The Houston Rockets had a golden opportunity earlier in the season. They held onto the most valuable trade piece in the league: former NBA MVP James Harden. Houston controversially made a deal that (after one extra trade) netted them four first-rounders, four pick swaps, and Victor Oladipo. They took the trade with the Nets over an offer from the Sixers that could have given them Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle.
At first, it was at least justifiable on a draft capital level. The picks were for the future. The new Nets Big 3 were getting up there in age and aren’t on long-term contracts. Also, Ben Simmons had not developed as much as many thought he would. While Victor Oladipo was not on Simmons’ level, he still had something left to give to the Rockets. Perhaps he could find some of the spark that made him the #3 overall pick back in 2013. Maybe the deal wasn’t too bad, right?
Then, the trade deadline happened. The Houston Rockets sent Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kelly Oynyk, former Piston Avery Bradley, and a 2022 pick-swap. It was shocking. The Rockets had basically given up a perennial All-Star for a semi-decent bench rotation. Even with the picks and pick-swaps, which may or may not pan out and be good in the future, this was unjustifiable. Especially when Ben Simmons, a still rising star, was on the table.
Wal-Mart Houston Rockets Sam Presti
Rafael Stone, the GM of the Rockets, looks to be taking a similar approach to Sam Presti in OKC. He has a veteran point guard in John Wall. The Rockets have a young, emergent star in Christian Wood. They have acquired a slew of draft picks. Except there are too many pick-swaps and a surplus of later picks from a team that could potentially still be good. Most importantly, the Rockets aren’t being competitive. They went through a stretch of 20-straight losses. John Wall is having a solid season. However, it is unlikely the team will be able to flip him like OKC did with Chris Paul.
While the approach was good in theory, the Rockets have failed to execute. Paul George is a lesser player than James Harden. But, it can be argued OKC got a better overall return for PG13 than the former MVP. In taking the Ben Simmons deal, the team would have had a young, concrete player to lead the rebuild alongside Christian Wood. This role is filled by Shai Gilgeious-Alexander in OKC.
What is Next for Houston?
Honestly, Houston’s approach could work long-term. Most of their draft capital will materialize in the next 5 years. Then we will truly be able to analyze this deal. The picks could work out. If KD, Kyrie, and Harden decide to leave in free agency in the next few years, the Nets could be completely gutted. They would once again be a struggling team. Ben Simmons, while a great asset, has shown little improvement in his time in the league. He still lacks a jump shot. Maybe Houston did make the right deal. It will just take time to see.