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Reports: Rockets ‘aggressive’ in pursuit of Cade Cunningham and No. 1

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What would it take for the Detroit Pistons to trade down?

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma The Oklahoman-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

As we inch closer to the NBA Draft, we will continually hear more about rumored trades and less and less about the likelihood of an actual trade being pulled off. There’s a lot of rumors, innuendo, smoke screens and things lost in the translation in the game of telephone between front offices, agents, players, cursory figures and reporters.

All that being said, more and more reports indicate the Houston Rockets absolutely love Cade Cunningham and are hoping to either be able to secure a trade with the Detroit Pistons for the No. 1 pick or that the Pistons don’t have Cade one on their draft board and he falls to No. 2.

There is less reporting on what Detroit actually intends on doing, and what reports exist are in conflict. Some say Detroit GM Troy Weaver indicated shortly after winning the lottery, Cade was the guy. Others indicate infatuations with Jalen Green and Evan Mobley, and that the gap between all three players is pretty small. That latter point would make a trade possible, but there is no reporting to indicate how seriously Detroit is looking at the possibility of moving its pick.

But let's get back to the original report. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer was a guest on The Bill Simmons podcast and had this to say about Cade and Houston:

I’m hearing the same thing as you. That the Rockets love Cade, that they would want to try and get him — whether it’s trading up, or hoping that Detroit passes on him at No. 1.

Echoing those statements is fresh intel from Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The Rockets have been aggressive in their pursuit of Detroit’s No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and have also discussed guard Eric Gordon in trade scenarios, sources said.

I take that to mean Gordon is a separate consideration as the Rockets look to make moves and would not be in any way tied to discussions for the No. 1 pick.

The more time has gone on, the more it seems like while the chances Detroit trades the top pick is already vanishingly small, the only feasible trade partner is Houston at No. 2. That’s because I fully expect Troy Weaver to walk away from this draft with the top player on his board. If it is Cade, the pick will be Cade. If it’s Mobley or Green, they will attempt to trade with Houston and if not simply take Mobley or Green No. 1.

Again, the chances of that are small. The chances Cunningham is not No. 1 on their board is also small, though not impossible. He’s certainly not a perfect prospect, and there are other extremely talented guys in this draft.

But he definitely seems like a Troy Weaver type player as a potential two-way threat with size, strength, a tremendous work ethic and a wingspan that makes Weaver’s heart flutter.

Taking a step back, though, if he manages to have Mobley or Green higher on his board we have to think about what a deal might look like. Cunningham does have potential shortcomings, to put it kindly, or red flags if you’re being less charitable — lack of elite athleticism, turnover issues, poor shooting inside the arc.

If he rips through terabytes of film, background reviews and good old-fashioned scouting and says Mobley is my guy, what would a deal look like?

Our friends at The Athletic recently ran through just that exercise. Kelly Iko, the Rockets beat writer, reached out to his colleagues to solicit some potential trade packages for Houston’s No. 2 pick, and Detroit’s James L. Edwards III was included.

Edwards pitched a package of Detroit’s No. 1 for Houston’s No. 2, No. 23, a Houston first-round pick in 2023 and the Rockets give the Pistons back the first-rounder owed as part of the Isaiah Stewart trade. That would be three extra first-round picks to drop one spot.

Iko had this to say:

Deal.

For starters, let’s just reiterate that as much as the Rockets like Green, they love Cunningham. There’s no question how badly Houston wanted deputy commissioner Mark Tatum to flip their team card last during the lottery show a few weeks ago.

Drafting Cunningham allows Silas to keep his Wall-Porter backcourt together and add a savvy, sizable wing playmaker. From then, he can get funky with lineup combinations, having all three at the same time, staggering Cunningham with one of Porter/Wall and even throwing Cunningham out alone in spots, likely flanked by Gordon, Danuel House etc. This buys you time for Porter to continue to learn the ropes, build chemistry with Cunningham and allow for a smooth passing of the torch whenever Houston and Wall go their separate ways.

The Rockets also still get to keep their 24th pick, which they can use on a shooter or an athletic big with upside. The deal in itself is a lot — three firsts and returning an additional first — but the first pick in any draft should never come cheap. One important thing to consider is what Edwards said, this only happens if Houston’s front office deems Cunningham that much better than the field. If the answer is yes, you pull the trigger. If no, you sit back and be content taking Green, Mobley or Suggs.

Would Weaver (and Stone) buy that logic? That is the million-dollar question. And one that will finally, thankfully get answered on NBA Draft night on July 29.