And while this Rockets team has been beset by injury, often putting a team on the floor that has more in common with the Rio Grande Vipers lineup than its NBA parent team, it is difficult to put into words the cascading downfall that began with the trading of James Harden. No matter how you look at it, these are dark days for Houston professional basketball (we say "professional" because that squad over at UH would dispute generalizations right now).
But, there is good news even amidst the perpetual double-digit losses. And we don't mean the return from injury by many of the Rockets front line starters expected this weekend. Remember that San Diego team that was so terrible? They drafted Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes in the first round of the next years draft. There are silver linings for this Rockets team too.
Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone
It could be argued that the Rockets team of coach and GM resembles that of the Astros circa 2015. With Jeff Luhnow already running the front office, A.J. Hinch was a talented young manager brought in to skipper a young and developing team. We all know how that worked out (let's focus on the good and assume the Rockets won't be banging on trash cans for competitive advantage). Stone has been as aggressive as his predecessor and has shown early on that he understand the team's need to start fresh. He isn't afraid to make bold moves, but has the kind of deft touch that not only lands great returns but seems to satisfy the players that are leaving, no small feat when trying to attract talent.
Silas has a steady and consistent demeanor. His players love him and he clearly has command of what it means to be a coach on the floor. He isn't heavy handed in decisions and treats all his guys with respect. Plus, he is an offensive wizard. He has all the makings of a long-time head coach in the NBA.
Kevin Porter, Jr.
Sometimes, guys just need a fresh start. Porter, who struggled in Cleveland mostly off the floor, was essentially given away to the Rockets. Thankfully, this is a team with a lot of young, quality players and one of the best player whisperers in the NBA in assistant coach John Lucas. Whatever difficulties Porter has had outside the lines, he has been nothing short of sensational inside them.
After being sent to the G League, thinking he might not even play this season, he absolutely went ballistic, leading the Vipers in scoring and dropping triple doubles like the guy he is sometimes compared to, Harden. Once he made it to the NBA, injuries gave him the opportunity to play big minutes and he has delivered. He shows tremendous patience offensively, a good touch from the outside and remarkable court vision with the ball. His defense, like most young players (he's only 20), will need some improvement, but the tools are there and he is a star in the making.
Jae'Sean Tate and K.J. Martin
There is perhaps no better way to illustrate the strides the Rockets have made in improving their young depth than a peek at two of their gifted rookies. Tate is a couple years removed from college after honing his skills in Australia, but this is his first year in the NBA. Even before the injuries, Tate was a frequent starter and contributor on both ends of the floor. His hustle and intensity make up for this size at the forward position. He shows excellent touch in the paint and is a solid and improving distance shooter.
Martin, on the other hand, is a hyper athletic small forward with hops for days as evidenced by his nasty dunk against the Hawks Tuesday night. He is still a bit raw offensively, but he uses his athletic skills to get put backs and appears to be a very good rebounder for six-six, something he no doubt learned from his father, former NBA star Kenyon Martin. Along with Porter, he is only 20 years old with a ton of room for growth.
KJ MARTIN CAUGHT A BODY. ???????? pic.twitter.com/kD9YtPgiEW— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) March 17, 2021
In what has got to be one of the trades of the offseason, the Rockets picked up Wood off the scrap heap in Detroit and even got additional draft picks in the process. Wood is a bona-fide star even while missing 17 games due to a sprained ankle. He is shooting 80 percent inside the paint and not all on dunks. He has the soft touch of a shooter despite his height and incredible wingspan. Before the injury, he was rapidly improving on defense as well. Wood, Take, Porter and Martin figure to be some of the key bedrocks in the Rockets rebuilding efforts with Wood perhaps the most important of the bunch.
Now, this talent will need to grow and develop. It's a safe bet not all of it will pan out, but it seems safe to assume that Wood will not be among any potential disappointments.
Loads of Draft Picks
And while the Rockets were amassing quite a lot of young talent, they were also loading up on first round draft picks. For a team whose coffers were absolutely empty last offseason, it has been a complete and utter reversal in that department. They are now sitting on more draft picks over the next seven years than any team in the NBA besides OKC, where they seem to hoard draft picks the way doomsday preppers stock up on toilet paper and potable water.
What is critical about having these picks (and apparently more to come with the imminent trade of P.J. Tucker to the Bucks) is they don't necessarily have to use them. Draft picks can make valuable trade pieces and could jumpstart the rebuild process as quickly as a young star fresh out of college.
Whatever the case, it should give fans hope that, despite the losing, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Rockets.