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How We Got Here: From Yao To Now

NIKEstrad breaks down the past two years of Rocket transactions, showing how Daryl Morey’s approach to team building set the Rockets up beautifully for this moment.

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Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets

Through a flurry of transactions, Daryl Morey completely transformed the Rockets’ roster

I want to take a trip back to the end of the Yao Ming era in Houston and look at just how Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has taken this team from utterly mediocre to superstar-laden and brimming with potential.

To start, check out the Rockets roster at the start of the 2011-2012 season. This is the depth chart from about 18 months ago as the Rockets were set to open that lockout-shortened year:

These are pretty much average starters all around, a bunch of “nice” players but nothing special. From the prior year’s team, Morey had made deadline deals of Shane Battier for a look at Thabeet, Aaron Brooks for Dragic and a pick, and let Chuck Hayes walk. They used the picks received from those two trades to move up and draft Donatas Motiejunas, and also drafted Parsons and Morris. They also picked up Jeremy Lin off waivers, but cut him shortly after to make room to sign Dalembert.

The Moves Begin
Come March, the team is surprisingly in contention for a playoff spot, and makes some maneuvering around it.

  • Flynn, Thabeet, and a 2nd rounder for Marcus Camby
  • Jordan Hill for Derek Fisher and a first rounder

Shortly thereafter, the team cuts Fisher (hooray!) and releases Terrence Williams. They miss the playoffs, but have a winning record, coming away with their customary #14 draft slot. They also pick up Greg Smith from the NBDL after trying out and subsequently waiving several guys like Earl Boykins, Courtney Fortson and Jeff Adrien.

During the course of the season, Dragic shines while filling in for an injured Lowry, causing friction. The Rockets also had numerous free agents, including Dragic, Lee and Camby. Likewise, Parsons overtakes Budinger for the starting spot.

2012 Offseason
Morey starts dealing yet again.

  • Budinger for a first round pick (which becomes Terrence Jones)
  • Dalembert + #14 + a 2nd round pick for #12 pick, Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman, and Shaun Livingston

They now have three first round picks in the 2012 Draft, the #12, #16 (T-Mac trade), and #18 (Budinger trade) to take Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Jones and buy the rights to 2nd rounder Furkan Aldemir. Next up? Free agency, where the Rockets have ample cap room. But here’s where the moves start to get crazy:

  • Lowry to Toronto for a future expected lottery pick and Gary Forbes
  • Amnesty (waive with cap relief) Luis Scola
  • Sign and trade Marcus Camby for Toney Douglas, Josh Harrelson, Jerome Jordan, and two future 2nd round picks
  • Sign and trade Courtney Lee for JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Jon Diebler, and Sean Williams plus a 2nd round pick
  • Sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to max restricted free agent (RFA) contracts, utilizing a minor loophole nicknamed the “poison pill” to make their contracts especially tough to match
  • Trade Lamb, Kevin Martin, two first round picks (acquired in Lowry and Hill trades) and a 2nd (acquired in Courtney Lee trade) for JAMES HARDEN plus some guys (Cole Aldrich, D. Cook, and Hayward
  • Cut a bunch of the random guys acquired, including Shaun Livingston and E’Twaun Moore
  • Sign Carlos Delfino.

This offseason was defined by the little things – like acquiring Camby for a playoff run at the cost of a 2nd round pick (while getting a first for Jordan Hill), and then moving him in a sign and trade for two 2nd round picks, plus snagging a 2nd rounder for Courtney Lee. After all that, the team now sports the following roster as they enter the 2012-2013 season:

Point Guards: Jeremy Lin, Toney Douglas, Scott Machado
Shooting Guards: James Harden, Carlos Delfino, Daequan Cook
Small Forwards: Chandler Parsons, Marcus Morris
Power Forwards: Patrick Patterson, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Royce White
Centers: Omer Asik, Cole Aldrich, Greg Smith

2013 Trade Deadline

But the moves aren’t done. Prior to the 2013 trade deadline:

The team makes the playoffs and gives the OKC Thunder an exciting series. The Rockets then make two final cap-clearing moves — the trade of Thomas Robinson for two international players and two 2nd round picks, and the unloading of Royce White’s contract at the cost of cash and the draft rights to Furkan Aldemir — setting themselves up to land the biggest fish in free agency, Dwight Howard.

