OFFSEASON GAMEPLAN: HOUSTON ROCKETS (20-62, 15th in West)

NOTHING BUT NET 44

2021-22 ASSESSMENT:

WHAT WENT WRONG

It was no surprise that the Rockets had a losing season. Their over/under was 26.5 at the beginning of the year and that was before they exiled their best veteran player and only real point guard, John Wall, for the entire season. Their future lies in the development of the 7 players age 21 or under on the roster, 5 of whom (Kevin Porter Jr., KJ Martin, Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and Josh Christopher) garnered significant minutes while the other 2 (Usman Garuba and Dashien Nix) showed flashes in more limited action. These 7 players played just over 45% of the team’s minutes! The team endured long losing streaks of 15, 8, 12, and 7 games at various points. As with any rebuild, the major concern with all of the losing is whether the players get used to it and accept it vs. having it drive them to where they earn hard-fought victories by learning how to protect leads and close games.

Wall was paid to stay home last year and unfortunately is almost certain to exercise his $47.4m player option for next season, given that he’s only played 113 games over the past 5 seasons and sat out 2 of the past 3 entirely. However, he has averaged 20p/3r/8a when he has played and will be on an expiring deal, so there may be a greater market for him than last year. Clearly he’s not in the team’s plans on the court.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The team’s other four rookies (Christopher, Garuba, Nix, and Sengun) all showed flashes of potential and should have more opportunities next year to carve out more meaningful minutes as consistent members of the rotation. Sengun in particular was surprisingly effective at times; as an old school big man with passing skills and an unorthodox style of play he often caught defenses off guard.

The team has young veterans in Porter Jr. and Christian Wood; should they be part of the long term plan? Neither may be a good fit for a winning culture. Porter Jr. has a checkered history of personality conflicts, having been exiled from a Cleveland team that desperately needed his skilled set after being exiled from his college team at USC. In the NBA, his teams are 35-102 when he plays. Wood’s teams are 79-147 in 7 seasons when he plays; neither Porter Jr. nor Wood has ever played in the postseason. These two do have value, however, due to their enticing potential. The team has already reached an agreement with the Mavericks on a trade for Wood, acquiring the 26th pick in the draft in addition to veterans Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, and Boban Marjanovic. It may make sense to also move Porter for other pieces who will better complement the talents of players like Green and Sengun and who will help build that winning culture and mindset.

PAYROLL

UNDER CONTRACT:

NAME2022-23 SALARYFUTURE OBLIGATION?
Gordon, Eric$19.6mTO 2023-24 ($20.9m)
Wood, Christian$14.3mExpiring {will be traded to Rockets after the draft}
Green, Jalen$9.4mTO 2023-24 ($9.9m), TO 2024-25 ($12.5m), QO 2025-26 ($16.3m)
Nwaba, David$5.0mTO 2023-24 ($5.4m)
Sengun, Alperen$3.4mTO 2023-24 ($3.5m), TO 2024-25 ($5.4m), QO 2025-26 ($7.6m)
Porter Jr., Kevin$3.2mPO 2023-24 ($4.8m)
Garuba, Usman$2.5mTO 2023-24 ($2.6m), TO 2024-25 ($4.4m), QO 2025-26 ($6.4m)
Christopher, Josh$2.4mTO 2023-24 ($2.5m), TO 2024-25 ($4.3m), QO 2025-26 ($6.4m)
Martin Jr., Kenyon$1.8m2023-24 ($1.9m)
Nix, Dashien$1.6mTO 2023-24 ($1.8m), TO 2024-25 ($2.0m)

CONTRACT PENDING:

NAME2022-23 SALARYTYPE
Wall, John$47.4mPlayer Option
Matthews, Garrison$2.0mTeam Option
Tate, Jae’Sean$1.8mTeam Option

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:

NAMEAGEHTWTSTATS w/TEAM
Fernando, Bruno246’9”24510g   9.4mpg   6.9ppg   4.0rpg   0.3apg   72.5% / 0.0% / 57.9%
Lamb, Anthony256’6”227N/A
Queen, Trevelin256’6”29010g   7.4mpg   4.3ppg   1.6rpg   0.4apg   66.7% / 37.5% / 100.0%

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:

