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Fran Blinebury

The Rockets took Patrick Patterson at No. 14 in 2010, though they have rarely used their own draft picks of late.
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Expect the unexpected when it comes to Rockets' draft plans

Posted Jun 20 2011 12:58AM

HOUSTON -- The Rockets are willing to deal. The Rockets are always willing to deal. General manager Daryl Morey lives to wheel and deal and dream.

That's why there are any number of directions the Rockets could be headed in by the time they get around to draft night and the Nos. 14 and 23 picks in the first round of a draft that is generally regarded as deep, but lacking a superstar.

"Most people think there are really solid players into the 30-40 range and you wouldn't mind getting two players like that," Morey said. "We're always looking to move up," Morey said. "But this is a year when we could move down. Or we could move into the future (drafts) by trading our picks this year. We're open to a lot of different things, but we're also happy with the players we have."

The Rockets are coming off a 43-39 season in which they closed fast but came up short of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, finishing three games behind Memphis. They have more players under contract (11) than any other team in the league with two significant free agents in Yao Ming and Chuck Hayes that they plan to re-sign. They also have a young roster with seven players with three or fewer years of experience, not counting end-of-season pick-ups that have non-guaranteed contracts.

"We feel like we have a solid foundation of young talent and like where we're going," Morey said. "That doesn't mean we're ready to just sit and not look to make our team better."

Morey is even willing to give up four first-round picks over the next two seasons, even though the Rockets already gave up their own first-round pick next year to get Terrence Williams.

What Morey is searching for is a franchise type player who could be the foundation of the team going forward. He has dangled a combination of picks that could include this year's pick, the 2012 pick acquired from the Knicks in the Tracy McGrady trade and even the portion of the Rockets' pick next year that is not protected and that they would not be compelled to send to the Nets.

"We have four No. 1s we could trade over the next two years," Morey said. "Our goal is to see if we could pull off something like that. We have plenty of options on the table."

That's typical Morey, who is always looking for the move that will allow him to strike it big. In the five years that Morey has been on the job in Houston, the Rockets have used their own pick in the first round just twice, taking Aaron Brooks at No. 26 in 2007 and Patrick Patterson at No. 14 in 2010.

Morey's first time out of the box in 2006, he swapped the No. 8 pick (Rudy Gay) to Memphis for Shane Battier in an attempt to bolster a veteran roster that was built around Yao and Tracy McGrady. The 2008 draft saw the Rockets swap the No. 25 pick (Nicolas Batum) for Donte Green and Joey Dorsey. Houston traded its first-round pick in 2009 to Sacramento as part of the one-year Ron Artest experiment.

The Rockets under Morey have also been very active in acquiring extra second round draft choices, which they've used to draft the likes of Carl Landry and Chase Budinger.

The point is the Rockets are often hard to nail down going into the draft because they are usually aggressive in chasing opportunities right to the end. That is especially true this season with the team having all but declared that nobody on the roster is untouchable.

Power forward Luis Scola and shooting guard Kevin Martin are the Rockets' most accomplished healthy bodies and their names have frequently come up in trade rumors.

If Yao is able to continue making progress in rehabilitation from his latest foot surgery, the Rockets will likely re-sign the 7-foot-6 free agent and hope for the best. But since he has played only five games over the past two seasons, there is no way the team can rely on him as its starting center. Thirty-five-year-old Brad Miller recently had microfracture knee surgery and the Rockets do not want to enter another season where they have to play the 6-6 Hayes in the middle. They need a consistent force in the middle to defend the rim.

If the Rockets keep their picks at Nos. 14 and 23, some names they'll have an eye on and hope slip down in the first round are Kahwi Leonard, Jimmer Fredette and Bismack Biyombo.

Morey says there is no different approach to this year's draft with a new coach in Kevin McHale in place.

"I think Kevin is devoting a lot of his time and thinking to free agents and trades more than the draft," Morey said. "But as far as trying to make us better team, we're all ready to do whatever we think it takes.

"We like our team. If this is the team that we take into training camp, we're happy with it and believe we're making progress. But if we see a chance to speed up that progress, we're going to take it."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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