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Why Dwight Howard to Houston makes so much sense

Dwight Howard can trade in his Laker attire and make this scene a reality next month When it comes to star pursuits, Rockets fans have grown accustomed to disappointment the past several years.

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Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard can trade in his Laker attire and make this scene a reality next month

When it comes to star pursuits, Rockets fans have grown accustomed to disappointment the past several years.

There was the Chris Bosh IPad delivery, the bronze medal finish for Carmelo Anthony, Dwightmares I and II and the Chris Paul trade… without getting Chris Paul. And let’s just agree not to talk about Nene, which would be like trying to justify the fashion sense you showed in 6th grade.

But James Harden changed everything. The Rockets are no longer the pimple-faced dweeb desperately asking any mildly popular female out for a date — they now are the hot chick. They can afford to be picky.

‘You need a star to get a star’ and nothing illustrates this better than seeing how the attitude of one Dwight Howard has changed about Houston in less than a year. Last June, David Aldridge reported that there was “not a chance” Dwight would re-sign with Houston if traded here. Today, numerous reports suggest the Laker free agent is strongly considering coming here of his own free will.

And justifiably so. This could be a very good marriage as it looks like a perfect fit for both the Rockets and the 27-year old center.

Why it makes perfect sense for the Rockets

  • Defense wins championships. This can’t be stressed enough. The NBA’s “Final Four” this year were ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 9th in defensive ranking. Oklahoma City, which probably would have been there without a key injury, was ranked 4th. We can talk stretch fours and three-point efficiency all day, but if the Rockets are to make a true leap forward, they have to do it defensively. There’s no better defensive anchor than Dwight Howard.

  • Instant Contenders. Forget all this “youngest team in the league” talk. If the Rockets sign Dwight Howard, they catapult from young upstarts to expected contender, being discussed with the likes of Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

  • Asik flexibility. The Rockets were pretty good defensively in the halfcourt when Omer Asik was in the game. When he was out, they dropped like a rock. Howard and Asik would assure the Rockets of 48 minutes of top-flight paint patrol, OR, if they can fill the backup center spot in other ways and instead eye an improvement at the four, they now have a prized trade asset in Asik. Simple example to illustrate it: Omer Asik for Kevin Garnett — who says no? I doubt KG or the Celtics would.

  • The pick-and-roll. The Rockets have a pick-and roll lead ace in Harden and another pretty good one in Jeremy Lin. Howard was one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league last year, and the best in 2011-12, his final year in Orlando. Howard sets strong screens, has good hands and goes hard to the basket. He can finish in traffic or on the lob. A Harden-Howard pick-and-roll would be lethal — you’ll see a lot of buckets and trips to the line between those two.

  • A dagger in the heart. Howard signing with Houston would do serious damage to two key rivals — the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks. It would be a lost 2013-14 season in Los Angeles, and their future draft pick situation is a mess from past trades for Steve Nash and Howard. Their hopes would hang on a LeBron James signing in 2014 or an Andrew Wiggins miracle, and the same might be said about the Mavs, who had kept the Rockets a distant third in the Texas Triangle for years. They were the Texas team that had the most interest from free agents. Not anymore.

  • Poetic justice. With the Rockets’ run as a title hopeful ending with Yao Ming’s injury in 2009, the Lakers picked up Houston free agent Ron Artest and won a championship the following year. Now the roles have reversed. Kobe Bryant’s injury (and age) puts Los Angeles in limbo and the Rockets are on the upswing to contention.

Why it makes perfect sense for Dwight Howard

  • Winning. It’s that simple. The Rockets provide the best chance at the ring, this season and beyond. They have a not-yet 24 year old guard who scores and passes like a star, a blossoming wing player in Chandler Parsons and a general manager in Daryl Morey who has proven to be masterful at filling the roster with capable role players. The Lakers have a 35-year old grumpy star trying to recover from a serious Achilles tear (and, oh by the way, he doesn’t like you) and a point guard old enough to have played with George Mikan. Not a tough call from a winning standpoint.

