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Active Rockets still trying to get higher Draft pick

By TNT analyst David Aldridge
Posted Jun 27 2012 6:37PM - Updated Jun 27 2012 7:01PM

Even as they acquired the 12th pick in the first round of Thursday's NBA Draft from Milwaukee in a deal that sent center Samuel Dalembert to the Bucks along with the 14th overall pick and guard Shaun Livingston and forwards Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman, the Houston Rockets were still trying to move even higher, into the top 10.

But their offer of guard Kyle Lowry along with the 16th pick overall to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the fifth pick overall and forward Chuck Hayes was rejected Wednesday by Sacramento, according to league sources.

The Rockets have been as aggressive as any team in recent years in trying to stockpile as many picks as possible in a Draft in order to be able to make a significant trade offer for a big man. Their primary target was, and is, Orlando's Dwight Howard, but the Rockets have coveted Lakers' forward Pau Gasol for the better part of a year, and will be ready to go after him again as well if they can't get Howard.

The Rockets thought they had gotten Gasol last December in a three-team deal with the New Orleans Hornets and Lakers that would have sent guard Chris Paul to the Lakers, but NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal. At the time, the NBA owned the Hornets and was making decisions for the franchise. The team has subsequently been sold to Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Paul wound up being traded to the Clippers days later.

Houston is looking to move Lowry after the guard's relationship with Coach Kevin McHale soured last season. Lowry said after the season that he didn't think he could play for McHale next season, though McHale told reporters in Houston this week that he has no problem with Lowry and would be happy to coach him again. Complicating matters for Houston is the impending free agency of their other point guard, Goran Dragic, who stepped in and played terrifically for Lowry last season after Lowry missed significant time with a bacterial infection.

In the last week the Rockets, have turned the 14th and 16th overall picks into the 12th, 16th and 18th selections. They traded forward Chase Budinger to Minnesota Tuesday for the Wolves' 18th pick, and got Dalembert Wednesday. Houston is hoping to either offer the picks, or turn the picks, along with current players, into higher selections that might be more enticing for the Magic or Lakers. The Lakers definitely want to try and get into the first half of the first round, according to league sources, or trade for young veterans who could help immediately next season.

The Rockets have maintained that they still want Howard, who has a year left on his contract after "opting in" last spring, even if it's just for one year. Houston believes it may be able to convince Howard to sign a long-term deal once he's on the ground in Texas. Howard has gotten close to Hall of Fame center and former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, who worked out with Howard two years ago during the offseason. But a source with knowledge of Howard's thinking said Monday night that there was "not a chance" Howard would re-sign in Houston after this coming season if the Rockets traded for him.

Gasol, who struggled to find a productive role with the Lakers this season under first-year coach Mike Brown, has two years and $38.2 million remaining on the three-year, $57 million extension he signed last year.

Hayes was a team and fan favorite in Houston over six seasons before signing a four-year, $22.4 million deal with the Kings last year. He had initially signed a deal worth more than $21 million, but the Kings voided that contract after an examination revealed a heart abnormality. After he was cleared by specialists at the Cleveland Clinic, the Kings agreed to a new deal. For the moment, the Kings will hold onto their first-round pick, though many around the league believe it is in play and will be dealt by the Kings before Thursday's Draft.

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