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2022-23 Houston Rockets Thread - One More Season of Suckage


BigOrange1
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The season tips off in Atlanta next Wednesday evening.  The team should suck once again (though probably not bad enough to finish with the worst record in the league for the third consecutive season), but better days are on the horizon.  

John Hollinger's preview:

Spoiler

It says a lot about the current state of the Rockets that the most notable offseason development for the franchise’s future was Kevin Durant’s trade demand. No, Durant isn’t coming to Houston, but one of the biggest chips Houston has in its post-James Harden rebuild is the collection of five Brooklyn drafts it controls from 2024 to 2029. A Brooklyn implosion is an instant godsend for the Rockets.

 

As for the scenarios within its control, Houston’s roster might generously be called a work in progress from top to bottom. Stephen Silas enters his third season at the helm with a career record of 37-117 and a strong chance that this coming season won’t improve the winning percentage much. Houston has patiently piled up assets, even turning a young-ish, productive center (Christian Wood) into another first-round pick this offseason. But this coming season may test its organizational pain tolerance. Regardless of what happens in Brooklyn, the clock is ticking on Houston’s post-Harden makeover.

Let’s start with the good news, though: Houston is in position to have a really good team for the second half of the decade if it can just withstand some more pain in the short term.

The problem in this case is the Rockets’ own internal timing. The current rebuild comes with a built-in deadline on account of still owing two future firsts to Oklahoma City as a result of the disastrous Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade. Ready or not, the Rockets need to have this thing off the ground by 2023-24, when the first of the top-four protected picks goes out the door.

Pulling that off will be a challenge, though as we’ll discuss, it’s not an insurmountable. However, it won’t be a linear process: The 2022-23 version of the Rockets projects as younger and even more erratic than last season’s version.

They’ll certainly be entertaining, though, and if everything goes right, the pieces are there for a quick blast up the standings a year from now.

It starts with Jalen Green, the second pick in the 2021 draft. Green is almost the perfect player for this type of rebuild: hugely talented for the long term but with enough flaws in the present that he won’t materially improve their win total. Green has one of the most explosive first steps in the game and averaged 22.1 points per game on 58.9 percent true shooting after the All-Star break, but still has considerable work ahead of him to refine his defense, shooting and playmaking. Nonetheless, the mere fact that he became an offensive go-to guy should make Houston’s offense much more functional than it was in the first half of last season.

A somewhat similar long-term perspective might describe Smith, the third pick in the 2022 draft. Several draftniks had Smith as the top player on their board (including this one), but that projection was more about his long-term upside than immediate impact. Smith has a pure shooting stroke and can be a top-notch switching big man once he fills out, making him a near-perfect partner in crime for Green in the imagined Rockets future; picture a more athletic, defensively airtight Rashard Lewis manning the four spot. However, at present, Smith’s on-ball shot creation is quite limited, and he needs to fill out more physically.

Surrounding those two is a flotilla of younger players suited for overly exuberant up-tempo play, likely leading to a repeat of last season’s entertaining but often self-defeating style. The 2021-22 Rockets were a walking explainer for the shortcomings of youth. They played the league’s second-fastest pace, drew lots of fouls, took a ton of 3s and even made a few of them. They also had the league’s worst turnover rate, finished 29th in overall defense and 29th on the defensive boards. Lumped in with this was some breathtakingly bad transition defense: Houston led the league in opponent fast-break points and transition frequency. I’ll note some of these were a result of the offense, as Houston’s 21.2 opponents’ points off turnovers per game lapped the field. In a related story, the Rockets lost 61 games.

At times, it seems the Rockets judge players by asking, “How well would this guy fit in a crazy up-tempo game with no structure?” The roster is littered with bets on high-wire athletes who are still refining their skill level and decision-making. Leading scorer Wood is gone, but Kenyon Martin Jr., Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba and, above all, Kevin Porter Jr. remain. Another 2022 first-rounder, Eason, is cut from the same cloth: he’ll be totally fine as long as no possession by either side lasts more than four seconds.

Indeed, Porter represents the most interesting decision facing the franchise between the 2022 and 2023 drafts. The food-flinging phenom has been a productive player in his three pro seasons, if a bit wild on the floor. He upped his previously iffy 3-point shooting to 37.5 percent last season while becoming a serviceable, if turnover-prone, distributor. Alas, that wildness hasn’t always been confined to the 94 feet between the baselines, making his future a more vexing decision than it otherwise might be.

All of this is important information because the Rockets have to decide whether to extend Porter’s contract or wait a year and let restricted free agency play out. The extra nine months might be time well spent, allowing the Rockets to evaluate whether Porter has matured enough to go forward as a core piece. I’m not sure the downside of waiting is terrible either; other teams had done their homework on Porter in the 2019 draft and weren’t exactly banging down Cleveland’s door to acquire him when the Cavs decided they’d had enough.

