Summer is coming.
While this might be a somewhat cheesy reference to “Game of Thrones,” it also serves as an important reminder of the change on the horizon for the Houston Rockets. The 11-37 franchise is once again destined for a high lottery pick — the spoils of a rebuild — but over the coming months, this roster will look vastly different.
The decision makers have endured three seasons of despair with the hopes — or confidence, depending on who you ask — that better times are ahead. The coming offseason will be pivotal for this young group. But that doesn’t mean the Rockets can’t begin to lay the groundwork now.
Version 1.0 of our trade seminars was over a month ago. There have been some significant changes since then. Let’s dive in…
• The NBA continues to function as a seller’s market ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline — and that includes the Rockets and Eric Gordon — but should they end up moving him, they are open to adding veterans to the roster, The Athletic has learned. Houston has an abundance of youth, perhaps too much youth, which has left the team unbalanced. Ten players are 22 or younger. Jae’Sean Tate is 27 years old but has only three years of experience.
In prior instances involving Gordon, Houston’s main objective was to secure either a first-round pick or quality young player, but with an important offseason ahead and a plan to fortify their veteran presence, there’s a willingness to get a head start on that process — if the opportunity presents itself.
• With Gordon, the 34-year-old wing continues to wait for a resolution. It’s the worst-kept secret in the NBA that multiple teams have interest in him — and Gordon has relayed his frustration with his current situation on multiple occasions both publicly and privately — but the Rockets will continue to wait for an adequate return on him. The Athletic reported previously that the front office is more inclined to trade him now than at any point during the rebuild, and that sentiment still holds.
The Jazz have been the most engaged team recently on a potential John Collins trade, sources tell @ShamsCharania.
The Wizards have also been among the teams expressing interest in Collins.https://t.co/QOgGyX6Ozh pic.twitter.com/JRX9cUkQoC
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) January 17, 2023
• The Atlanta Hawks have been shopping forward John Collins for a while — per our Shams Charania — and have been gauging interest around the league in potential packages for the 25-year-old, conversations that have included the Houston Rockets, league sources told The Athletic, which was later confirmed by team sources. The sources were granted anonymity to speak freely on the matter. There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.
Three years ago prior to Houston trading Clint Capela in what turned out to be a blockbuster deal involving four teams, The Athletic reported of the Rockets’ request for Collins, then 23, in exchange for Capela’s services.
Taking a few things into account — the Suns’ desire to move Jae Crowder, Houston’s with Gordon and the Hawks with Collins, there’s a three-team framework that could work for all parties.
• Collins’ desire for a change in environment, his unhappiness with his situation in Atlanta and his want to be somewhere he is respected is understandable. And there’s no denying Collins would make the Rockets a better team, especially on the defensive end. Collins has been a positive defender for the Hawks in every season he’s been with them, with this season’s impact — a plus-5.6 point defensive differential — among the 88th percentile of players, per Cleaning the Glass. Collins would also be a welcome addition to a youthful locker room in need of a veteran voice.
• But the issue of a Collins trade, as the Rockets and other teams with interest are currently internally evaluating, is the fit — and all its accompanying factors. For starters, the forward is in the second year of a 5-year, $125 million contract signed in 2021. Bringing Collins on Houston’s books would eat significantly into their future cap space, one of the more positive things the front office is looking forward to this summer. The Rockets would have to juxtapose Collins and his opportunity cost, meaning they would need to determine if they would rather have Collins now or preserve maximum cap space for what figures to be a busy summer in free agency. There is also the question of positional fit.
• The potential of free agency mentioned above applies to another frontcourt option who could be on the market, Myles Turner. The loss of Tyrese Halliburton and his All-Star level contribution has left the 24-26 Indiana Pacers reeling, losing eight out of their last 10 games and barely holding on to a Play-In Tournament spot. Should their slide continue, it’s not inconceivable to think Indiana could look to trade Turner and fully commit to the rebuild — especially with Turner’s looming free agency on the horizon. Houston has interest in the 26-year-old center from Bedford, Texas, but would hesitate to trade for an in-demand player who would command a sizable return of assets now, especially when they could wait until free agency to pursue.
• With regards to KJ Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table. Team and league sources also tell The Athletic that a few teams have floated the possibility of offering a first-round pick for Martin’s services but again — nothing concrete. The Rockets are not interested in trading Martin — a second-round draft pick who has developed well — for a second-round draft pick.
(Photo of John Collins: Alonzo Adams / USA Today)