The Houston Rockets can’t do anything at the NBA Trade Deadline to get worse, at least from a record perspective. The team is dead last in the NBA right now, with an 11-38 record. But that’s OK. The Rockets are in the midst of a massive rebuild, and getting another top-three pick in the 2023 NBA Draft isn’t only not a bad thing. It’s the plan! The Rockets have a solid young core in place with 2022 No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr., 2021 No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green, and Green’s fellow Class of 2021 first-rounder Alperen Sengun. Adding one more top-three pick to the mix in 2023 could take this team to the next level. The nightmare Rockets trade deadline scenario is that the team trades Eric Gordon and others and screws this plan up.
The nightmare Rockets trade deadline scenario is getting better by subtraction
The Rockets are currently doing what tanking teams in the NBA should be doing. They are giving their high draft picks plenty of playing time in order to develop and sell off any veteran or ill-fitting pieces for more draft capital.
It is a process known as, well, “The Process,” and it has worked in places like Memphis, New Orleans, Sacrament, and, of course, the birthplace of “The Process,” Philadelphia.
Houston is executing its process well right now. Jalen Green (34.6 minutes per game), Kevin Porter Jr. (34.0), Jabari Smith Jr. (29.5), Alperen Sengun (28.0), and Kenyon Martin Jr. (25.3 ) are all 22 and under and playing over 25 minutes per game.
The Rockets also have some interesting veteran pieces that contending teams might consider giving up something of value for at the NBA trade deadline. Eric Gordon, the veteran sharpshooter who is averaging 29.9 minutes a game could definitely help a team in the playoff race, and Jae’Sean Tate (20.8 minutes) is a scrappy forward who could add depth to a contender as well.
Trading Eric Gordon or Jae’Sean Tate in a Rockets trade deadline deal is absolutely fine. And if those players — especially Gordon — bring back a first-round pick, even better. It’s not going to be a lottery pick, but at this point, the more bites the Rockets get at the draft apple, the better.
Trading Gordon and Tate also frees up over 50 minutes of playing time per game, which can be doled out to other young players buried deeper on the roster such as 20-year-old 2021 first-round pick (No. 23) Usman Garuba, 21-year-old 2022 first-round pick (No. 29) TyTy Washington, or 20-year-old 2021 undrafted signee Daishen Nix.
While this sounds like a no-brainer, if there is a nightmare Rockets trade deadline scenario it starts here.
Finishing with the worst record guarantees the Rockets no worse than the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. There are some excellent prospects projected at that spot, including 6-foot-5 Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr. and 19-year-old, 6-foot-7 twins Amen and Asuar Thompson, currently playing in the Overtime Elite league.
However, the true prizes come at the Nos. 1 and 2 picks with G-League guard Scoot Henderson at No. 2 and generational French big man Victor Wembanyama at No. 1. Henderson and Wembanyama are seemingly franchise-changing players, and missing out on a high-percentage chance of drafting one of them is a nightmare for Rockets fans.
That’s why the NBA trade deadline nightmare scenario for Houston goes like this.
The team trades Eric Gordon and Jae’Sean Tate for decent picks. That opens time for Usman Garuba, TyTy Washington, and Daishen Nix, and they play well. It also creates more shots and more opportunities for Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun, and they start to flourish as well.
This is all good stuff in a vacuum, but the nightmare is all the good stuff happens just enough to bump up the Rockets’ 2022-23 record to rob them of a top-two pick, but not enough to move the needle long-term and turn them into a contender.
Yes, this scenario is a fine line, but it would be a situation that would have Rockets fans slapping their forehead in disgust. And if you aren’t totally buying into this situation as the worst thing in the world, you’re probably right, too.
The truth is, if the Rockets’ young players start to gel, that would mostly be a good thing, and will likely have a positive impact on the franchise in the long run. That said, if in five to seven years Victor Wembanyama is cutting down the nets in the NBA Finals for the San Antonio Spurs or Detroit Pistons and the Rockets are making another first- or second-round playoff exit, don’t say I didn’t warn you.