The Houston Rockets are going to have to make some key roster decisions as they mull over this current transitory period in the post-James Harden era. Item No. 1 on that list might be how best to proceed with Victor Oladipo.
The Rockets acquired Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers as part of the Harden blockbuster. Given the two-time All-Star was on an expiring contract, it was unknown whether Houston would look to extend Oladipo or try to flip him.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Sunday the 28-year-old turned down Houston’s offer of a two-year, $45.2 million extension, the most the Rockets could offer him before the end of the season. Now, with just over three weeks until the March 25 trade deadline, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone has to get things in order.
Wojnarowski reported the Rockets have yet to take inquiries on Oladipo. That figures to change, unless Houston decides he is worth a max contract.
Would it be smart for the Rockets to keep Oladipo through the remainder of the season and try to re-sign him this summer? Let’s break it down.
They want the old Victor Oladipo back
If this were the Victor Oladipo of three years ago, the answer to the above question would be quite obvious.
Oladipo was rapidly ascending as one of the best combo guards in the NBA during the 2017-18 season after the Pacers acquired him in the Paul George swap. He averaged a career-high 23.1 points, chipping in 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while also leading the NBA in steals (2.4).
This looked like the birth of a two-way star. Oladipo shot the 3-ball at a higher clip (.371) and also started getting to the free-throw line more. His shot-creating ability was on full display.
Although the former No. 2 overall pick got off to a slightly slower start in 2018-19, he upped his assist numbers to 5.2 dimes per game, proving he could be a top playmaker for a Pacers team then lacking a traditional point guard. Of course, everything changed in January 2019.
Oladipo suffered a ruptured quad tendon in a game against the Toronto Raptors. He would miss a full calendar year, a devastating blow to a promising young career. It has been an uphill battle ever since.
Struggling to recapture old form
Victor Oladipo can hardly be blamed for his troubles finding pre-injury form. After all, he had quite the debilitating knee injury. But there is no denying the quality of play is worse.
The Maryland native played 19 games during the 2019-20 season after returning to the hardwood in January 2020. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and just 0.9 steals. Oladipo shot below 40 percent from the field, including 31.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Things didn’t get much better in the playoffs. Despite an uptick in scoring (17.8 points) and better 3-point shooting, Oladipo was still inefficient and the Pacers were swept in the first round by the Miami Heat.
This season has been a weird odyssey. Oladipo looked decent in his early showings with the Pacers, but it has been a turn for the worse in H-Town. He is shooting just 39.1 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from deep in 13 games with the Rockets.
Recent trends would suggest Oladipo could have a tough time being an All-Star-caliber player once again, especially in Houston. He will be 29 in May, and these Rockets are a franchise without any real direction. It just doesn’t make sense.
There is no shame for Houston in starting over. That always seemed the likeliest course of action after the Rockets traded Harden.
It probably makes the most for Stone to get assets in a Victor Oladipo trade now. He has interest from teams like the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, so the Rockets could get future value and avoid being locked into another questionable contract, considering they are already paying big money to John Wall.
This team is not close to contention with this roster. Oladipo’s health and progression going forward are big unknowns for a team desperately needing to build for the future. That does not sound like an ideal situation for handing out a max contract.