As we enter another important offseason for the Houston Rockets, most Clutch City fanatics understand that Eric Gordon and Christian Wood will likely need to be traded this summer.
But what about Jae’Sean Tate?
The 6-foot-4 wing/smallball four has been a staple of the post-Harden Rockets, proving to be a solid free agent find for Rockets brass. He’s an active defender and willing to do all the little things teams need.
But as the Rockets look to the future, the truth is — they need to trade Tate. Now.
Tate’s contract is a bargain
While Gordon ($19.5M) and Wood ($14.3M) make eight figures a year, Tate has one year left at under $1.8M. That’s a steal.
That makes him much easier to move and a match for almost any team looking for a solid role player. The certainty of Tate’s defense and team contribution could be more attractive to a win-now team than a first-round pick — lower ceiling but possibly a higher floor.
Could the Knicks (#11 pick), with coach Tom Thibodeau always placing a premium on defense, be interested in Tate in a trade-up? How about teams like Cleveland (#14), Chicago (#18), Minnesota (#19) and Denver (#21)? Or teams with a future pick available?
Putting Tate on the block could open up more avenues for the Rockets on a bigger trade.
Too early to commit to role players
The harsh reality is Jae’Sean is going to want bigger money in 2023. At a minimum, he would be seeking an amount at the full MLE ($8.4M per) but likely will start at an amount higher than that.
I know the Rockets love Jae’Sean — as do the fans — but at this stage of the rebuild, is it really wise to commit cap and playing time to a limited role player?
As former Rockets GM Daryl Morey once famously said, you want to be the team that finds the solid role players, not the ones that pay them the max. Granted, Tate isn’t in the market for the max as Chandler Parsons was, but the point remains that you commit to this type of player after your core is established.
KJ Martin needs to start
KJ Martin has two years remaining on his deal and he showed more progress than Tate did in 2021-2022. Depending on the results of the draft and offseason, KJ needs the starting gig.
Tate is clearly in the way of the that. He didn’t show much, if any, progress in his second year and will be 27 next season. Moving him in a deal opens up the opportunity for KJ, who will enter his third season but is still just 21 years old.
Even if the Rockets come away with a forward like Jabari Smith or Paolo Banchero in this draft, KJ should be getting the backup time over Tate.
Rafael Stone and the Rockets front office have tried to change the (unfair) perception of the organization that the Rockets, under Morey, were about assets over players.
They have gone out of their way to take care of players, trying to cultivate a family atmosphere on the team.
Yet, this is the team with the worst record in the league two years running. That’s preferable of course, but at some point, the Rockets have to make tough decisions and there is no bigger litmus test for Stone than what he does with Tate moving forward. Stone found Tate. He’s his guy.
But if the Rockets want to build a legitimate contender, they have to be opportunistic and aggressive. That spells out the harsh team-building reality that in this business, you sometimes have to focus on assets over family.