On Saturday night, the Rockets lost yet another game, this time at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. There was nothing inherently wrong with posting an L against last year's MVP in Nikola Jokic and one of the better teams in the Western Conference. What was disheartening was the news that starters Christian Wood and Kevin Porter, Jr. had disciplinary issues that caused coach Stephen Silas to bench Wood to start the game and Porter for the second half.
To make matters worse, after a heated exchange at halftime, Porter, knowing he would not play in the second half, left the building. Wood refused to enter the game in the second half, according to reports, though Silas had said it was a coach's decision.
Wood, for his part, still appeared to be engaged on the bench in the second half, but Porter, who reportedly apologized later, was gone.
All season, it has been clear it would be difficult lining up wins with a team made up of so many young players. Jalen Green, freshly back from a month out thanks to a hamstring injury, has looked outstanding in the last few games. Alperen Sengun, despite his struggles with foul trouble, is clearly ahead of schedule. And even Josh Christopher has managed to crack the rotation.
Others like Jae'sean Tate, KJ Martin and Armoni Brooks have looked good on the floor and seem to be growing as a team, an albeit extremely young one.
But, steadying Wood, who clearly has all-star potential, and keeping him healthy, while growing KPJ as the point guard of the future were high on the team's to do list. Perhaps nothing more important than Porter given that there is no guarantee he will take to the position of floor general and he's in a year when he could be extended after the season, assuming he does well.
Saturday night didn't necessarily put all that in jeopardy, but it didn't help.
The fact is, it is possible, likely even, that at least one or even two of the Rockets future stars are not among the players on the current roster. They still expect to have at least a couple first round draft picks this summer (one likely in the lottery) and GM Rafael Stone is more than willing to pull the trigger on trades when they are presented to him.
There are plenty of those who believe Wood is prime trade bait given he is four to five years older than the Rockets burgeoning young core. His age, relatively small contract by NBA standards and skillset makes him undoubtedly a target for other teams and should bring back quality draft capital, another talented young player or both.
Porter, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. He came to Houston from Cleveland via a draft pick that will likely never be conveyed and his stock really was that low when he left. The final straw was a temper tantrum in the Cavs locker room that resulted in him throwing some food.
Supposedly, the argument at the half of Saturday's game came after assistant John Lucas, the "player whisperer" who has been tasked with teaching these young men the right way to play the game, made some rather pointed comments about Porter and Wood. KPJ, and stop me if this sounds familiar, got so mad he threw a bottle of water.
Porter is a hothead, but that isn't all that different from other great players in the NBA, past, present and future. From Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Kobe Bryant and even Hakeem Olajuwon, flaring tempers come with the uniform when it comes to playing the game. The key is controlling that anger, something Porter has yet to learn.
If we were betting, our money would be on Porter as a Rocket in 2023, but not Wood for the reasons we mentioned above. But, Porter is going to need to learn discipline and self control. Our money is on Lucas helping him learn that, but this is another ugly incident in his young career. Certainly it is going to weigh on the Rockets and their decision to either extend him or not at the end of the season.
As valuable as Wood is to the team currently, his value and the team's youth make this more of a blip in the road for the Rockets. Porter, a guy they are banking on to be a leader and star of the future, has now put all of that into question.
How he responds and what the Rockets do to discipline both of them will be telling in the coming days. Stay tuned.