  • Money. While the parroted line is that the Lakers can offer “$30 million more” to Howard than any other team, that’s primarily because they are the only team that can offer a fifth year on the contract, a year that Howard would likely opt out of to become a free agent. Tony Nitti of Forbes did a terrific job breaking down how state taxes in California make it so the Rockets’ offer is actually more lucrative for Howard than the Lakers’ package over the first four years. After weighing in state taxes, the Lakers deal is worth around $79 million over the first four years compared to $86 million from the Rockets. Throw in the fact that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and owners expires in 2017 and Howard may want to opt out after three years, signing a new deal before the new CBA comes into play. When you consider that Howard will likely want to cash in on one more major deal while in his prime (in three or four years), it’s Houston — not Los Angeles — that offers the better deal.

  • Coach McHale. You want a coach who knows and understands the role of the big man? That’s Kevin McHale. McHale, a 6-foot-10 power forward, was a 7-time All-Star and 3-time NBA Champion. In Houston under McHale, the strengths of Howard’s game won’t be ignored.

  • Strong, stable ownership. Rockets’ owner Les Alexander has owned the team for 20 years and has multiple championships. Alexander was ahead of the curve in hiring Morey and utilizing basketball analytics to aid in making decisions. He has proven to be an owner willing to spend to contend and, more importantly, spends wisely and efficiently. The players needed to complement Harden and Howard will be there.

  • Connection in China. Dwight Howard is a superstar, but blowing up in China could further establish his global brand. Since drafting Yao Ming in 2002, the Rockets have built lasting business relationships in China. Current Rocket Jeremy Lin is largely responsible for the NBA’s growth in China and Taiwan the last two years.

  • Chemistry. This isn’t the Lakers — there’s no internal bickering as these guys genuinely like each other. Houston fans would welcome and adore Howard.

Howard’s Twitter bio says one simple thing: “After the ring!”

The Lakers and Mavericks will try to sell him on what they can eventually add in 2014 and beyond to help him in that pursuit. The Rockets are way ahead of them, locked and loaded right now and for years to come. If winning is truly Howard’s goal in free agency — to set himself up right now for legitimate shots at the ring — there is only one logical choice.

That’s Houston.

Armed with a bizarre fascination for Mario Elie and a deep love of the Houston Rockets, Dave Hardisty started ClutchFans in 1996 under the pen name “Clutch”.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. fyrebear

    June 3, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Great writeup! Howard & Harden would be an awesome core to build a championship team around. Makes sense for everyone. I think Howard would flourish in Houston and being paired with an easy going unselfish star player like Harden would be perfect. Once Howard signs his contract I think we will see the end of all of that ‘drama’ and he goes back to being the top post threat in the NBA.

    • rocketsfun

      June 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      Harden not selfish?  Look at the lost games led by Harden in the past season, Harden made a lot of turnovers and missed shots but still didn’t let other players as key person. He always passed the ball to others until the last 2 seconds. That’s very selfish play. He tried all means to get his stats look good. That’s selfish. He didn’t make others better only himself. Howard with harden? I didn’t see any contender teams but the gossip hype for the sports news. I think that’s the purpose of why Morey wants to sign him– to make Rockets more famous in the NBA. Everybody knew Howard is such a childish adult. Needs to be spoiled too much. He will damage the good chemistry.

      • 34 2 11

        June 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm

        rocketsfun  Your English is muddled but your ignorance is crystal clear. James Harden is as unselfish a player you’ll find at his position. 
        Your words echo the hollow criticisms of a certain “player specific” collective  whose sole objective is to prop up their hero at all costs, even to the detriment of the team. I think that is why you and your compatriots are so against the Rockets bringing in A-level talent because you fear it will further diminish the significance of your favorite player.
        The addition of Howard to this Rockets team is the best of all possible moves. It puts the Rockets is a position of contention with anticipation and expectation we haven’t seen since the arrival of Tracy McGrady.

