HOUSTON Christian Wood Keeps making 3-pointers and smiling, the big man who is skilled at shooting and seems to respond whenever the opposing team comes within striking distance.
It's June 13th, and Game 5 of NBA Finals begins in eight hours. But metaphorically, this pick-up game takes place as far away as possible from the cities hosting the league championship series.
The location: The Toyota Center's practice gym, home of the Houston Rockets, the franchise which has won an NBA-worst 36 games in the past two seasons.
Eric Gordon Wood, the Rockets' last remaining player from before their rebuild, is providing food for some of these 3s. This duo is a regular at the Rockets' weekly morning voluntary workouts that feature more than half their roster and players from their G League affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Rockets coaches oversee the sessions and they then supervise skill work and shooting. Staffers are only allowed to watch these games. These runs often pit the children against the vets, just as it was this morning.
Wood scorches the team with a few rookies — Daishen NixUndrafted guard, who played for the G League champion Vipers, signed a four year deal with the Rockets in late season. First-round picks were also included. Josh Christopher And Usman Garuba.
The Rockets' rookies last season were not available — a group that was led by No. No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green 16th overall pick Alperen Sengun — can buy a beer. They all feature prominently in the Rockets’ plans for the future and the years ahead.
Wood, 26 years old, has been the Rockets' leading rebounder and scorer for the past two seasons.
After his pickup game display, the Rockets agreed to trade Wood The Dallas Mavericks The No. 26th overall selection and a group of expiring salaries. Four players might not be on this regular-season roster but won't be in rotation.
Houston's plan would have been complicated by Wood's participation in the final year of his $41 million three-year contract with the Rockets. Sengun's playing time will be significantly increased in his second season.
Bobby Marks breaks down a trade between the Mavericks, Rockets and Christian Wood that has Christian Wood heading to Dallas.
Houston expects to select “one the three stars” as the No. 3 overall pick Thursday's draft (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN app)According to Tilman Fertitta, Auburn's owner, “It is a beautiful place.” Jabari Smith, Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren Duke's Paolo BancheroListed in the order of ESPN’s most recent mock draft.
The Rockets have now taken three picks in the first round of the draft (Nos. Part of a rebuilding strategy that takes extreme patience after many years of trying to win a title.
After watching the exercise, Stephen Silas, Rockets coach, said that development is the priority right now. Along with developing winning habits and doing things right the right way. “Hopefully that will lead to some wins but development remains the priority.”
Houston has placed so much emphasis on development that it has taken the former All-Star guard out of service. John WallHe was paid $44 million Not Played last season, clearing the path for then-21 year-old Kevin Porter Jr. Next, go to Green. Wall is owed $47 million next seasonHe's expected to be paid a buyout, unless Rockets general manger Rafael Stone finds a trade partner.
It's part the price Fertitta approved the Rockets paid for their instant transition from Finals contention almost two years back to complete teardown. After competing for a championship, it's not the shift Fertitta wanted. James HardenHouston's eight-year tenure and the sale of significant assets to search for his superstar partner.
The Rockets attempted to extend this era desperately, but it was not possible. once Harden decided it was overThe franchise decided that a painful and long-term rebuild was the best way to return to relevancy.
Stone stated, sitting in an office overlooking a practice court, that Stone is trying to create a core of people who can be the foundation for a great team. Stone returned from Memphis where he saw Banchero exercise and met with his representatives.
“We want to see improvements, to see progress, and to see improvement. As long as that is happening, we are happy with the reconstruction. I am happy with last year.
You don't want your child's growth to be hampered by trying to grab a win. Philosophically, that's what we are acutely aware of. It is very different to build a team that is truly growing than one that tries to maximize every win.
THIS SITUATION IS IMPERATIVE What Fertitta believed he was getting when he bought his hometown franchise for a record $2.2 billion in September 2017. This was when the Rockets were on high.
Chris Paul He had just signed-and-traded with the Houston Star to make his way to Houston. LA Clippers. Harden hoped that Paul's arrival would finally give him the sidekick he needed in order to lead the Rockets to a title.