 

Houston has other players it needs to pass judgment on in what amounts to a wheat-from-chaff year preceding a more concerted effort to win in 2023-24. Most notably, Alperen Şengün showed flashes of brilliant playmaking from the center position as a teenage rookie, but was an extreme boom-bust player with some tragic turnovers. Additionally, his somewhat questionable ability to defend the center position will be further tested this season as the likely starter.

Houston has (many) other young players to sort through. Garuba can be a switchable menace, and he flashed some passing skill playing for Spain at EuroBasket, but will he ever make a shot? Eason is big, athletic, defends and plays hard; can he refine his shot, improve his decision-making and gain functional use of his left hand? Martin is another high-wire energy guy, but he may already be crowded out at the power forward spot.

In the backcourt, choosing beyond Porter and Green is challenging. Christopher is a plus athlete who, again, still needs to upgrade his skill level. Daishen Nix is 20, has plus feel and was good in the G League last season, but can he keep improving his conditioning and become a serviceable shooter? Finally, is late first-rounder TyTy Washington anything? Can he be a stable hand to lead the second unit?

For the moment, veteran marksman Eric Gordon is still here to stabilize things, but one questions how long. He makes $19.5 million this season and the last year of his deal in 2023-24 is non-guaranteed, meaning Houston would likely max out its trade return on him sometime between now and February.

Strangely for such a bad overall defensive team, the Rockets do actually have an ace stopper in Jae’Sean Tate, one that they extended at a very reasonable three years and $21 million through 2025. He’s backed up by the Rockets’ other grinder scrap-heap find, Garrison Mathews, a forward-vaulting three-shot-foul drawing, charge-taking, trash-talking nudge who is signed for two more years. These two don’t move the needle on their own, but they’re keepers as inexpensive role players who will help a year from now when this team is actually trying to win.

From 10,000 feet, Houston has two big-picture goals for this season – one obvious, the second less so. The obvious one is to not aspire to anything beyond a bottom-five record, putting themselves in the race of Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and the rest of the strong 2023 draft class.

The less obvious one is figuring out what to do with all their cap room. The Rockets have 12 players signed for next season who make a combined $48 million. Even with a high draft pick, that yields a whopping $75 million in cap room. That’s enough to sign two stars to the “low max.” Can Houston get elite talent interested in pairing up to join Green, Smith and (fingers crossed) Wembanyama? More realistically, can the Rockets find one star or quasi-star to take their money and fill out the rest with an extension for Porter and another starter-caliber player. Either way, the Rockets are set up to do some interesting things this coming summer.

In the meantime, Houston will work the margins and likely get involved in more trades, like the recent slop-for-slop exchange with Oklahoma City that yielded a future second and enough cash to buy one or two more. Houston is still $15 million below the tax line — aided by the $6.5 million John Wall gave back in his buyout — and thus may find more arbitrage opportunities to squeeze out another second-round pick or two. (It already has six extra over the next five drafts.)

On the court, it’s a transition year all the way. The development of Green and Smith takes center stage, and behind that, there’s the effort to figure out who among their 10 players born after 2000 are worth keeping around for the next phase. They’ll be young, make a lot of mistakes and take their lumps, but one hopes the Rockets can at least become a more disciplined version of the hot mess that took the court a year ago.

Prediction: 22-60, 14th in Western Conference

 

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Silas helps with losing this year. Need to suck this year- nail a high draft pick and sign two stars in the off-season then jettison all the jags and kids and whatever that isn’t part of a playoff team for 2024. Then, internal development of Green and the 23 pick will determine if they have a realistic title chance or will just be stuck at mid tier playoff team when the roster gets too expensive to maintain.  

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I feel sorry for Martin, stuck behind Tate and Gordon. He should be the starting F with Smith and Sengun. Still can't believe they gave Tate that stupid contract when the dude is a complete JAG.

They are blowing out Indiana tonight. Hopefully this is just pre-season basketball and they will be entertaining but their bad defensive fundamentals will lead to a lot of 130-125 losses.

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I really don't want to see Houston tank this season at all. I think they've got 3 guys who are eventually going to be consistent All Star caliber players on the roster in Green, Eason, and Smith. Talent is no longer the limiting factor. With Chet out I like Smith for ROY. Rockets should be scrapping for the play in game this year.

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On 10/15/2022 at 9:45 AM, SilasCoade said:

I really don't want to see Houston tank this season at all. I think they've got 3 guys who are eventually going to be consistent All Star caliber players on the roster in Green, Eason, and Smith. Talent is no longer the limiting factor. With Chet out I like Smith for ROY. Rockets should be scrapping for the play in game this year.

Yeah I kind of think they mess around and win 30+ games. 
 