  2. surreALEX

    June 3, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Good write up. Howard and Harden!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    http://www.suite678.com

  3. dasgda

    June 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Uhhhhh you forgot to mention the team he is going to the ATL Hawks. Paul/Horford/Howard>>>>>>>>>>>Harden/Howard and it really isn’t close.

    • BimaThug

      June 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      dasgda If the salary cap comes in at $58.5 million (as expected), then both Dwight and CP3 would have to sign at a discount to team up in Atlanta, likely a bigger discount than Lebron, Bosh and Wade gave Miami in 2010.  Not saying it won’t happen, but the Rockets would be able to pay Dwight more to play with Harden, Parsons, Lin, Asik, Beverley and multiple good young PF prospects than Atlanta could reasonably pay him if the Hawks were also adding CP3.

    • jahunter221

      June 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

      Get off the crack

    • jahunter221

      June 4, 2013 at 7:57 am

      Get off the dope atlanta

    • ramnale

      June 4, 2013 at 9:10 am

      dasgda Well that was stupid.  You just added a player whos not even on your team(Paul) just to try to look better than us.  You know if  you put Horford/Howard against a Harden/Howard, that wouldnt even be close.  As for me, I wouldnt mind picking up Garnet or Gasol if the Howard trade doesnt go thru.

  4. kevC

    June 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Where is the bullet for “finest strip clubs”?

  5. LetItBurnUSA

    June 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    It all comes down to what’s more important to Howard. The glamor of Hollywood and more guaranteed money(for now) or the opportunity to win right away. If it’s the former, he remains a Laker. If it’s the latter, he either becomes a Rocket or maybe an Atlanta Hawk.

  6. da_juice

    June 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Good read, I also like that there’s been more articles up lately. I’m just trying not to get my hopes up too much.

  7. Mathloom

    June 4, 2013 at 3:50 am

    Great analysis. I’m convinced that, if Howard doesn’t join, both the Rockets and Howard will be worse off. If he genuinely is basing his decision on the ability to win a championship in a 3 year window (before he can opt out) then we are the best bet. None of the Lakers, Dallas or Atlanta can offer him a shot at the title in all 3 of those seasons. Equally important, Harden is the best player of anyone on all 4 rosters. It’s also a bit far fetched to think that returning to contender status in 2014 is a given for the other teams.
    Mathloom

  8. rampak

    June 4, 2013 at 3:51 am

    Except for playing under mchale and chinese market, other teams can also offer howard the same things.yet, if there is one thing kobe can teach, is that you don’t have to play with a chinese to be big there.Mchale is a hall of fame pf, who refused to play one of his four pf.Your proposed trade for garnet, doesn’t make sense for celtics.Asik’s offense is too raw. The only reason celtics will pursue asik is to pair him with garnet

  9. phil

    June 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    This is nonsense. Dwight has not gotten better in the low post, freethrows, jumpshots, etc. His basketball iq is questionable. His strongest asset is defense and it has been several years since his peak. He relies on his athleticism like stoudemire and has not learned the.skills and has been more and more injury prone. Do you want.a 20 million a year amare stoudemire called superman

    • JB012

      June 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      @phil 100% this. Howard IS NOT worth it. There’s plenty of other bigs with WAY less risk. Rockets fans who want Howard to Houston are caught up in the hype.

      • fyrebear

        June 6, 2013 at 8:34 am

        @JB012 @phil In Dwight Horward’s worst year (playing hurt coming off surgery) he was 3rd team All NBA at C. DH has his warts like any NBA player, but he is leagues better than Amare, especially defensively. 
        “There’s plenty of other bigs with WAY less risk.”
        Please tell us the “available” bigs for which the Rockets can choose from that have the ‘ceiling’ to propel the Rockets to the next level in a way that DH12 has the ability to.

        • phil

          June 7, 2013 at 11:08 pm

          Your not understanding my comparison. Amare used to average bigger numbers than dwight until he lost his athleticism(injurys). Amare’s game lacks fundamental skills and that’s why he’s not affective anymore. Dwight also relies on his athleticism and doesn’t have the fundamentals so an injury could make him a non factor as well. If he can’t jump over people he can’t score.