They were close. “A hamstring away” is what Houstonians will always believe in reference to Paul's injury that kept him out of the final two games against the Western Conference. Golden State Warriors It all fell apart before it could be rebuilt.
The Rockets traded Paul and Harden in an desperate trade. Russell Westbrook. After one season, the star partnership fell apart and there was a mass exodus, with Mike D'Antoni as coach and Daryl Morey as general managers, before Westbrook and Harden made trade demands.
The front office decided to commit fully to rebuilding the team rather than trying to keep it competitive. The Rockets decided that it was better to be boring than bad.
Fertitta, who was on vacation with his family, said that it was very difficult but that it was worth it. “The future looks exciting.”
Stone, a former front-office employee who was promoted to GM following Morey's departure, says that “The NBA punishes those in the middle.” “That's the way the system works.”
Houston received one player from the 2021 deal which brought Harden to the Brooklyn Nets — Victor Oladipo Let's take a look at what the future holds for a former All Star guard, who has just returned from his ruptured quad. Oladipo was moved to the Rockets roster. Miami Heat (Before the 2022 trade deadline.
The Rockets could have been in the center Jarrett Allen They agreed to the deal but decided to add another first-round selection by rerouting him from the Cleveland CavaliersAllen was an All-Star in this area last season. Houston could have also had wing Caris LeVert However, he preferred Oladipo's higher upside and shorter contract.
Houston could also have sent Harden. Philadelphia 76ers For a package light on draft picks, headlined by an ex-All-NBA guard, he was transferred to Houston 13 months later. Ben Simmons. After months of careful research, Simmons was determined not to be the best player for a contending team.
Patrick Fertitta (Tilman's son) is involved in Rockets' dayto-day operations. Stone and assistant manager Eli Witus were credited with “making the hard, and at the time, very unpopular, decision” to prioritize draft capital for the Harden trade. They all praise Silas' professionalism in handling the rebuild's pivot, especially considering the changes that occurred to his job since Houston hired him to replace D'Antoni.
Stone claims that the decision was easy despite being unpopular.
Stone said that there was no other equally attractive option at the time. Stone states that Stone is not even close. “I believe in going all in. It does not matter if it's to go all out to rebuild, or all-in in order to win a championship.
Houston received a collection of first-rounders through the deal: The Nets' picks 2022-24 and 2026 respectively, as well as a 2022 pick by the Nets. Milwaukee Bucks via Cleveland (which was later increased to 2023 in a separate P.J. Tucker trade), and four years of swap rights for the Nets. (The 2021 swap rights were not transferred.
The Rockets predicted that the Nets would form a super team with them. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving Harden's short shelf life would mean that he wouldn't be around for very long, increasing the value of Brooklyn's future picks. The Rockets were able to pick the No. 17 rather than the expected late first-rounder.
Rockets decision-makers also bet on the benefits of reaching rock bottom.
Tilman Fertitta states, “If you compare what we would get versus the draft capital we got, I couldn’t be happier with this decision.”
To be relevant again, the Rockets needed top-end talent. It meant losing a lot. Green was the No. The Thunder owned the rights for Miami to trade that pick with Green's pick if Houston did not land in the top 4. (Still owed OKC. OKC is a franchise that has been rebuilding similarly to Westbrook with an even bigger stockpile. Top-four-protected picks for 2024-2026. Houston is hoping to add another young franchise foundation with the No. 3 pick.
Stone chose Green over the safer choice Evan Mobley because Green was believed to have a higher ceiling. This is the Rockets' general rebuild philosophy: Take big swings, and hope to hit home runs.
Patrick Fertitta says, “We made the decision that our goal was to win the championship from an ownership perspective.” He is sat next to his father on the yacht and enjoying the last days before returning to Houston for the final week in draft preparation. “To win a championship you must be willing to make sacrifices and suffer pain. …
“We made the decision to move forward with that. Although it was not easy, we made the decision to move forward with that. We are committed from ownership to the front desk and all the way down to do what it takes to win a title.
“That's the road we chose, and we'll stick to it.”