So to recap our roster, and how they came:

  • PG, Jeremy Lin – Signed, free agency
  • PG, Patrick Beverley – Signed, undrafted free agent; minimum salary guy under contract for 3+ years
  • PG, Isaiah Canaan – 2nd round pick
  • SG, James Harden – Trade – which cost us what we got for McGrady (Kevin Martin, pick we got for Hill), Kyle Lowry (Toronto pick), our own pick+Dalembert (Lamb), and the 2nd rounder from the Courtney Lee deal
  • SG, Francisco Garcia – Acquired as a trade throw-in; resigned to vet. minimum (below market after a very good playoff run
  • SF, Chandler Parsons – 2nd rounder, a pick acquired in trade/bought
  • SF, Omri Casspi – Signed in offseason to vet. minimum
  • C, Omer Asik – Signed, free agency
  • PF, Terrence Jones – mid-late 1st rounder, rights acquired by trading Chase Budinger (himself, a 2nd rounder)
  • PF, Donatas Motiejunas – mid-late 1st rounder, rights acquired by trading soon to be free agents Battier/Brooks
  • C, Dwight Howard – Signed, free agency
  • C, Greg Smith – Signed, undrafted free agent; minimum salary guy under contract for 3+ years

We now have a tentative depth chart of:

Point Guards: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan
Shooting Guards: James Harden, Francisco Garcia
Small Forwards: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi
Power Forwards: Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
Centers: Dwight Howard, Greg Smith

We also hold the rights to international prospects Sergio Llull (bought the pick), Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic (both acquired in the Thomas Robinson trade) and are owed the Knicks’ 2nd round picks in 2014 and 2015, two future 2nd rounders from Portland (plus the Clippers’ second rounder in 2015 if it’s between 51-55), while owing our 2nd rounder in 2014 to Philadelphia. We currently own all of our future first round picks.

That is how you redefine a roster. There is exactly one player that was on this team just 18 months ago – Chandler Parsons, who at that point was a newly drafted 2nd round pick.

Howard was drawn to this team for the chance to win. The Rockets could have tanked this year (not signed Asik/Lin), and having done that, they probably would not have gotten Howard (as the Mavericks didn’t). But Morey kept the team competitive while avoiding long term deals, which is incredibly impressive (see, Zaza Pachulia’s new three-year deal). The last two offseasons, Morey has waited and gotten a quality vet to sign a short term deal with a 2nd year team option (Dalembert/Delfino). Players who no longer have value to the Rockets as future players still seem to yield great returns (Battier/Brooks at trade deadline converted to first round picks; Camby and Lee as free agents converted to three 2nd rounders).

Part of the way this was done was by taking a shotgun approach to talent identification, which is how they landed guys like Beverley and Greg Smith for nothing.

They didn’t just pick them at first grab. Here’s the list of the 20+ players that were “waived” by the Rockets in the last ~2 years, essentially leading to guys like Beverley and Smith:

  • Jon Leuer
  • Jerome Jordan
  • E’Twaun Moore
  • Josh Harrelson
  • Sean Williams
  • Tyler Honeycutt
  • Scott Machado
  • Courtney Fortson
  • Shaun Livingston
  • Lazar Hayward
  • Gary Forbes
  • Jon Brockman
  • JaJuan Johnson
  • Daequan Cook
  • Jeremy Lin
  • Marcus Cousin
  • Jeff Adrien
  • Earl Boykins
  • Terrence Williams
  • Derek Fisher
  • Diamon Simpson

There have been misses along the way. Terrence Williams cost us a first round pick (this year’s, to Atlanta) and was cut. Royce White was the 16th overall pick just a year ago, and it cost us the rights to Aldemir just to unload him. Trevor Ariza was a signing mistake — a player who still has a year remaining on the contract he signed with the Rockets — but he was quickly flipped for Courtney Lee. You can argue about Thomas Robinson too, but at the end of the day, the Rockets were going to need to clear the cap room, whether it was Patterson or Robinson. The Rockets knew what they had in Patterson, but Robinson was a chance at that third star. On the off-chance he develops, it would have created more options for Morey (e.g., moving Asik instead). And when he didn’t quickly, the value was still there to get four second rounders and clear cap space. He also gave the team a veteran free agent-to-be who ended up re-signing here for the veteran’s minimum in Francisco Garcia.

Smart gambles. Smart contracts. Avoiding multi-year deals on non-core pieces. That is how you turn a duo of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola into James Harden and Dwight Howard, and the best part of all?

We’re not done yet.

