-25 season.

For the Grizzlies, this feels like the deal before the deal.

They still have a week to find another home for Oladipo if they so choose and pick up extra draft capital in the process. Memphis gets off the Adams contract — he was due for $12.5 million next season — which is a huge loss in the community and locker room but also gives it a bit more wiggle room financially.

After Adams was unavailable for the Grizzlies’ postseason and also missed this year, it always felt like both sides were moving in different directions, as unfortunate as injuries are. Memphis is positioning itself for the 2024-25 season where Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. should be healthy and ready to go.

Why both sides made this deal

The Adams trade is the logical conclusion of two of the trade deadline’s more inevitable endgames. First, that the Rockets would convert Oladipo’s expiring contract into a big man they could carry into a future season. Second, that the Grizzlies would trade one of their injured big men before the start of next season to avert going over a nearing luxury tax cliff.

Houston had already had traded Kevin Porter Jr.’s contract for Oladipo’s deal last fall precisely as a “keep the money alive” deal. That cost the Rockets a second-round pick, but relative to the alternative of cutting Porter — who was charged with assault and strangulation of his girlfriend in September; he eventually pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and a harassment violation — it kept them in the game for future trades with a mid-sized contract.

Adams’ $12.6 million salary for 2024-25 is a reasonable carry for a Houston squad with a relatively clean cap sheet, and he can play a lighter minutes load as Şengün’s backup in 2024-25 upon rehabbing from knee surgery that ended his 2023-24 season.

The Grizzlies, prior to this trade, projected to be nearly $20 million over next year’s tax line. They were carrying the contracts of Adams and Brandon Clarke — both out for the 2023-24 season and facing battles back from serious injuries even a year from now — at a combined cost of $25 million.

Moving off Adams’ deal puts Memphis in position to potentially stay below the first tax apron next year, especially if the Grizzlies also decline the $14 million option on Luke Kennard (who might also be a trade candidate in the next seven days). With Jaren Jackson, Jr. capable of playing increased minutes at center and Xavier Tillman likely to be an inexpensive unrestricted free agent to retain, the Grizzlies are still covered in the middle.

They could probably add another inexpensive free agent with their biannual exception if they don’t select a big man with a likely high lottery pick in the 2024 draft.

With that as the backdrop, the only thing left was for Memphis and Houston to haggle over compensation. For Memphis, walking away with three second-round picks for an injured Adams probably feels like a win, even if only of the three picks is likely to land in the top 40. The Grizzlies get two picks in 2024 — the best and worst of three that Houston had coming from Golden State, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn — and one in 2025 that is the better of Houston’s or Oklahoma City’s.

Memphis also generates a $12.6 million trade exception for Adams because it can take Oladipo’s expiring contract into the $12.5 million injured player exception for Morant. (Yes, they are taking an injured player into an injured player exception. Nobody said the CBA made perfect sense, but here we are).

For Houston, on the flip side, three seconds wasn’t a reason to walk away from this, not when the Rockets are sitting on a heap of more valuable draft capital from Brooklyn over the next four years. Adams, who turns 31 this summer, will also be reunited with former Memphis teammate Dillon Brooks, as the Rockets continue to build an identity around defense and toughness under new coach Udoka. — John Hollinger, senior writer

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(Photo: Justin Ford / Getty Images)

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