        • phil

          June 7, 2013 at 11:21 pm

          I would go after our need, pf. Ideally a derrick favors or maybe d.cousins. If not then split the time with jones & robinson only! This is the youngest team in the league and the 23-24 year olds will only get better with time, don’t believe anyone that thinks we have to rush. We need a legit post player

        • Ryan

          July 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

          fyrebear “Please tell us the “available” bigs for which the Rockets can choose from that have the ‘ceiling’ to propel the Rockets to the next level in a way that DH12 has the ability to.”  
          Exactly.  As Morey said when he traded for Hasheem Thabeet (where is he these days, anyway?), we need a big man, and you can’t trade for proven big men in this league because teams won’t give them up.  
          Understand, I’m not totally sold on him either – he’s got a bad back and arguably a worse attitude – but there’s no question that the Rockets just got the attention of every team in the league.

  10. phil

    June 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    There’s also the issue of the drama dwight causes because of his unstable mentality. You would not able to start asik.& dwight(scoring, ft’s, jumpshots, etc) or bring asik off the bench(too good). Big men don’t get healthier as they age and the rockets style is not gonna help. He’s got a quitter mentality, magic, lakers

    • phil

      June 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      I would also demote mchale to assistant and bring in jeff van gundy. He’s the best defensive coach out there with tons of knowledge and experience. I would never ever trade an asik for aging kg, trading a bright star big man for a past his prime about to retire is ludacris!

  11. EricHeard

    June 5, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Howard + Harden = H-town

  12. Dadakota

    June 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Great article, it would be awesome to cheer for a contender again.DD

    • jahunter221

      June 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Preach Dakota preach!!!!!””

  13. solid

    June 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Agree with everything except the owner having “multiple championships.” A bit of a reach don’t you think? He bought them, didn’t earn them. And he hasn’t done much with the “twenty years” until recently.

  14. formido

    June 7, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I’d say Lin is “pretty good” at pick and roll. 🙂 Morey said in a recent interview that he was the 5th best pick and roll player in the league:
    http://houston.cbslocal.com/2013/05/09/gm-daryl-morey-defends-jeremy-lin/

  15. PhiSlammaJamma

    June 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t see the logic the same way. The Lakers hold all the cards. They have the better team, they have the bigger star, they have a better lifestyle, they have the history, they attract more free agents, and they have the better coach. They don’t have youth, and they don’t have China. But seriously, they own us more we than we own them. So for me, the logic falls to the Lakers. That said, Howard is not logical. He’s emotional. And so I do think there is a chance to brainwash him into coming here. But the logic all lies with the Lakers and I’m just being honest. So if it comes down to that, they will win. They won the last time. They have won this war many times before. They will win it again.

    • MikeMcMannes

      June 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Rarely do I find a post that is wrong on nearly EVERY point…but alas, I have found another.

  16. rocketsfun

    June 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Last year Rockets signed Jeremy lin for Asian markets. this year, Rockets wants to sign Howard for American markets so that NBA or sports world will talk about Huston everyday. Howard and Harden can make contender? Kobe Bryne and Harward, and Nash all together could not make title contender. Rockets needs a best PF to help the team for title contender not the dram queen.

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Houston Rockets

Jabari Smith steals show in Rockets preseason opener

The Rockets rookie is legit as we take a look at what else stood out in Houston’s preseason rout of the Spurs

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Jabari Smith Jr Houston Rockets

Finally, Rocketball is back — the Rockets destroyed the San Antonio Spurs 134-96 in the preseason opener Sunday night.

Granted, the Spurs look flat out terrible (the top contender for Wembanyama?) and may finish dead last (and it showed), but there were a number of things that played out in this game that should get Houston fans excited.

But before I get into that, I want to give a huge shout out to everyone who supported RocketsWatch Sunday night. We are watching and discussing Rockets games in realtime this season and the debut was overwhelming. There were over 700+ fans watching the game with Roosh Williams and I in what might be the largest online watch party ever for a Rockets game. The live reactions from the fans were priceless!

