When the Houston Rockets originally traded for Christian Wood, they were trying to accomplish two goals:

1) Acquire a helpful player that could neatly fit next to Russell Westbrook and James Harden

2) Ensure that player is young enough in case they have to transition to a rebuild

Wood's floor spacing as a rim runner and shooter theoretically opened up some of the best elements of James Harden and Russell Westbrook's game. If Harden and Westbrook were to both buy in, the basketball fit made a lot of sense. The problem is neither of them bought in. Westbrook requested a trade in mid-November and Harden followed up with his own trade request a few days later.

Houston was very open about wanting a promising young player and a package of first round picks in exchange for Harden. Had the Rockets traded for a 25-year-old Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers reported package, Wood still fit into their new timeline. However, the Brooklyn Nets offered Houston a historic amount of first round picks and a pathway to expiring salary and the Rockets believed it was too much to turn down.

Here is the reality of where things stand with Christian Wood and the Rockets. Houston will enter the 2022-23 season with their nucleus still on rookie deals and long-term team control. Wood will be 27-years-old and on the last year of his contract. The Rockets also have Daniel Theis, Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and Jae'Sean Tate battling for minutes in the frontcourt. No matter how you feel about Wood as a player, these are factors you have to consider.

The further you are from a championship roster, the harder it is to justify giving out bad contracts. It's one thing for a title contender to overpay a role player to complete the puzzle or run back a championship nucleus. It's totally different to overpay that same level of player as a rebuilding team. In addition to jeopardizing valuable cap space, when you're rebuilding, every contract on the roster should ideally be a neutral asset. Negative assets on the roster make it difficult to construct trades.

Christian Wood may demand a contract beyond what Houston is comfortable paying. As good as Wood is, he hasn't shown enough to justify a max contract – something he may very well ask for in 2023. As a complimentary piece, there's a ceiling on what Houston should look to give him. It may be scary to let a good player walk away and the press could be brutal, but it's often the right thing to do when he's demanding an unreasonable dollar amount. The common retort – “letting an asset walk for nothing” – is no longer valid if the alternative is signing that player to a bad contract.

But Houston doesn't have to worry about that if they sell on Wood at his peak value as an asset – right now. Wood has two guaranteed years at a team-friendly number of $28 million remaining. To a contender, this is a contract that's easy to match and a positive asset. That team would also be more willing to pay Wood a high number in 2023 if they are truly at the contention stage. The Rockets could be looking at a deal that nets them back multiple first round picks to add to their war chest.

The move would also open up playing time for the rest of their crowded front court.

Obviously, this isn't a move that has to happen now, but Wood's trade value is at an apex right now due to the years remaining. The Rockets could still, however, explore deals at the upcoming trade deadline and the offseason. If Wood can replicate his production from the past year and a half, there will still be first round picks to be had in a deal for Houston.

The alternatives

It would be naive to suggest that the Rockets only have one move on the table as it pertains to Wood. Houston could theoretically reach an extension agreement with Wood that would secure his services at a team-friendly price. This keeps Wood on the team as a positive asset and gives the Rockets some more long-term flexibility with team-building. The only question would be Wood's motivation to sign an extension. If his camp believes there's a max or near-max to be had in 2023, it would be pretty difficult to get something done.

Another alternative would be risking it and waiting until Wood's free agency. If they play their hand right and limit the kinds of contracts they sign in the next two summers, the Rockets are shaping up to have a massive amount of cap room in 2023. When Eric Gordon and John Wall's contract expire, Houston will only owe $7.3 million to players for the 2023-24 season. There are two big caveats:

  1. If Kevin Porter Jr. has a breakout season, the Rockets will likely give him a significant extension next summer. They'll also have to sign K.J. Martin and Jae'Sean Tate past their rookie deals.
  2. Houston will have to be shrewd in giving out deals with their mid-level exceptions the next two seasons. Any significant deal jeopardizes space.

The point being, even if Houston signs those rookies past their deal, there's an avenue for two max cap slots.

If the Rockets get extremely lucky in 2023 and lands two star players, they could theoretically bring Wood back without cap space if they time it properly (via Bird rights). Obviously, this is a pie-in-the-sky scenario and several things have to go right for Houston, but it has to be mentioned as a possibility. Alternatively, the Rockets could still use up all their cap room that summer in some other way and still bring Wood back with Bird rights. If Houston doesn't see themselves as significant contenders, they'll still have to be weary of Wood's contract in the second scenario though. It's easier to sign Wood to whatever number he wants when you know max free agents are coming behind him, but less so when it's a bunch of role players.

Whatever the case, Houston has probably started having internal dialogue about Wood's future with the team already. As mentioned before, there is no rush to deal Wood immediately, but a prudent front office would be having conversations about him with other teams to at least gauge his value. If they feel the return isn't worth it, they could play explore the alternatives laid out. Either way, Wood's situation will certainly be fascinating to watch over the next calendar year.