The Houston Rockets decided to start a new era within their organization when they chose to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for mostly draft capital. This also marks a new direction in the organization. After eight straight playoff appearances, the Rockets are not only breaking that streak but they will likely go out with the worst record in the regular season. This will give the Rockets–along with the Detroit Pistons and either the Orlando Magic or Oklahoma City Thunder–an equal 14 percent chance to earn the first overall pick in this upcoming draft. However, it will take more than a top selection to get his team back on track. Let’s break down the Rockets need to do to re-build into a playoff squad.
Trade John Wall
John Wall had a half-decent season coming back for the first time since 2019 after a torn Achilles. He averaged just above 20 points per game along with seven assists and 1.1 steals per game. His shooting percentages have taken a huge dip since coming to Houston. He shot 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc, both lower than his career averages. Now trading him might be complicated. Not only did he have a lackluster comeback season, but Wall is due for $44 million next year which is top five in salary for the entire league. Wall should also be traded in the likelihood the Rockets land Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs in the draft and want to jumpstart their careers. A team like the Pelicans or the Bulls could take a flier for Wall to bring more veteran presence. Their focus in return should be mainly draft capital or any young talent with upside.
Trade Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon has only played a combined 65 games the past two seasons. He is always dealing with injuries and is sucking money away from the Rockets at this point. However, he is extremely underrated when he plays and can contribute much more to contending teams. Last season, Gordon averaged 18 points, two rebounds, and two assists per game. His shooting percentages were poor but they’ve been consistently low during tenure in Houston. A change of scenery may be in order. His contract will also be much easier to trade as he is only getting paid approximately $18 million in 2022. His interest should be much higher financially as his ability to be a plug-and-play scorer off the bench for any contender—borderline or not—wanting to make that next step.
Re-sign Kelly Olynyk
This one may come as a bit of surprise considering Olynyk just turned 30 and may not fit in with the timeline of the Houston front office. However, there is a case to be made for him to be re-signed by the Rockets. Olynyk was lights out during his time in Houston to finish out this season. He averaged nearly 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 steals per game in 27 appearances. He shot a lights-out 55 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. All of these numbers shatter his career averages during his time in Boston and Miami. It would be in Olynyk’s best interest for him to stay in H-town because it’s clear this is the place that fits best for him. It would also be in the Houston’s best interest to keep him due to his increasing production. Even if the timeline is too slow for the Rockets to get back on track, Rafael Stone can still flip Olynyk for some very valuable pieces if Olynyk can prove that this is how he can produce on a nightly basis.
Develop the in-house talent
This is obvious for its own reasons but the Rockets should be recognized more for the kind of young talent they already have going forward. Christian Wood was an excellent signing at only $13 million a year this past offseason as he averaged over 23 points and 10 rebounds this season. Not to mention he also shot 37 percent as a big man. Kevin Porter was also a steal of a trade scoring 50 points in a game earlier this season. He showed incredible flashes throughout the year.
Outside of Wood and KPJ, the rest of this team is overlooked. Jae’Sean Tate is one of the most underrated rookies in this entire class, he should end up on an all-rookie team. Kenyon Martin Jr. also played terrific towards the end of the season and a strong full season next year should earn him the attention he deserves. Guards Armoni Brooks and Khyri Thomas are two very underrated players who can also be important in the future with some development.
With stacked draft capital, an above-average head coach, and some in-house young talent, Houston is already ahead of the curve in the rebuilding process. Some successful drafting and development should set this team back in the playoff picture in maybe three seasons. It will be very interesting to see the moves that Stone and company make going forward as they will get a head start to the offseason.