Houston Rockets

Podcast: Houston Rockets options with the #3 pick of the 2024 NBA Draft

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Houston Rockets 2024 NBA Draft prospects Zaccharie Risacher Stephon Castle Reed Sheppard Donovan Clingan

The offseason is now underway.

The forecast looks good for the Houston Rockets, but… there’s pressure as well this offseason because there are a handful of other West teams that might have rosier futures. Ime Udoka wants to win and win big. As we are about five weeks away from the NBA Draft, what are the Rockets looking to do this summer?

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Rockets shockingly landing the #3 pick and their options in this draft, including Reed Sheppard, Donovan Clingan, Zaccharie Risacher, Stephon Castle, Matas Buzelis and others. They also discuss the possibility of some big game hunting in Houston.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Podcast: Steven Adams, Mikal Bridges and Trade Possibilities for the Rockets

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Houston Rockets Trade Deadline 2024

The Houston Rockets already made one deal, acquiring center Steven Adams from Memphis for a handful of second-round picks, but we still have several days left before this Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline.

Are more deals on the way?

Rumors of interest in Mikal Bridges have swirled, with the Rockets holding precious (and unprotected) first-round picks from Brooklyn. They also could use some help inside this season, which Adams can not provide. Shooting is always in demand.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Adams trade, its impact on the Rockets in 2024-25 and beyond, the Mikal Bridges rumors, the Brooklyn picks, other trade possibilities and options for Rafael Stone moving forward. Also discussed is the play of Houston’s core 6 prospects: Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and Jalen Green.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Rockets trade for center Steven Adams

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Steven Adams Houston Rockets

The Rockets made a surprise trade on Thursday, sending the contract of Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks to Memphis for center Steven Adams.

The deal came together quickly and the Rockets had a small window to get it done, hence why this trade was made with a week to go until the trade deadline.

The Price

When you consider that Memphis did this for cost savings primarily and that Adams would not play for any team in the league this season, the price seemed a little high to me. The Rockets gave up the OKC second-round pick this year, which is no big loss, but they also give up the better of Brooklyn’s or Golden State’s second-round pick this season. That’s a pretty good pick (likely in the late 30’s). They also give up the better of Houston’s or OKC’s second-round pick in 2025. If things go as planned for the Rockets, that pick should be in the 45-55 range.

But they didn’t sacrifice a first-round pick, which would have been brutal, and they were not going to use all those seconds this season. So it’s just a matter of opportunity cost — who else could they have gotten for this package?

My understanding is they (particularly Ime Udoka) are very high on Adams.

The Rockets also did this move for cap purposes as well. By moving out the Oladipo contract, which was expiring, and bringing in Adams’ deal, which is signed for $12.4M next season, the window for the Rockets to put together a trade package for a star player is extended out until the 2025 trade deadline. They continue to wait to see which players, if any, shake loose here and become available. They want flexible (see: expiring) contracts that they can combine with assets and this gives them another year to be in that position.

The Trade

It’s not often that the Rockets acquire a player I had not considered beforehand but that’s the case with Steven Adams. The Rockets sorely need a big with size that provides more traditional center strengths, making Clint Capela, Robert Williams, Nick Richards or Daniel Gafford potential candidates, but Adams was overlooked for a few reasons.

First, the 30-year old big man is out for the season after knee surgery cost him the entire 2023-24 campaign, so the Rockets won’t get any benefit from this trade this season. Secondly, Adams is not your traditional center either when it comes to rim protection.

But what Adams does do, he’s really good at and he has some of the same strengths of Brook Lopez, who the Rockets tried to sign in the offseason. Adams is quite possibly the strongest guy in the league and a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He’s an outstanding screen-setter, something that could really benefit the likes of Fred VanVleet, Amen Thompson and Jalen Green. He was also an elite rebounder last season, finishing 6th in the league in caroms at 11.5 a game despite playing just 27.0 minutes a contest.

After watching Jonas Valanciunas absolutely bully the Rockets inside on Wednesday, it should be apparent by now to everyone that this was a pretty big need.

In 2021-22, the Memphis Grizzlies finished #2 in the West at 56-26. Their top two players in Net Rating that season were Dillon Brooks (+11.0) and Adams (+8.3), key cogs in a defense that held opponents to 108.6 points per 100 possessions. They’re both now Houston Rockets.

So this adds another trusted vet to Ime Udoka’s rotation.

The question is will the 30-year old Adams return to form after the knee injury? Adams sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago, which cost him the end of that season and the playoffs. He tried rehabbing it and it never got better, so surgery became the option just as this season was kicking off.

