The roster crunch across the NBA is underway. After a total of 10 players were waived league-wide Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Kevin Porter Jr. and two second-round picks from the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, league sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports. The deal sends Victor Oladipo and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl back to Houston — two players for whom Oklahoma City had been exploring trade avenues, sources said, ahead of the Monday deadline for teams to trim opening night rosters to 15.
It’s clear calculus behind the Thunder’s side of this deal. Oklahoma City needed to let go of three players before Monday and now plans to immediately waive Porter, the former No. 30 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who was charged with assault Sept. 11 in an incident involving his girlfriend, former WNBA player Kysre Gondrezick. The Rockets had been attempting to trade Porter in the weeks since, according to league sources, offering rival teams multiple second-round picks to move off Porter Jr. and the $15.9 million he’s guaranteed this 2023-24 season. Once officially waived, Porter Jr. will be owed $1 million next year.
Houston found great difficulty in moving Porter following the assault charges, with many organizations wary of getting involved. The Rockets held conversations with several teams, sources said, that would have required additional second-rounders to move Porter than the two picks Houston ultimately sent to Oklahoma City. And now there’s an expectation around the league the Rockets will look to use Oladipo’s $9.5 million salary and further second-round capital to further improve Houston’s roster as the Rockets expect to compete for the play-in tournament this spring.
There is little belief among NBA personnel that Oladipo will be ready to play much of this upcoming campaign following a torn patellar tendon in his left knee that required his third major surgery in four years. Oladipo never reported to Oklahoma City after the Thunder acquired him from Miami for two second-round picks in July. So that brings a grand total of four second-rounders into OKC’s war chest for taking in and rerouting Oladipo three months later, when the Thunder, sources said, planned to waive Oladipo anyway.
Can Oladipo net the Rockets something more? Houston has held trade discussions with Detroit regarding Alec Burks, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and the veteran ball-handler holds a $10.5 million salary that’s nearly a direct match. New Pistons head coach Monty Williams may decide to start rookie swingman Ausar Thompson and bring sophomore standout Jaden Ivey off the bench. Marcus Sasser, the No. 25 pick from this June’s draft, has also played well in preseason, and there are further minutes to spread between Joe Harris and Killian Hayes, as well as Monte Morris off the bench.
The Rockets were also in touch with Utah on deal structures that would have sent Talen Horton-Tucker to Houston, sources said. The Jazz have seen continued progress from former No. 5 pick Kris Dunn — who’s found somewhat of a resurgence in Salt Lake City — and would like to afford plenty of opportunity for 2023 first-round selection Keyonte George to handle the controls of Utah’s offense, as well.
Sources said Houston has also eyed veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was traded recently to Portland in the Celtics’ acquisition of All-Star Jrue Holiday, although the Trail Blazers and Rockets have not held significant conversations. The Blazers have so far indicated they plan to keep Brogdon as part of their rebuild, and Brogdon recently refuted any notion he was looking for an exit from the franchise.
What other trade dominoes may fall in the coming days? James Harden’s request to join the Clippers remains ongoing, although there appears to be a significant gap between Los Angeles and Philadelphia in the two teams’ negotiations. For all the initial noise about Buddy Hield being available for trade in Indiana after the sharpshooter and Pacers didn’t find common ground on early contract extension talks, few rival executives believe Hield will be dealt before the season.
It seems more likely any deal there would come closer to the trade deadline, as could be the case for Thunder forward Dāvis Bertāns. Before OKC’s move with Houston, Bertāns had been another name floating on the NBA’s trade market ahead of the Thunder’s roster decisions. Oklahoma City will still need to cut one more player after waiving Porter, just don’t expect it to be Bertāns. A career 39.8% shooter from distance, Bertāns can provide valuable shooting for the Thunder’s upstart playoff contender. And with just $5 million guaranteed for the last year of Bertāns’ pricey contract next season, he could shape into a valuable piece ahead of February’s trade deadline, when the Thunder could take back upward of $24 million in salary for the $17 million Bertāns currently represents on OKC’s books.
What’s next for Porter will be largely determined by what happens in the courts. On Monday in New York, Manhattan prosecutors dropped a second-degree assault charge against Porter, 23, and the former Rockets guard rejected an offer from the district attorney’s office of a plea deal on the lower third-degree assault charge he still faces.