It WOULD BE Although it was not something that anyone in the front office would admit, the Rockets could have written the final two weeks for the 2021-22 season better.
Green, the rookie who had a difficult start, ended up with a remarkable run. He scored at least 30 points in six out of seven games, including 41 during the season finale. Porter, a talented young reclamation project, averaged 28.7 points per game and 7.4 assists in his first full season.
The Rockets were defeated in seven of the seven games. This was a lesson learned and a way to secure the best lottery odds.
Green stated that “you've got to do some L's” after returning from a short Mexican vacation. It was his first time taking advantage of the voluntary offseason workouts.
“It will take time, dedication and a lot of hardwork to get to the destination we desire. It will happen sooner than expected, simply because I am in the gym every day with everyone. It just feels like we are coming in with a new vibe and mentality.
Green was a core piece of the Rockets' foundation piece, and they never lost faith in him. Stone said that they “threw him in to the deep end” and were impressed by Green's response.
Silas said, “He had struggles and then you really discover about the character of someone when they struggle.” What will they do? Do they plan to be apathetic? Is it possible for them to become withdrawn and self-deprecating and stop listening? Are they going to follow the example of he who did? Which is, listen and work through it. Then watch film and focus on what's important.
The Rockets' brass envisions Green playing a prominent role in any future scenario. Green is primarily focused on adding strength to Green's 186-pound frame.
They regard Sengun as a key player, despite his bouncing between Houston this summer and his commitments for the Turkish national soccer team.
They believe that they have a handful quality complementary pieces, with the potential to expand. Jae'Sean Tate And Garrison MathewsThe Rockets had a couple of mid-20s role-players who they found on the fringes, but were still locked into team friendly deals.
It's not clear how or whether Porter fits.
Porter, 22, was acquired for basically nothing (a top 55-protected second rounder) after he had outlived his time in Cleveland. He is now eligible for an extension of his rookie contract. Porter could be allowed to finish the season and become an unrestricted, free agent by the Rockets.
Porter's reputation has been tarnished by many within the league, including prominent agents. They believe he isn't trustworthy enough to be an integral part of any rebuilding plan. He was adamantly rude when he left Houston's January 1 home loss. Denver NuggetsThe team decided to suspend Porter for the next match after he was fouled. Porter's ability to be a good starting point guard is also questionable.
Stone particularly praises Porter's improvement in catch-and-shoot threats and defense, which were two areas the Rockets staff prioritized last summer. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Porter was the most successful among 227 players who attempted catch-and-shoot threes.
Stone said that Stone isn't a “finished product”. He just turned 22. Although he still needs to learn and improve on the court and off, we are very excited for him and his potential.
Gordon's future, at 33, is likely to be a more urgent issue. His shooting ability is still high and could be a valuable asset to a playoff team (41.2% in 3s last season), as well as his solid defense. The Houston front office has high confidence that they will receive another first-round pick in a Gordon trade.
However, the Rockets consider Gordon, who Silas refers too as “a rock” for his professionalism and quiet leadership over the past two seasons, to be a role-model for their young players. Gordon said he is content with his role, but it depends on the Rockets' commitment to him. Gordon's $20.9 million salary in 2023-24 will be guaranteed if he is an All-Star or his team wins the title. 3.)
Gordon said, “It is a difficult situation.” It's a long-term project when you are rebuilding. It is important for guys to understand that this is a long term plan. It must be a long-term strategy for the young men. I need to also know that there is a long-term solution for me. This is the truth of it all.
The Rockets will not measure their progress in rebuilding their plan using the standings this season.
Tilman Fertitta states that there are “no wins” he would like to see this season. Tilman Fertitta cites next year's free agency as an opportunity for Houston to win again. The Rockets are expected to have as high as $70million in the summer 2023. He wants to see improvement and watch the young players play hard for now.
The Rockets' front office convinced their billionaire boss that this plan is the best way to get back to the NBA.
Tilman Fertitta states, “I don’t like losing but we want the right finish line.” “We don't wish to be in basketball purgatory. It is a terrible place to be.”