I like to think the Rockets did their due diligence on that, despite the short time it took for this deal to come together, but that’s unclear.

If he does bounce back, then Udoka has a big man he can turn to reliably in situational matchups or on nights when the younger bigs struggle. He wouldn’t be Boban or even Jock Landale in that scenario — he’s going to play, so the frontcourt depth in 2024-25 should be better. In the end, they got a starting-caliber center who will have no problems coming off the bench, and that’s what they were looking for.

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On the KPJ trade and future of the Rockets

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The Houston Rockets are back to being a professional NBA team once again.

The Rockets finally ended the Kevin Porter Jr. era on Tuesday, coughing up two second-round picks in order to unload his contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder, getting back the contract of Victor Oladipo and third-year forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The move puts an end to a long investment and very rocky tenure with KPJ.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Porter Jr. Experiment, the price paid to move him, Houston’s potential trade options moving forward, the new culture and the current state of the Rockets young core.

ClutchFans Podcast: On Apple | Spotify

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Heavy investment in Kevin Porter Jr raises serious questions about Rockets front office

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Kevin Porter Jr. Rafael Stone

Soon-to-be-ex Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, resulting in a fractured neck vertebra and a deep gash above her right eye after an attack at a hotel in New York. He allegedly woke her up by punching her repeatedly, strangled her and did not stop hitting her until she ran out of the hotel room screaming for help and covered in blood.

“This is a serious domestic violence case,” said assistant Manhattan district attorney Mirah Curzer.

First and foremost, I wish the victim healing. I don’t know what to say about the nightmare she went through. She and her family will forever be impacted. As for KPJ, if this is true, he doesn’t belong on the Rockets or in the NBA at all. He belongs in jail.

Secondly, this can’t be overlooked and just swept under the rug: Why did the Houston Rockets bank on and invest so heavily in this guy?

Kevin Porter Jr. being accused of crimes of this severity should not be shocking – at all. Before he even came to the Rockets, he had a long list of serious problems. He was suspended multiple times in high school. In 2019, he had a “conduct issue” significant enough that USC suspended the 5-star recruit indefinitely. He fell to the end of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft because of his behavior liability. He was accused of punching a woman in the face in Cleveland. He also had a gun and marijuana charge later dismissed after getting into a car crash. He went into a tirade and got into a nasty confrontation with both the Cleveland coach and GM, resulting in the Cavs severing ties immediately and dumping him to the Rockets for nothing.

You could make the argument that initially giving Porter Jr. a second chance in Houston was praiseworthy, but the Rockets experienced KPJ’s anger management and immaturity issues firsthand on several occasions.

Former Rocket Austin Rivers said this week that this isn’t the first, second or even seventh issue with Porter Jr. and that Rockets “higher-ups” confided in him that they had no idea how to handle him.

“I remember talking to guys in the Houston Rockets organization, higher-ups, [and] they were having issues then,” said Rivers. “They were like, ‘We don’t know what to do with him.’ And that’s when he just got there from Cleveland!”

Porter Jr. was routinely a nightmare for Rockets coaches to deal with. On several occasions, he confronted and cussed out members of the coaching staff, saying they didn’t have the “credentials”, per source, a reference to the fact that him playing heavy minutes at point guard was a decision they did not control.

Once at a night out, Porter Jr. had a disagreement with a DJ over music choice and he snapped, smashing the DJ’s laptop to the floor. He needed to be restrained and removed. Rockets personnel and several of Porter’s teammates witnessed the incident.

Curzer also dropped a bombshell at the arraignment in saying that Porter Jr. has a history of abusing his girlfriend, who he had only been dating since early last year, his second season with the Rockets. Curzer specifically cited an incident in which KPJ allegedly rammed his car into hers.

There were dozens of maturity issues visible on the court to anyone paying attention. He refused to check out of games. He got into an argument on the bench with assistant Lionel Hollins. On numerous occasions, he would visibly shut down when he wasn’t passed the ball. I invite you to watch this video from a game against Memphis on March 20, 2022. Just listen to the Grizzlies broadcasters, particularly starting at the 1:40 mark, talk about what they are witnessing here:



Privately, people around the league would say they were baffled by the Rockets continued fascination with Porter Jr. Nobody could understand it.

That fascination starts with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who by every account over the last two years was the driving force behind the investment in Porter Jr. It has been no secret. Trading for him in January 2021 was seen by some with the team as his “Harden acquisition”, code for a signature move that makes an executive’s career, much in the way landing James Harden did for Daryl Morey in 2012.

