The Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed, pending league approval, to send the 18th pick in the 2012 NBA draft to the Houston Rockets for Chase Budinger and the draft rights to Lior Eliyahu, two league sources confirmed to ESPN.com.
The Houston Chronicle earlier reported the trade agreement.
The Rockets have been discussing deals with several teams in the top 10 about moving up in the draft. Adding the 18th pick should give them even more ammunition.
Although sources stressed that no deal is imminent, the Rockets have had substantive discussion about sending their other two first-round picks (No. 14 and No. 16) to theSacramento Kings for the No. 5 pick. The Rockets have also been exploring moving point guard Kyle Lowry to a team in the top 10 to acquire another pick.
Sources say the Rockets are hoping to acquire enough assets to entice the Magic to trade Dwight Howard to them.
The Rockets’ willingness to trade for Howard — even without the All-Star center’s signature on a contract extension — is an open secret around the league. But it’s believed that two top 10 picks, assuming Houston managed to complete trades with both Sacramento and another team, would seriously pique the interest of new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, who could then quickly start following the same sort of roster-building blueprint relied on by his previous employers in Oklahoma City.
Acquiring those early lottery picks, though, only represents half of Houston’s challenge if Howard is indeed the Rockets’ target.
The other hurdle is convincing Hennigan, who hasn’t even been on the job for a week, to part with Howard so quickly. As much as he’s been schooled in building through the draft while working alongside Thunder GM Sam Presti, Hennigan could opt to take a more measured approach, make one more run at trying to convince Howard to sign an extension before entering the final year of his contract and then trade him later in the summer if those efforts go nowhere.
Although several rival teams now believe that the Rockets are determined to stockpile a fistful of first-round draft picks to offer Orlando for Howard, sources say there are other established players they’re interested in acquiring. One of them, sources say, is Atlanta Hawks swingman Josh Smith, who also happens to be one of Howard’s closest friends.