Even in rebuild, Rockets see roles for veterans John Wall, Eric Gordon

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The Houston Rockets (17-55) are coming off a 2020-21 season in which they finished with the NBA’s worst record, and they’ve committed to building around a “young core” consisting of Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, and KJ Martin moving forward. They also currently possess three first-round picks in the NBA’s 2021 draft.

But even if Houston isn’t competing for a title in 2021-22, they do still see a role for veterans like John Wall and Eric Gordon. Both guards are under contract for two more seasons, and general manager Rafael Stone indicated at Tuesday’s press conference that he’d like to keep them around as leaders and mentors to many of the younger players.

Regarding the importance of veterans in a rebuild, Stone said:

You want people to build good habits. You want people to learn from real pros. Eric Gordon is like a consummate professional basketball player. How can it not be helpful to practice alongside him every day? Go watch Eric shoot. That’s what shooting is supposed to look like.

I know some teams have done wholesale rebuilds where they just go extraordinarily young, but I think that’s largely built around the premise that they’re also trying to lose. I’ve said this before, I think one of the benefits of the various moves we made this year is that we do have a lot of future draft picks that are unprotected and aren’t just ours.

I think that gives us the luxury of trying to be competitive, and grow our young guys, and have 30-something guys. The fact that they might help us win a game or two extra, or five or six games extra, is not something we’re worried about. I think sometimes, when teams are rebuilding, they’re very strategically trying not to win. We’re trying to compete.

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Regarding Wall specifically, Stone said:

John has been awesome. His IQ is through the roof, and he’s just a good dude. For this group, and for me, he’s been great. John is a really, really good guy. And he’s a hooper. He wants to play.

I do think, coming back from what he came back from (Achilles tear), he had a really successful season. I think he’s poised to be materially better next season. We met with him yesterday, and he’s fired up. He’s already plotting it out. His basketball IQ is just so high. It’s really fun, just hanging out and talking hoops with him.

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Wall finished 2020-21 averaging 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in 32.2 minutes as the starter at point guard, while Gordon averaged 17.8 points and 2.6 assists in 29.2 minutes — primarily as a reserve. Both players had their years cut short due to hamstring and groin injuries, respectively.

Tuesday’s press conference from Toyota Center involving Stone and head coach Stephen Silas can be viewed below in its entirety.

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