According to multiple reports this morning, the Houston Rockets have agreed to trade forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the No. 18 pick in this year’s draft, a trade that could benefit both teams.
Budinger has established himself as a solidly league-average player. His winning percentage last season (.515) was slightly better than that, while his single-season RAPM (-0.1) was slightly worse. (The difference between the two may reflect Budinger’s below-average individual defense.) Part of the Prospectus credo is there’s value to being average, and that’s especially true in the case of the Timberwolves, who didn’t have a single average wing player on the roster and weren’t likely to get one with the 18th pick.
The other key to this deal is Budinger’s terrific contract. He has a team option for the league minimum next season, meaning Minnesota will actually pay him about $600,000 less than the 18th pick (assuming standard 120% of rookie scale). If Budinger was a free agent, as an established three-win player, I think he’s looking at a deal starting around $4 million a year, so the Timberwolves get around $3.1 million in surplus value next season plus whatever benefit there is to having Budinger’s Bird Rights next summer.
On paper, Houston still gets more benefit. The No. 18 pick is historically worth about $4.6 million over the first three seasons of the rookie contract, plus value from the fourth year and having team control when the player hits restricted free agency. Picks in the teens are rarely sold, which establishes their value at more than the $3 million teams can pay in a trade.
That makes this a bit of a win now vs. win later move, which is odd to the extent that the Rockets finished eight games better in the standings. Minnesota was even before Ricky Rubio’s injury, however, and a healthy Rubio plus Budinger plus one more wing added in free agency could be enough to make this a playoff team. Given that David Kahn is in the option year of his contract, urgency to win now makes sense. And the Timberwolves were certainly justified in trading out of No. 18 given that the wing talent seems to flatten out between about picks 15-25 (after the 16th pick, DraftExpress and Chad Ford combined have just one wing going before pick 26 - raw Baylor forward Quincy Miller).
For Houston, Chandler Parsons‘ terrific rookie season made Budinger expendable. This move is all about asset accumulation as the Rockets look to swing some kind of blockbuster deal between now and the draft. The No. 18 pick will probably hold more value in that effort than Budinger would have, which is why this move made sense for the Rockets.