For example, former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas never considered Porter Jr. to be a point guard, per sources — playing him there was a Stone mandate because the GM believed that is where his future lied.

John Wall also told us as much publicly when he explained the phone call he got from Silas about coming off the bench. He said Silas told him “This is what the GM wants,” adding again that Silas said, “Man, you don’t deserve that. You should be the starter. This is just what they want to do.” Wall was upset because he believed KPJ should have to earn the spot.

“I have a hard time finding anybody outside of the Rockets front office that believes that Kevin Porter Jr. is a starting point guard in the NBA,” said ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon in December.

There were plenty of warning signs about KPJ to the public too.

After Porter Jr. got into a heated argument in which KPJ “physically shoved” Rockets assistant coach John Lucas and quit on the team in the middle of a game against Denver in January of 2022, leaving the arena at halftime, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix famously wrote that the Rockets should “Cut Porter Jr. Waive him. Release him. Whatever. Eat what’s left of the $1.8 million he’s owed this season and the $3.2 million he’s got next and move on.” It became a source of mockery for Porter Jr’s fans, a line they would bring up after each game he hit a few threes or handed out some assists.

In February of this year, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, one of the most connected reporters in the league, flat out warned us that he was hearing awful things about the Rockets culture and locker room. He was blunt in what the Rockets needed to do — waive Kevin Porter Jr. outright and bring in a new coach and GM.

“Just cut him. That’s it,” said Givony of Porter Jr. “And you’re sending a signal to the league that we’re going to do things differently from here on out.”

“When you talk to people around the NBA about Houston, you just don’t hear good things about their culture, about that locker room. You talk to people that are on that team, and they are like, ‘We are a mess’,” said Givony. “Do people want to work with this organization? But you can change that fairly quickly if you come in, get rid of the bad apples and you change the coaching staff, and all of a sudden, you’re Houston. It’s the third-biggest city in America. There’s a history here of you actually being good.”

Porter came to the Rockets for “free” (in exchange for a top-55 protected second-round pick, which was designed not to convey), but he proved far from it as the Rockets continued to pour investment into him. Over the last 2-3 seasons, no Rockets player got more developmental capital than Porter Jr. – not Jalen Green, not Alperen Sengun, not Jabari Smith Jr. The Fertittas paid John Wall $85+ million over two years to sit at home so the team could groom Porter Jr. to be their future point guard.

Then they doubled down. With restricted free agency on the horizon and a seemingly non-existent market for KPJ’s services, the Rockets gave Porter Jr. an extension a year sooner – a contract that was presented as a four-year, $82.5 million deal. The deal was more team-friendly than that, putting team options in it after years 1 and 3. Going from the potential disaster that was initially reported to a deal they could escape after one season felt like a “win”, but the biggest question was why they wanted him long-term at all. The unprecedented nature of a contract that size with that kind of club control clearly showed the Rockets knew there was unique and significant risk here.

After KPJ signed the extension, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko summarized the Rockets view of Porter Jr. – “As has been [their] stance for months, the Rockets have maintained the notion that Porter is a priority and is considered a huge part of their core, along with Green and Jabari Smith Jr.”

The Rockets actions to kick off the 2022-23 season showed exactly that – that he was a priority. They benched Sengun to start the season, in large part to give KPJ a “lob threat” and defender in the starting lineup. They gave him the superstar “Harden Locker”. They introduced him last in the starting lineups. They treated him as the star and empowered him to be the self-proclaimed “Head Honcho” of Clutch City.

But the extension proved unwise and foolish. Porter Jr. never even made it to the first year of it. With over $80 million on the line, he snapped again. The Rockets signed him to one of the team-friendliest deals ever and still managed to both overcommit and overpay as Stone now scrambles to attach real assets to it to get another team to take it off his books.

Is it fair to question the judgment of the Rockets front office? Absolutely and without question. Whether you look at their ability to value character, evaluate risk, scout basketball, build culture, manage assets or allocate development resources, they failed at every level here. Why didn’t they act sooner? Why did they double down? Why didn’t they hold him accountable? Why did everybody in the league see it but them?

“We value the player and the person that [Kevin Porter Jr.] is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Stone after rewarding him with the extension less than a year ago.

The question you have to ask yourself now is, with all they knew and witnessed about Porter Jr. both on and off the court — why were they eager at all?

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