Now that the Houston Rockets have clinched the worst record in the NBA following a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the MMH Season Obituary series can begin laying down the cadavers of the COVID shortened season.
The Rockets will look, and even sound, drastically different next season. CEO Todd Brown is stepping down. Bill Worrell will no longer be the play-by-play announcer. The roster resembles a clearance bin at a Dirt Cheap store scattered around John Wall and Christian Wood. The only positive from this season is the growth of Kenyon Martin Jr and Cavaliers castoff Kevin Porter Jr. Still, building a competitive team around those three will be difficult. Houston just lacks the assets.
Eric Gordon is owed nearly $60 million over the next three seasons and will be 35 when the contract expires. Those extra years make his contract a negative on the balance sheet. Houston might have to attach a pick or accept a similar contract back in return if they look to move him. That mode of operation did not work the last two times it was implemented in the Westbrook and Paul trades.
The only other players under contract that might help a playoff team are Wall ($44m) and Wood ($14m). DJ Augustin ($7m) or Avery Bradley (Team Option: $5.5m) might help fill out a reserve unit. Danuel House and Kevin Porter Jr. won’t be moving any offseason trade needles or getting any GM’s to return a text. The Rockets’ only real hope is to lure in some quality talent on moveable contracts using their available cap space. The 2021 NBA free-agent market lacks much top-end talent after Giannis, AD, Paul George, and Jrue Holiday signed extensions, but there are plenty of quality options to build out a roster. With all that cap space, the agents and players will want Houston in the bidding. Houston needs to identify options that can be traded later.
If nothing else, they can look to the Nets model of the last few years for direction. The Nets were rudderless following the fallout from the failed Celtics trade in 2013. They pivoted to becoming a salvo station for bad contracts, made savvy moves on the margins, and showed enough prowess to lure Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency.
Speaking of the Nets, those trades to appease James Harden really took their toll. Worse yet, Harden, Westbrook, and Chris Paul are all thriving on their new teams comparatively. Harden and Paul could meet in the NBA Finals and Westbrook has looked refreshed in Washington D.C. All of which has led Houston to the top of the NBA Draft Lottery board….
NBA Draft Lottery Outlook: Bleak.
Even with the worst record, Houston might not have a lottery pick. If their pick falls to fifth, under the new lottery odds, that pick would transfer to the Oklahoma City Thunder. There is only a 14% chance the Rockets win the right to draft Cade Cunningham.
Rest In Peace: John Wall and Boogie Cousins pairings. We hardly knew you.
Glass Half Full View: There are better odds of the Rockets receiving a top-four pick than there is of sending the fifth overall pick to Oklahoma City. There are three decent free agents that will take their money and one big trade from the new front office that could make the team respectable next season.
Glass Half Empty View: Tilman Fertitta will not pay a big luxury tax bill for years. The Rockets fall in the NBA Draft Lottery and do not land their top choices in free agency. Houston will have to wallow in last place in the division for the next decade as Luka Dončić and Zion Williamson continue their All-Star careers.
Oklahoma City and San Antonio seem to have great rebuilding foundations in place already and will be pushing for playoff spots behind the Mavericks and Pelicans. Houston will have only a fraction of the hope for several years.
RIP 2021 Houston Rockets