Let’s talk about what stood out in this game:

Jabari is the real deal

Going into Sunday night’s preseason opener for the Rockets, the biggest question on the minds of fans was simple — how will #3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. look in his first NBA action?

The answer is good. Really good.

Jabari threw down a dunk out of the gate and then locked in on high-energy defense on the other end and right away you knew — the Christian Wood Era was over. Jabari’s impact was immediate on both ends of the floor. Smith finished with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, including a blistering 5-8 from deep, to go with eight rebounds in 24 minutes.

Jabari described himself as “a lot more loose” than he was at Summer League, when he struggled to knock down his shots.

“It was easy,” said Jabari. “My teammates made it easy for me, finding me when I was open. The rest just came from knocking down shots, running the floor, trusting the offense and trusting my teammates.”

What most impressed me was how quick of a trigger Jabari had on the catch-and-shoot. He would receive a pass out of the post or a cross-court pass in the corner and would instantly let it fly, shooting easily over his defender’s reach. This trait stood out and was very Klay Thompson-esque. In the second half, Jabari hit a pull-up triple in transition (his fourth) that was very enticing, then absolutely slayed those of us in the RocketsWatch room when he took two long strides back from the free throw line to drain another triple.

At that point, it was official — the rookie was clowning the Spurs. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the Rockets drafted Jabari. This man is going to fit like a glove and will be a ridiculous two-way weapon for the Rockets long term.

Defense. They’re actually playing it. It’s true.

I don’t need to repeat that the Rockets were dead last in defense last year, but… the Rockets were dead last in defense last year. Although, maybe I need to turn that frown upside down.

Sunday, however, was a different animal and you could tell immediately. The Rockets were hustling, moving quickly on rotations and closeouts.

“It’s the defense, obviously, that we’ve been concentrating on,” said Stephen Silas. “Our help was good tonight. Our multiple efforts were really good… I’m super encouraged by our intensity on the defensive end.”

Jabari was a big part of that. He made some clear mistakes, sure — I’m not going to say he was perfect — but he seemed to set the tone. Still, it’s not just Jabari — it’s clear to me the mindset of this team is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen the past two seasons. Maybe it’s the Jabari Effect or maybe Lionel Hollins is making his presence felt, but this does not look like the 2021-22 Rockets on this side of the ball.

Tari Eason is pretty much plug-and-play

I had my doubts that Tari Eason would get a ton of run in this game, but Silas played him early (note: Jae’Sean Tate sat this game out). Without having any clear plays run for him, Tari fought and scrapped for 21 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive!) in just 21 minutes. He hit 9-13 from the floor.

“My mentality never changes,” said Eason. “I’m always going to be in the right spot, get after it defensively and be one of the hardest playing dudes on the court. I think that translates at any level and I’m just going to continue to do that.”

He plays like his hair is on fire and has tremendous potential as a two-way demon. Throw him out there when things get stagnant and he’s going to make things happen.

I’ve felt that the Rockets will likely bring Tari along slowly until they figure out what the long-term solution is for guys like KJ Martin, but Operation Patience isn’t going to work if he keeps putting up lines like this. You can’t keep him to the bench or send him to the G-League.

Is Bruno Fernando the backup center?

It sure seems that way. After news broke that the Rockets had signed Fernando to a four-year, nearly $11 million deal, Bruno was the first big off the bench, subbing in for Alperen Sengun.

I’ll be honest — this really surprised me. I expected that Usman Garuba would have the clear inside track to the spot. Fernando also seemed like a good bet to be on a two-way contract, but now with this new deal, Fernando is going to be on the 15-man roster and barring a trade, someone has to be cut (Boban? Favors?) that isn’t expected to be.

But Fernando, who sources say has been terrific in camp, showed why he got that contract, finishing 3-3 from the field and was a +18 in just 11 minutes. He was very effective on rolls, capping a pair of alleyoop passes from Kevin Porter Jr. I would be lying if I said I saw this coming, but it’s a welcome development.

