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Did trading Christian Wood fix the Rockets’ frontcourt logjam?

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Late Wednesday night, general manager Rafael Stone sent shock waves across the NBA by agreeing to a trade where the Houston Rockets will send Christian Wood to the division rival Dallas Mavericks. In return, Houston received a first-round draft pick (No. 26 overall in 2022), Boban Marjanovic, Trey Burke, Sterling Brown, and Marquese Chriss.

It was a difficult situation for the Rockets, but it was also one that second-year general manager Rafael Stone navigated well. The team was able to recoup a first rounder in this year’s draft without absorbing any additional salary beyond the 2022-23 season. This means that Houston can still serve as a possible buyer in 2023 free agency if any star, or even high-caliber role player, shows interest in joining their young core.

Beyond long-term roster construction, the Rockets were also invested in this trade for short-term purposes, since they needed to open up frontcourt minutes. This trade allows talented second-year prospect Alperen Sengun to slide in nicely as the starting center and creates additional offensive opportunities for either Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero, who appear likely to be drafted by Houston next week.

At face value, it was a fine trade that met all of the team’s criteria for why they were pursuing it in the first place. It wasn’t the world’s greatest asset return, but Houston didn’t need it to be. One question, however, still remains when it comes to short-term opportunities in the frontcourt.

Was trading Christian Wood enough? Or was it just a prelude to another move(s) in the future?

As of today, Houston still rosters third-year forwards KJ Martin and Jae’Sean Tate, as well as 2021 first-round pick Usman Garuba. With the Wood trade, the Rockets now have two more first-round picks in 2022 after presumably taking Banchero or Holmgren at No. 3. If either of those picks is a forward or center, things could get messy rather quickly.

There are some potential options for the Rockets here.

One option could be playing Banchero, if he is the pick, at small forward. Shifting the Duke product towards the perimeter could play more into his “point forward” strengths while creating opportunities for a currently rostered player (like Garuba, Tate, or Martin) who isn’t as strong offensively when it comes to playing away from the basket.

If Tate or Garuba could further develop their outside shot, they might also be excellent candidates to play at small forward position and space the floor. Per Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Tate has made some mechanical tweaks to his shot and has impressed as a shooter during the offseason. As of now, however, that doesn’t feel like a fair expectation.

The other option for Houston, which could run opposite of their trade with Dallas, is roster consolidation. Houston could package picks No. 17 and No. 26 to trade up in the first round and find a player who fits their needs. That trade might also include a player like Eric Gordon or Tate.

Only Stone knows what the team is going to value in the lineup next to his developing young core, but consolidation certainly feels feasible this offseason as the team commences its youth movement.

In all likelihood, Sengun and Banchero (or Holmgren) will each play 30 minutes or more during the 2022-23 campaign, since Houston will want its big investments to get playing time to improve. Assuming health, that would make up at least 60 of the 96 available minutes each game at power forward — and that could be a conservative estimate.

Thus, for frontcourt role players to continue their development, further action by the Rockets front office may be needed. At a minimum, it could require some minutes wizardry by head coach Stephen Silas, such as allowing Banchero to play some minutes as a “small” forward. Stay tuned.

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Key takeaways as Rockets trade Christian Wood to Dallas for first-round draft package