It feels like they handshake agreement or something to not trade Gordon. Very undeserved loyalty to a player that hasn’t won shit in Houston. 

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9 hours ago, Murfdogg21 said:

Keep the current coaching staff and let the players just go out and free style for 82 games?

I mean there is something to be said about just getting playing time in real NBA games, even with the expected poor coaching and game plans from Silas. The talent is real though.

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12 minutes ago, Macklemore said:

KPJ extended for 4 years with only 1st year fully guaranteed. Great contract by Rafael Stone. Best GM in Houston doing work again.

 

Really, the team should have an opt out every season. He needs to prove he can stay engaged for each year of the deal.

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14 minutes ago, HtownHorn said:

Really, the team should have an opt out every season. He needs to prove he can stay engaged for each year of the deal.

It's almost unheard to have non-guaranteed years in a NBA contract. I think its a very team friendly deal even after the 1st year and can be moved easily IMO.

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Just now, Macklemore said:

 

So that reads the Rockets can release him at any point over the 4 years with no further financial burden. That is a great deal for the Rockets, and I also acknowledge Porter's understanding that walking off the court is no longer acceptable.

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8 hours ago, Macklemore said:

KPJ extended for 4 years with only 1st year fully guaranteed. Great contract by Rafael Stone. Best GM in Houston doing work again.

 

Seems team friendly. Rockets can still go big game hunting in 2023. And they had to do it after not drafting Ivey. 
 

I very much like this move. 

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2 hours ago, Macklemore said:

I have criticized Silas the past few years. This here makes me root for him because you can tell he is a good guy.

He's not being paid to be a social worker. He's a bad basketball coach that will be fired as soon as the Rockets get serious about winning again.

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17 minutes ago, Rockethorn1978 said:

Is smith gonna be back for tonight? 
 

who will we trade by the deadline? Im Hoping we get rid of Gordon and maybe another guy that won’t fit in to the long term plans for draft picks.

Any move of Gordon needs to not take any future money back. 

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3 hours ago, LebongJames said:

gross dumb and dumber GIF

Westbrook helps you lose which should be the goal this year and it keeps your cap sheet clean for the summer. I didn’t like anything about that extension other than the fact they can get out of it at the end of this year if they want. 
there’s a decent chance the Lakers suck at least one of those years and it’s a really good pick. 

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8 hours ago, Wulaw Horn said:

Gordon and Kevin Porter Jr. if he’s going well at the deadline for Russ and the 27 and 29 picks. 

Lulz. The difference in salaries is around $25M, the Rockets would have to include half their team to get Westbrook.

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11 minutes ago, HtownHorn said:

Lulz. The difference in salaries is around $25M, the Rockets would have to include half their team to get Westbrook.

Porter’s new deal not kick in yet?  Isn’t gordon over 20 and Porter’s new deal like 4/82? 

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9 hours ago, Wulaw Horn said:

Gordon and Kevin Porter Jr. if he’s going well at the deadline for Russ and the 27 and 29 picks. 

That’s a BOB and Easterby type of deal. It sucks. Can’t believe your serious. Way too many turnovers this first half. Need JG to be more aggressive.

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27 minutes ago, Macklemore said:

That’s a BOB and Easterby type of deal. It sucks. Can’t believe your serious. Way too many turnovers this first half. Need JG to be more aggressive.

No movement on offense. Just jacking up 3's. Typical shitty Silas no coaching.

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35 minutes ago, Macklemore said:

That’s a BOB and Easterby type of deal. It sucks. Can’t believe your serious. Way too many turnovers this first half. Need JG to be more aggressive.

I think if you offered that to LAL right now they’d laugh in your face. 

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22 minutes ago, BigOrange1 said:

i don't really care because i want them to lose this season, but only playing sengun 22 minutes is fucking stupid.

What was even dumber was the lack of minutes given to Tari and the amount that Mathews had. Gary needs to be at the end of the bench.

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2 hours ago, Murfdogg21 said:

Mathews and Fernando are your new tank commanders

Fernando played a good game. He's only 24, and has potential. I don't mind him and Sengun sharing the C minutes. However, Gordon should only get 20 minutes, and Mathews shouldn't play at all.

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the three losses are all to likely playoff teams.  i'm not sure anyone would have looked at the schedule before the season started and picked them to win any of them.

now what people probably would have picked is a win over the jazz and they have somehow started the season 3-0.  which is great as the rockets will probably be "competing" with them for draft positioning come march and april.

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great performances from the young guys tonight:

kpj - 26 points and 10 boards 

jalen green - 25 points on 9/16 shooting (4/8 from 3)

jabari smith - 21 points and 9 boards on 6/10 shooting (3/5 from 3)

tari eason also had 11 points and 9 boards

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