Rotation Notes

It’s only one preseason game, but we still can draw a lot from how Silas sees the rotation.

Bruno looking like a good bet for the backup center role was not the only surprise. KJ Martin and Daishen Nix, along with Bruno, were the first subs of the night. That indicates what we expected, that Nix is in the lead for the backup PG spot over TyTy Washington, who I would guess will run the show with the RGV Vipers early on. I like TyTy as the better bet for this spot long term, but right now the job appears to be Nix’s to lose.

But KJ is a little surprising, given he reportedly wanted out this past offseason with the Rockets slated to bring in a couple bigger prospects (Jabari and Tari) at his position.

Garrison Mathews played only five minutes. The prediction many have made that Silas would play him 15+ minutes this year is not looking so hot.

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How a potential return of high schoolers to the NBA Draft impacts the Rockets

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2024 NBA Draft

So the opportunity for high school players to jump straight to the NBA is set to return.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA and Players Association are “expected to agree on moving the age eligibility for the NBA Draft from 19 years old to 18, clearing the way for the return of high school players who want to make the leap to the NBA.”

According to the report, the new age limit “would go into effect as early as the 2024 NBA Draft.”

How does this impact the Houston Rockets?

It’s tough to say right now, but looking strictly at Houston’s own picks, it doesn’t help. Granted it’s a sunk cost, but the Rockets still owe first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the ill-fated Chris Paul-for-Russell Westbrook trade in 2019. Houston owes picks in 2024 and 2026 to OKC — both are top-four protected. They also owe a top-10-protected first-round pick swap in 2025.

The first draft that sees these new rule changes — often referred to as the “double draft” — will be loaded as both the top high schoolers and top one-and-dones will likely make themselves eligible, theoretically creating an abnormally deep and stacked draft.

The Rockets, for their part, plan to make several changes in the summer of 2023 after (hopefully) adding another top pick in the Draft and leveraging their massive cap room. That’s when they will flip the switch and making winning the top priority. They do not want to send OKC a top draft pick in 2024, but if they fall just short of the play-in or playoffs, they will still send the Thunder a very good pick if it’s the double draft.

The good news: Brooklyn. The Nets owe first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and swaps in 2023, 2025 and 20276 to Houston — all unprotected. So for the Rockets to really benefit from the double draft, they need Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets to implode sooner rather than later.

A look at the picks the Rockets have over the next five years and ones they owe:

Houston Rockets Draft Picks Chart

Even though the year for the double draft is not set, the fact that it could be as soon as 2024 could make it tougher for the Rockets to acquire a 2024 pick for Eric Gordon, even if lottery-protected. Forced to guess, I think the best the Rockets will be able to do is net a 2023 lottery-protected pick from a strong team needing a boost at the deadline. Rockets GM Rafael Stone has held out for more so we will see what happens here.

All in all, the news today is mixed for the Rockets. It likely increases the value of a pick the Rockets already gave up to OKC, but it could make a pick they own from Brooklyn more valuable to use or trade. Look for the 2023 offseason to be when the Rockets really show their hand as they hope to make enough significant changes that they are catapulted into playoff contention.

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Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets Prospects Power Rankings – Volume 1

The Rockets are loaded with young prospects so let’s take a look at how they rank in order of importance to this team’s future

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Houston Rockets prospects

It’s hard to believe, but Houston Rockets training camp opens later this month and the 2022-23 NBA season is right around the corner. Like a highly-anticipated second season of a popular show, the Rockets present a surprisingly-large amount of storylines that could go in a number of directions.

The reason for that is simple: Houston, after using seven first-round picks in the last two drafts, is stocked with young talent. The upside, however, varies for each one. Here’s how I currently rank the Rocketss most valuable prospects for the future heading into camp.

12. Bruno Fernando

We don’t talk about Bruno.

