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Thursday night’s matchup between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers was a highly anticipated one primarily due to the return from injury of prized rookie Jalen Green from a hamstring injury. But there was another storyline that flew under the radar: the matchup at center between the top two big men expected to be available via trade at the deadline.
The Rockets have been rumored to be expected to weigh offers for Christian Wood who is expected to garner significant interest. And recently, it was reported that the Pacers are moving toward a rebuild and are open to trade discussions involving Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, and Domantas Sabonis.
On Thursday, in the 118-106 Pacers victory, Wood scored 22 points on 5-11 from the field (3-6 on 3s), and grabbed eight rebounds. On the other hand, Turner scored 32 points on 14-18 from the floor (1-2 on 3s), grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking two shots. Turner clearly got the better of Wood on this night and also severely deterred the Rockets at the rim with his shot-blocking ability. He also stifled Wood on three isolation attempts in the fourth quarter, bothering his shot.
On the year, Wood, 26, is averaging 17.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game, shooting 46% from the floor and 33% on 3s. Turner, 25, on the other hand, is averaging 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game, shooting 53% from the floor and 37% on 3s.
Wood is currently earning $13.66 million and is slated to earn $14.32 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023. On the other hand, Turner is earning $17.5 million this season and will also earn that amount next season. Turner will also become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023. Thus, per the salary-matching rules of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, an acquiring team would need to send out relatively the same amount of outgoing salary to acquire either player. An acquiring team would also maintain control of either player for the same amount of time before needing to either commit to a higher-paying salary figure or risk losing their acquisition in free agency altogether.
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Thus, in some ways, the Rockets and Pacers will be competitors at the trade deadline. The availability of both centers makes it a buyer’s market. If the Rockets were hoping for a premium for Wood, those plans might be dashed due to the Pacers’ imminent rebuild.
Both players are young enough to be long-term investments, can spread the floor and are also versatile on offense. But while Wood has made huge strides defensively since joining the Rockets last season, Turner is one of the best defensive presences in the entire league. His 2.8 blocks per game lead the league. Turner led the league in blocks last season at 3.4 per game and also in 2018-2019 at 2.7 per game. For this reason, it’s likely that Turner is the more desirable acquisition between the two players. If a team like the Golden State Warriors were looking to trade for a center, it would be to shore up their interior defense.
The Rockets have an important decision to make. Rookie Alperen Sengun looks like a future franchise cornerstone and is probably best suited to play center, Wood’s position. If the Rockets don’t deal Wood at the deadline, they risk losing him altogether in free agency. This upcoming summer, Wood will essentially be an expiring contract. Unfortunately for Houston, Turner’s presence on the market means they may not get everything they want in a trade.