Happy NBA Draft week!
We’re finally here. After what has seemed like an endless supply of mock drafts, expert takes, fan polls and trade-machine exercises, crunch time is right around the corner. By Thursday night, you’ll know a lot more about this Houston Rockets team. But for now, here’s the latest intel surrounding the 2022 draft, the current roster, the coaching search and more.
• With the draft days away, the signals are pointing stronger and stronger at Duke’s Paolo Banchero being selected by the Rockets, should he be on the board at No. 3, sources told The Athletic. On a related note, while Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren is expected by some to be taken at No. 2 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s no absolute guarantee. There have been whispers of interest in Purdue’s Jaden Ivey — with a number of teams highly intrigued in the electric guard, including the Indiana Pacers — and Thunder general manager Sam Presti is notorious for making unpredictable draft decisions. Having made his official visit last week, Houston is most familiar with Banchero out of the three names presumed to go at the top of the draft. Jabari Smith elected not to make a visit, and it’s still unclear if Holmgren will.
This shouldn’t be seen as out of the ordinary, though. It’s typical for top picks to shy away from meeting with teams below where they are likely to go. Holmgren and Smith have been mocked in the top two for weeks on end. In any case, there was an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from Banchero’s visit, akin to the one from Jalen Green at a similar stage last year. The Rockets are rebuilding their culture and seeking team-first, hardworking players. By all accounts, Banchero fits that bill.
Paolo Banchero on Houston: “They have a young crew and see me fitting right in with my playmaking skills and putting me anywhere on the floor. Putting us together and trying to create something is a plan they have.”
— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) June 17, 2022
• In terms of ownership of the No. 3 pick itself: while teams have shown interest in acquiring it from Houston, those inquiries have been exploratory at best, and the Rockets aren’t looking to move down, sources told The Athletic. Once Thursday night rolls around, those offers could become more concrete, but there is genuine internal excitement about adding a high-quality player at the top of the draft. In the same breath, while Houston would love the prospect of picking at No. 2 or No. 1, they are quite comfortable where they are.
• In regards to picks 17 and 26, however, the possibilities are wide open. The Rockets are seeking help on the wings, targeting young players who are confident offensively and can defend multiple positions effectively. Last year, Houston selected two big men (Alperen Şengün and Usman Garuba) and two guards (Green and Josh Christopher). There have been a slew of incoming calls about pick No. 17, sources told The Athletic, particularly from teams that don’t have first-round picks or teams with veterans they are willing to move. But all options are on the table. With the 26th pick, Houston has the flexibility to do a number of things. There are no predetermined plans with No. 26. One common notion is for teams to package multiple selections and move up, but the Rockets could also move back, move out or even trade for a help-now type of player already in the league.
I’d expect the No. 17 pick to be more of an “on-the-clock” situation. Draft night can get a bit crazy in the teens, with some players slipping and others going earlier than expected. Last season, the Rockets aggressively pursed that No. 16 pick once Şengün was still on the board, since they expected him to go in the lottery. The Rockets’ course of action depends on who is still available — and who is high on Houston’s board.
• A few weeks ago, The Athletic reported on Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah being a strong candidate to join Stephen Silas’ staff. Concerning Abdelfattah, the deal is essentially done, and it’s a matter of when, not if, sources told The Athletic. The seemingly long duration of Houston’s search has prompted some discussion from Rockets fans on social media, but the Rockets are giving Silas the time and freedom to form the exact type of staff he wants. The Rockets believe in Silas and want to ensure he has the right support around him, especially heading into a pivotal third season at the helm. This might not have been the case two years ago when Silas was initially hired and his staff was put together rather quickly.
• The Athletic also recently reported former Hawks assistant Melvin Hunt being named as a candidate. The length of Silas’ list of options is unknown at this juncture, but another name that’s emerged is Lionel Hollins, sources told The Athletic. Hollins, who last served during the 2020-21 season as an assistant under Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, is widely known and respected for his defensive acumen, dating back to his tenure as the head coach for those stubborn grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies teams from 2009-13.
• Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Porter Jr. are eligible for contract extensions now. At the beginning of the offseason, representation for both approached management in hopes of beginning those talks, sources said. Porter, the 30th pick of the 2019 draft, can agree to a rookie-scale extension as early as July 1 and has until the day before the 2022-23 season to finalize a multiyear deal. Should both sides not come to terms before then, Porter would be headed for restricted free agency by the following summer. It’s a different scenario for Tate as he was signed as a free agent in 2020. The Rockets have until next summer to get a deal done for him, giving them flexibility and time for both. Their cap outlook will be clearer following the draft and free agency. However, the hope is they’ll get something done with both of them.
• With regards to their own free agents, Dennis Schröder is liked in Houston, but he’s expected to have a new home for the 2022-23 season, sources told The Athletic. Schröder arrived at the February trade deadline and brought professionalism, experience and speed to a team in need, but with Daishen Nix on tap, as well as Porter, Christopher and Green, there’s a real need to clear minutes for the roster’s developing young talent. Schröder is 28, in the prime of his career, expecting to play big minutes and compete deep in the playoffs.
• There’s a possibility that Christopher, Garuba and Nix all play for Houston’s summer-league team in Las Vegas.
• In what has become a yearly tradition, there is interest in Eric Gordon, sources told The Athletic. Gordon, entering his 15th season, has made it clear in the past that he wants to compete at the highest level, although he’s been amenable to helping the young players — particularly Green — develop and grow. But with one guaranteed year left on his deal (his 2023-24 money is a team option), contending teams have been monitoring the situation, sources told The Athletic. There’s no strong desire or pressure to move Gordon. He’s regarded as a strong two-way player — one of their best – on a team-friendly deal, and he also possesses value for his ability to mentor Houston’s youth and his importance to Silas. The Rockets would require a first-round pick or a younger player who could help them now to move off Gordon. The conversations surrounding Gordon are a bit more frequent now than they were around last year’s trade deadline, but that’s expected with the draft this week.
• With the reality of the incoming No. 3 pick and possibly more, second-year forward Kenyon Martin Jr. recently approached Rockets management to discuss the possibility of a trade from the franchise, sources said. The nature of the conversation was candid. With the potential moves following Thursday’s draft, the sudden reality is there isn’t as clear of a path to minutes for Martin in the rotation. It must be stated that there’s no bad blood between the two parties. Having taken Martin in the second round of the 2020 draft and helping him achieve his NBA dream, there will always be a great amount of love and mutual respect. But Martin is at a stage in his career where he needs minutes to continue to develop, something which might not be as clear anymore in Houston. There are a number of teams — playoff contenders included — that have registered interest in Martin in the past, sources said, with his combination of age, athleticism and untapped potential deemed as attractive.
(Photo of Paolo Banchero: Bob Donnan / USA Today)