11. Daishen Nix Daishen Nix Houston Rockets

I like Nix. I love what he’s doing in the G-League. I think he’s a solid point guard who is built like a tank. He has reshaped his body and clearly he’s putting in the work. He hit 30-76 (39.5%) from three in the G-League last year, which is a big improvement over his G-League Ignite season before the draft. But hitting less than 60% from the stripe for a guy who makes a living off of creating contact and getting to the line is a big issue. He’s got to make the leap from G-League dominator to Big-League contributor.

10. Usman Garuba

Garuba is capable of moving up the rankings quickly — if he’s healthy. The problem is he rarely was his rookie season, even missing Summer League in July. He’s representing Spain in EuroBasket, coming off the bench in a limited but important role. Garuba is smart and energetic, but I need his defense to shine, not just be solid. He will have every opportunity in camp to earn the backup center role. I admit I’m a little lower on him now than I was after the 2021 draft (where he was likely my favorite of the four picks, relative to position) but I still hold out hope he can be a valuable role player.

9. KJ Martin

We really don’t know what KJ Martin thinks, but we do know his father, former NBA star Kenyon Martin, wants his son out of Houston. In a way, I don’t blame him. Since the 2022 Draft, the writing is on the wall that his role could be reduced as the season goes on. Martin is a great cutter, unbelievable athlete and an improving shooter. His game is limited, however, and he will need to be playing off of great players to carve out a role as an energy athlete. Does that make him a trade candidate? Let’s see what the future holds here but my feeling is he won’t be a Rocket beyond this coming season.

8. TyTy Washington TyTy Washington Rockets

My hunch is that Washington ends up playing heavy minutes in the G-League. With KPJ starting and Nix in line ahead of TyTy for the backup role, meaningful minutes early in his rookie season are likely only to be found in the Valley. But I love what TyTy brings to the table — outside of consistent rim pressure, he can do a little bit of everything and has a good feel for the game. I expect him to be the backup, if not higher, by 2023-24. If he does go to RGV, we’ll be watching those games.

7. Josh Christopher

I try not to ever let Summer League performance impact my outlook on a prospect too much, but I confess I did just that with Jaygup. I thought he played very selfishly in Vegas when focusing on setting up his teammates would have gone a long way. He’s a tough dude with a legit NBA body for his position and has a scoring mentality. However, for a guy who drew Jrue Holiday projections from Rockets GM Rafael Stone, Christopher’s defense was fairly terrible in his rookie season. He’s got to get a better understanding of how to defend in schemes off the ball. He’s young and that part is fairly normal — that should come with time.

6. Jae’Sean Tate

I’m not sure the 26-year old Tate falls under the “prospect” category, but this is only his third season in the NBA and both the front office and coaching staff love him. Tate brings intangibles and is a valuable role player on just about any team. Can he develop a consistent three-point shot? He’s 31% from distance and that’s not going to consistently draw a defense and create space out there on the floor. This is a big thing holding him back. Given that he’s undersized, he has to improve there to unlock the next step.

5. Kevin Porter Jr.

This is the single most important season of KPJ’s career. I know it’s cliché but it’s very true in this case. We already know Porter Jr. is one of the better isolation scorers in the league and is tough for any one player to stop. We also know he showed improvement off the ball last season, hitting over 48% of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts. But for me, success for Scoot this season in Houston won’t hinge on his scoring ability but rather how he, as the starting point, gets the Jalens and the Jabaris and the Senguns involved and puts them in positions to succeed. With a contract extension (if not signed before the season) hanging in the balance, I can’t overstate how important this season is for him.

4. Alperen Sengun Alperen Sengun Turkey

Sengun’s so happy and so are we watching him play. The man is an old-school human highlight reel. He might be the funnest player to watch on this team and his passing just wows you on a consistent basis. With Christian Wood gone, the starting center position is all Alperen’s. It’s up to Stephen Silas to leverage his unique skills on offense and allow him to conduct the show in a secondary role at times. My big concern with Sengun — and it’s admittedly large — continues to be his defense. It’s not a lack of will but simply a lack of athleticism and measurables that really hold him back. He needs to improve there to separate himself as a true starting center rather than an offensive spark off the bench, but the offensive upside here is really high.

