The Houston Rockets are actively pursuing a trade partner to use their $8.4 million trade exception before a self-imposed December 19 "deadline," according to a report from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. As was suggested to be the case last year with Omer Asik, Houston wants to make a deal prior to the 19th in order to allow any acquired players to be used in a later trade as aggregated salary before the trade deadline (see Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ for explanation).
Now, a report that the Houston Rockets are "actively exploring trade options" is so commonplace these days that it hardly qualifies as news. So why are we sharing it here? Well, it just so happens that Houston's $8.4 million exception is just big enough to accommodate the entire full $7.9 million salary of a certain trade-rumor fixture on the Milwaukee Bucks' roster: Ersan Ilyasova.
Let me clear this up right away--there has been little in the way of fresh rumors that the Bucks are looking to trade Ilyasova, or that Rockets are or may be interested in trading for him. But there's certainly a history of that sort of thing, and from an outsider perspective it has made varying degrees of sense over the months and years.
The calculus hasn't changed much. In fact, if anything it's gotten simpler. Houston's trade exception is big enough that they could acquire Ersan with no other salary-matching considerations. With the Bucks now in full rebuild mode--and a nice November hopefully won't change that--the asking price may be lower as well. Just getting Ilyasova's remaining guaranteed salary ($7.9M next year, 400k the following year) off the books might have been enough a month ago, though Ersan's improved play of late likely means the Bucks would want something useful in exchange for the hot-and-cold power forward. In other words, he could help Milwaukee net a real asset should they eventually decide to move him, which in Houston's case could mean a future pick (they have multiple second rounders in 2015 in addition to New Orleans' first rounder) or a young player (the hyper-raw Clint Capela comes to mind).
Of course there's also the all-important question of whether Houston would want Ilyasova in the first place. Conventional wisdom has always held that Houston was desperately seeking a stretch four to pair with Dwight Howard and create more of the "space" in their pace-and-space system. Ersan was an easier sell in that regard when he was still hitting 40-plus percent of his threes two years ago, though he was starting to rediscover his shot before suffering a nasal fracture in Cleveland last week. Houston's rumored desperation may also have waned in light of the capable play they've gotten out of players like Terrence Jones and more recently Donatas Motiejunas, but the former has struggled with injuries this season and the latter is probably best suited to backing up Howard rather than playing next to him.
Again, I'll stress that we're a long way from connecting any dots. We've been down this road before, and it's always been a dead end. But the dots are there, and we've got our pencils at the ready.