The Steven Adams trade is the logical conclusion of two of the trade deadline’s more inevitable endgames. First, that the Houston Rockets would convert Victor Oladipo’s expiring contract into a big man they could carry into a future season. Second, that the Grizzlies would trade one of their injured big men before the start of next season to avert going over a nearing luxury tax cliff.
Houston had already had traded Kevin Porter’s contract for Oladipo’s deal last fall precisely as a “keep the money alive” deal. That cost the Rockets a second-round pick, but relative to the alternative of cutting Porter – who was charged with assault and strangulation of his girlfriend in September; he eventually pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and a harassment violation – it kept them in the game for future trades with a mid-sized contract. Adams’ $12.6 million salary for 2024-25 is a reasonable carry for a Houston squad with a relatively clean cap sheet, and he can play a lighter minutes load as Alperen Şengün’s backup in 2024-25 upon rehabbing from knee surgery that ended his 2023-24 season.
The Grizzlies, prior to this trade, projected to be nearly $20 million over next year’s tax line. They were carrying the contracts of Adams and Brandon Clarke – both out for the 2023-24 season and facing battles back from serious injuries even a year from now – at a combined cost of $25 million.
Moving off Adams’ deal puts Memphis in position to potentially stay below the first apron next year, especially if the Grizzlies also decline the $14 million option on Luke Kennard (who might also be a trade candidate in the next seven days). With Jaren Jackson, Jr. capable of playing increased minutes at center and Xavier Tillman Jr. likely to be an inexpensive free agent to retain, the Grizzlies are still covered in the middle. They could probably add another inexpensive free agent with their biannual exception if they don’t select a big man with a likely high lottery pick in the 2024 draft.
With that as the backdrop, the only thing left was for Memphis and Houston to haggle over compensation. For Memphis, walking away with three second-round picks for an injured Adams probably feels like a win, even if only of the three picks is likely to land in the top 40. The Grizzlies get two picks in 2024 – the best and worst of three that Houston had coming from Golden State, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn – and one in 2025 that is the better of Houston’s or Oklahoma City’s.
Memphis also generates a $12.6 million trade exception for Adams because it can take Oladipo’s expiring contract into the $12.5 million injured player exception for Ja Morant. (Yes, they are taking an injured player into an injured player exception. Nobody said the CBA made perfect sense, but here we are).
For Houston, on the flip side, three seconds wasn’t a reason to walk away from this, not when the Rockets are sitting on a heap of more valuable draft capital from Brooklyn over the next four years. Adams, who turns 31 this summer, will also be reunited with former Memphis teammate Dillon Brooks, as the Rockets continue to build an identity around defense and toughness under new coach Ime Udoka.