It’s a brand new day for the Houston Rockets.
Less than a year has gone by since Houston traded away James Harden, officially beginning a new era that even with a few holdovers will offer a different dynamic to Rockets teams of years past.
Aside from Harden, gone are the likes of PJ Tucker, Clint Capela, and Trevor Ariza, who all played key roles in the Harden-led Rockets teams for much of the past decade. Even Darryl Morey, the front office executive who has arguably defined the Rockets for nearly two decades, moved on to the Philadelphia 76ers following the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
Although he only spent one season with Houston, John Wall recently struck an agreement with the Rockets to find a suitable trade destination for him. It’s a more amicable settlement than the dramatic saga the front office had with Harden before he was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets, but it nevertheless serves as a significant on-court loss.
The rocky 2020-2021 season that was largely hit and miss resulted in Houston getting the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, where they selected the supremely talented Jalen Green. That the Rockets also drafted Green’s AAU teammate Josh Christopher could only be a boost as their familiarity with one another will only make for a better transition. In fact, their 2021 NBA Draft haul was a significant one as they also acquired Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba, two young big men who can contribute quickly.
The early results have been promising as Green, Christopher, and even Sengun have been as advertised and then some. Apart from Green’s highlight reel-worthy plays, the former member of the NBA G-League Ignite rarely, if not never, looked fazed in the summer league before being held out after three games due to right hamstring soreness. Sengun also had solid averages of 14.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks, while Christopher scored 16.8 points per game.
All things considered, Houston is doing right by Green and the young core by building around them. Add the talented Kevin Porter Jr. and this could be a fun bunch to watch for the next few years. However, all of this also requires a healthy mix of young players and veterans that could guide them during their transition.
Right now the roster is heavily tilted to the young and inexperienced side, as many of the veterans have bounced around the league and have had struggles finding a significant role in those teams. Perhaps the most reliable veterans would have to be 13-year veterans Eric Gordon and DJ Augustin. Of course, Porter Jr., Christian Wood, and Danuel House Jr. will offer some experience, but they too looked to the likes of Gordon and Wall as elder statesmen with more than a decade of NBA experience.
Having Wall on the team would have especially given Green a reliable veteran that could help him as he adjusts to the rigors of an 82-game season. The former Kentucky Wildcat was a beacon of stability in what was a tumultuous 2020-2021 season for the Rockets, and even with how the roster is currently structured, his presence would have helped when facing the likely bumps in the road. There is also talk that Gordon could also be on the move and his departure would leave House Jr. as the longest-tenured Rocket. Though oft-injured, Gordon is capable of providing an offensive punch off the bench, as he averaged 17.8 points on 2.6 made 3-pointers and 32.9 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line last season. Taken together, these could all have implications down the road.
History has shown the value of having savvy veterans in recent championship runs, with the likes of Derek Fisher (Los Angeles Lakers), Ray Allen (Miami Heat), Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), and even Tucker with the Milwaukee Bucks proving that clinching titles is in the details that can get overlooked. At their current state, Houston may not be the ideal destination for buyout candidates, but veteran leadership may eventually fall to the likes of Augustin and Jae’Sean Tate (if he sticks with the team in the long run). Though he may be short on experience, Tate has shown the ability to contribute when given the opportunity.
The Houston Rockets that will take to the court for the 2021-2022 NBA Season may not look like the ones many NBA fans were accustomed to over the past few years, but considering their recent additions, this team may not be short on excitement. That enthusiasm, though, can only last for so long, especially if the Rockets don’t ensure that it and the positive developments on the court aren’t sustained.