Though they’re still at least in some phase of a franchise rebuild, the Houston Rockets are clearly at a pivot point as an organization.
Starting with 2023-24, Houston’s next three years of its own first-round draft capital are largely controlled by Oklahoma City, owing to the ill-fated trade involving Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook in July 2019. That’s a big part of why the Rockets were so aggressive in signing veteran free agents such as Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks this offseason, since Houston likely wouldn’t reap the rewards from being one of the league’s worst teams for yet another season.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that after the January 2021 trade sending James Harden to the Nets, the Rockets control Brooklyn’s first-round assets over that same window and through 2027. Here is Houston’s updated draft outlook through 2030.
There’s also the argument that Houston might not need prospects in future years to the same extent it did at the start of the rebuild, given how many talented young players (Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, Amen Thompson, and Cam Whitmore) are already in place from first-round picks in recent drafts.
Even so, future draft capital can still help facilitate a blockbuster trade (Joel Embiid, anyone?). So, with that in mind, where do the Rockets currently stand among the NBA’s 30 teams? As one might expect, somewhere in the middle, with incoming draft capital from Brooklyn largely offsetting what’s owed to the Thunder.
In a list placing the Rockets at No. 12 among all teams, here’s how Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report sees Houston’s situation:
The Rockets still owe draft capital for Westbrook but also have a couple of potentially valuable unprotected firsts from the Nets for Harden. Houston always seems involved with the more complex obligations in the league, like the higher of the lower of the higher of the lower type swaps.
The first in 2024 to the Thunder is only top-4 protected, which may be why the team was more aggressive in adding quality veterans like Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. Even if the team tanked from the start, lottery odds wouldn’t guarantee that high a selection—and the addition of coach Ime Udoka wasn’t to continue mining the top of the draft for talent.
Houston also has a solid list of second-round picks, as two of the four contingent picks will likely stay, assuming the Rockets give their 2024 selection to Oklahoma City.
Pincus’ complete team-by-team ranking of future draft assets can be viewed here. Not surprisingly, with the Paul-Westbrook trade as a key factor, the Thunder rank No. 1 among the NBA’s 30 franchises.
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) August 28, 2023