NAMEAGEHTWTSTATS w/TEAM
Schroder, Dennis296’3”17215g  26.9mpg   10.9ppg   3.3rpg   5.9apg   43.9% / 32.8% / 87.2%

DEAD CAP:

NAMEAMOUNT
Augustin, DJ$333k
Williams, Troy$123k

EXCEPTIONS:

TYPEAMOUNTEXPIRESNOTES
Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception$10.3m  
Bi-Annual Exception$4.0m  
Trade Exception$0.6m02/10/23from 02/10/22 trade w/BOS

DRAFT ASSETS

2022 DRAFT:

PICKS

ROUNDPICKFROM
13Own Pick
117BRK (01/16/21, via 4-team trade, with Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, Victor Oladipo, 2022 R1, 2024 R1, 2026 R1, option to swap 1st round picks with Nets in 2023, 2025, and 2027 for James Harden, 2023 R2)

RELINQUISHED

ROUNDPICKNOTES
124acquired from CLE (01/16/21), traded to MIL (03/19/21)
231own pick; traded to CLE (02/07/19, via 3-team trade, with Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, 2019 R1 {#26-Dylan Windler}, 2020 R2 {#52-Kenyon Martin Jr.} for Wade Baldwin IV, Iman Shumpert, Nik Stauskas, 2021 R2 {#54-Sandro Mamukelashvili})

FUTURE DRAFT ASSETS:
OWN PICKS

YEARROUNDNOTES
20231HOU has rights to swap with BRK (01/16/21)
20232To BOS if #31 or #32, otherwise to MEM if lower than pick acquired from DAL or MIA (11/20/20)
20241To OKC if >#4 (07/16/19)
20242 
20251OKC has rights to swap if >#10; HOU has rights to swap with BRK (07/16/19)
20252 
20261To OKC if >#4 (07/16/19)
20262 
20271HOU has rights to swap with BRK (01/16/21)
20272Traded to DET (11/24/2020)
20281 
20282 
20291 
20292 

OTHER PICKS ACQUIRED

YEARROUNDNOTES
20231from MIL (03/19/21)
20232lower of DAL or MIA picks; to MEM if >#32 but lower than HOU own pick (02/06/20)
20241from BRK (01/16/21)
20242from BRK (10/06/21)
20261from BRK (01/16/21)

2022-23 GAME PLAN:

The Rockets won’t have many open roster spots after adding 2 first round picks to the 10 players under contract, plus Jae’Sean Tate (on who they’ll almost certainly exercise their team option) and Wall. It’s doubtful that Dennis Schroder will be back, given the team’s youth movement. Eric Gordon, who has a team option for 2023-24 that will likely be declined, is essentially on an expiring contract. The team needs to move Wall and Gordon for assets, which would hopefully include a competent veteran point guard, and then make a decision on Porter Jr.. Delon Wright could be a target in free agency, as it’s unlikely he’ll resign with the Hawks; perhaps a sign-and-trade could be worked out. I’d move on from Matthews as well, to create additional flexibility.

There’s no real possibility of a playoff berth next year; the key to any hope of an eventual return to prominence is hitting on this top 5 pick in the draft. The task of shaping the roster gains some clarity when there are two potential All-Stars under age 22 to build around. The team likely will have another top 10 pick in 2023 plus an extra 1st from the Bucks to complete the rebuilding of the roster with young talent and at that point could be poised to make a real leap.

The one major wildcard is Porter Jr., who at times was unstoppable and looked like a more athletic version of James Harden. If he were to mature as a player and a person and become more consistent and reliable, especially on defense, the Rockets could have a tall, athletic, versatile backcourt that would be a nightmare for most teams to deal with. 2022-23 will be pivotal in deciding what his NBA future will be.

ASSESSMENT OF ASSETS:

KEY BUILDING BLOCKSGreen, Sengun, Christopher, #3 Pick
KEY ROLE PLAYERSMartin Jr., Tate
DEVELOPMENTAL RESERVESGaruba, Nix, Fernando, #17 Pick
EXPENDABLE VETERAN RESERVESNwaba
EVALUATEPorter Jr.
TRADEWood (already traded), Gordon, Wall
WALK AWAYMatthews, Lamb, Queen, Schroder
OPEN ROSTER SPOTS TO FILL FROM TRADES OR FA5

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