The Rockets acquired Thomas Robinson in a February trade. (Sam Forencich/Getty Images)
A 2012 top-five pick could wind up on the third team of his young career so that the Rockets can position themselves to become the third team Dwight Howard has played for since 2012.
The Rockets have made clear to multiple rival teams that they plan to accept the best offer to move Robinson and eliminate his $3.52 million salary for the 2013-14 season. Without Robinson's salary, the Rockets will have the space to offer Howard a maximum deal starting at approximately $20.5 million a season.
The Rockets are targeting teams with the cap space to absorb Robinson's contract. The Rockets are trying to cobble together a package that could include assets such as a trade exception, a draft pick or non-guaranteed contracts that can be unloaded, sources said.
Robinson, 22, averaged 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game last season. His playing time actually took a hit after he arrived in Houston in February, and he didn't play at all in the playoffs.
One would think that the Rockets should be able to drum up some interest in Robinson's services, given his low-budget rookie contract and his reputation as a reliable scorer and productive rebounder at Kansas, where he took home First-Team All-America honors in 2011-12. There are a number of teams possessing or tracking toward flexible cap positions -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Orlando, Phoenix and Portland, to name six -- that might find it worthwhile to roll the dice on Robinson. His ceiling has surely dropped since the night of the 2012 draft, but that would seem to make this a prototypical "buy low" scenario. Even if he doesn't pan out, the team options built into a rookie contract will ensure that he doesn't become a debilitating salary cap nuisance.
The Rockets have repeatedly been mentioned as a team with interest in Howard over the last few years, and a report surfaced this month that Howard is "intrigued" by the organization. Houston made its first playoff appearance since 2009 this season after acquiring All-Star guard James Harden from Oklahoma City in an October trade.
Howard, 27, averaged 17.1 points, a league-leading 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for the Lakers after arriving from Orlando in a blockbuster trade last summer. The Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs by the Spurs after Kobe Bryant was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury. An SI.com panel opined in April that the notoriously indecisive Howard would eventually opt to remain with the Lakers. Howard can re-sign with L.A. for up to five years or sign with any other team for up to four years.
After getting ejected from the Lakers’ final loss of the season, Howard vowed to take a step back and assess the situation before making a decision.