Rockets Trade Talk: Bulls Bluffing on Robin Lopez Buyout?

Robin Lopez

Getty Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez

The Houston Rockets have a need at center and the Chicago Bulls are holding a plug-and-play piece that can help. Unfortunately, there’s no exact way to nail down how the situation between Robin Lopez and the Bulls could play out. For the time being, Chicago holds all the cards and if they really want, are able to do so throughout the remainder of the season.

Although there’s little question that the Bulls and Lopez are ready to part ways, there’s been a holdout for obvious reasons. Lopez wants to be bought out of his deal so he can sign wherever he chooses, but Chicago wants something in return and would prefer (understandably) to trade him.

While the Bulls are surely holding out hope that they can pick up something in return for the veteran center, Marc Stein of The New York Times made an interesting statement on the topic. While the team has been unwilling to buyout Lopez, it sounds as if they’re attempting to simply hold some leverage in the situation.

“Chicago’s unwillingness to discuss a buyout with Lopez — for now — is not about that at all. It stems fully from the Bulls’ desire to try to swap Lopez for an asset before the Feb. 7 trade deadline. The Bulls have to give the impression, until the deadline passes, that they wouldn’t dare consider a buyout, if only to try to maintain as much trade leverage as they can conceivably muster.” Stein stated.

But beyond that, Stein raises a point about how this could lead Chicago into rocky territory if they opt to refuse a buyout even if unable to trade him. By doing so, they create tension with the representatives of Lopez as well, which is less than ideal.

“My point on Twitter was simply to say that the Bulls — if they’re unable to trade Lopez and then still refuse him a buyout — would be bucking N.B.A. convention at that point. They would certainly be well within their rights to do so, but would it be worth angering Lopez’s representatives? Lopez’s agent, Darren Matsubara, hails from Wasserman, which has always represented numerous quality N.B.A. players. It’s no accident that the top agencies are so often able to secure buyouts for their clients in these circumstances.”

One big question becomes what the Rockets could offer in exchange for Lopez, but that’s where things get tough to gauge. What we do know is that Houston desperately needs to add a big man.

Clint Capela Injury Status & Latest Outlook

On Wednesday night in a 145-142 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Rockets started 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker at center. While he performed admirably, scoring 20 points with 10 rebounds, Houston was destroyed by Nets center Jarrett Allen to the tune of 20 points, 24 rebounds and three blocks.

That’s not Tucker’s fault, as he was attempting to defend a player who has nearly half a foot of height on him, and he did so while avoiding foul trouble for the shorthanded Rockets. It’s obvious Nene Hilario (16 minutes) is only going to receive a handful of minutes, while Marquese Chriss (six minutes) has fallen out of favor in a big way.

As far as Clint Capela, who was thriving prior to the injury, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed, a thumb injury suffered by the Rockets center proved to be worse than originally thought. He’ll miss roughly four to six weeks due to ligament damage. In turn, the team needs to find a legitimate option at center, who can still play a decent number of minutes.

The Concern Over Potential Robin Lopez Buyout

There’s obviously a fair amount of interest in a veteran big man such as Lopez, but there’s some concern for the Rockets if he’s bought out. As Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports revealed, if the Bulls bought Lopez out, there seems to be a strong belief that he’ll head to the Golden State Warriors.

If the Bulls were to change course and reach a buyout agreement with Lopez, the Golden State Warriors would be his next destination, sources told Yahoo Sports.

This could lead to the Rockets potentially needing to strike a deal and acquire the 30-year-old. Although he’s averaging just 16.3 minutes per game this season with 5.6 points and 2.5 rebounds, we’ve seen his upside in previous seasons. In the two seasons prior with the Bulls, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds (2016-17) and 11.8 points with 4.5 rebounds (2017-18).

Whether or not a deal pans out will remain a big question, but the Rockets would be wise to consider it.

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