3. Tari Eason

Eason checks nearly every single box for me. He’s built like Kawhi with a strong frame, huge hands and a long wingspan. There’s tremendous potential here as a defender, but he’s also a two-way player: He can create, he has shown improvement shooting the ball and he gets to the line. There’s no liability on either end of the floor, which is why I rank him this high. The only real question is his understanding of the game. If he takes to learning schemes, understanding sets on both ends and playing within the structure of an offense, the ceiling is much higher than just a role player here.

2. Jabari Smith Jr. Jabari Smith Jr. Houston Rockets

Jabari struggled making shots in Summer League and, surprise, surprise — that’s all some needed to project him as a disappointment. Let them run with that. This is a 19-year old who might end up being 6-foot-11, can shoot lights out and plays the game with a rare passion on both ends of the floor. While “The Locksmith” is earning that nickname, his defensive impact seems to be felt way beyond just a single assignment. Finding his way offensively will take time, however. I could go on and on about how high I am on Jabari — give me every share you’re selling. In my book, he and Jalen Green are the only locked-in core pieces in Houston at the present moment.

1. Jalen Green

Green already has an elite skill. His first step and electrifying athleticism will make it almost impossible for defenders to hang with him. In theory, he can get his shot off anytime he wants. If it becomes truly efficient? Look out. We could seriously be talking about a generational scorer here. Where he has to improve is, however, is everywhere else: Defense (both on and off the ball), handles, strength, physicality, playmaking. If his work ethic is the real deal, and it appeared to be in his rookie season, he will improve in those areas. Franchise cornerstone potential.

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Houston Rockets

Rockets to add Willie Cauley-Stein

Rockets bring backup center into a crowded Houston roster to compete for minutes at the five

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Willie Cauley-Stein Houston Rockets

The Rockets are set to sign center Willie Cauley-Stein, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Cauley-Stein is expected to compete for the backup center minutes against the likes of Usman Garuba, Boban Marjanović and Bruno Fernando in training camp. Alperen Şengün all but has the starting center spot locked up.

A former high-lottery pick, Cauley-Stein was taken 6th overall by the perenially-dreadful Sacramento Kings in the 2015 NBA Draft. However, the seven-footer never met expectations placed on him after a strong freshman season at Kentucky. In 422 games over seven seasons, WCS is averaging 8.7 points, 5.9 boards and 0.8 blocks in 22 minutes a night.

It’s definitely not an earth-shattering move. Cauley-Stein was released by the Sixers last season in a move to create space to sign DeAndre Jordan, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But the Rockets need options that differ from the strengths/weaknesses of Sengun and WCS has potential as a rim-running big.

There is a current issue, however: The Rockets are already at the offseason maximum number of 20 players, so they will have to release someone before making the signing official. Marquese Chriss, Trey Burke and Sterling Brown all seem like potential candidates.

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Houston Rockets

Interviewing Rockets legend Mario Elie

ClutchFans interviews the Rockets great as he tells stories from behind the scenes of Houston’s 1994 and 1995 championship runs

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Mario Elie Houston Rockets

When I started ClutchFans in 1996, Mario Elie was a big reason why. His toughness and grit was a big attraction and I even wrote a regular piece called “Super Mario’s World” that jokingly pretended to be from The Junkyard Dawg’s point of view.

So it was pretty crazy to me to get the chance to be part of an interview of the Rockets legend on Thursday.

Mario joined Lachard Binkley, host of the ClutchFans Rocket Fuel podcast, and I to discuss his career, how he worked on his game overseas, his championship runs with the Rockets, where Hakeem Olajuwon stands among NBA greats, the matchup with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls as well as his thoughts on the current Rockets — as well as several other topics.

Mario didn’t pull any punches so it was a dream to get his insight on the championship Rockets. You can subscribe to Rocket Fuel on Apple and Spotify.

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