Rockets trade future second-round draft pick for Kevin Porter Jr.

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Ben DuBose
·5 min read
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The Houston Rockets are trading a protected future second-round draft selection to acquire 2019 first-round pick Kevin Porter Jr. from the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to numerous media reports.

“This is a top-55 protected pick that is likely never to convey,” said ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, citing sources. “The Rockets are taking a flyer on a talented 20-year-old who is dealing with some personal issues.”

From Houston’s perspective, the talented 6-foot-4 guard effectively represents a reclamation project following a turbulent offseason.

After playing in college at the University of Southern California (USC), Porter was the No. 30 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. He averaged 10.0 points (44.2%) and 3.2 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game as a rookie and showed flashes of strong play on both offense and defense, but fell out of favor in Cleveland after several concerning incidents.

From ESPN’s story on the trade:

The Cavaliers decided to trade or waive Porter after a screaming match with team officials on Friday night, when he attended his first game of the season. Porter was upset that his locker had been moved to an auxiliary area after his old locker was given to Taurean Prince, who arrived along with Jarrett Allen in the four-team James Harden trade. …

Porter was arrested on Nov. 15 after a middle-of-the-night crash when he flipped his Mercedes SUV. He admitted to have been drinking earlier in the evening, and when police searched the car, they found a loaded handgun in the glove compartment and a small amount of marijuana.

A grand jury declined to indict Porter on a felony weapons charge after he was able to prove he didn’t know the gun was in the car. Police also determined he was not impaired at the time of the accident. A judge dismissed the misdemeanor pot charge.

The Cavaliers kept Porter away from the team to begin the 2020-21 season following those and other reported offseason problems, and they were working on a reintegration plan as recently as a few days ago. However, last weekend’s events were apparently the final straw. Porter was also suspended for “personal conduct issues” in college at USC, which contributed to him falling to the end of the 2019 first round.

Houston is waiving second-year guard Chris Clemons to create a roster spot for Porter, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Clemons is out for the year after tearing his Achilles in the preseason.

Going forward, the Rockets plan to have Porter work on a personal level with assistant coach John Lucas, per ESPN’s MacMahon.

One of Porter’s best NBA games came on Dec. 11, 2019 against the Rockets, when he scored 24 points on 6-of-9 shooting (66.7%) from 3-point range. Following that showing, then-Houston star James Harden offered a strong endorsement of Porter’s future in the league:

He is aggressive. I don’t know if he has been like that throughout the course of the year, I haven’t really watched him play, but tonight he was aggressive. His shot looked very good. He was attacking the rim. He just played with confidence.

In a postgame interview, Porter referred to Harden as a “big brother” and said they had trained together in the offseason. Porter noted that he wanted to add Harden’s renowned step-back jumper to his own game.

Now, with Harden gone and the Rockets (4-9) perhaps in a rebuilding phase (or at least reloading), GM Rafael Stone appears willing to take a low-risk gamble on potentially reviving Porter’s career. Whenever he reports to the team, Porter will be a backcourt option behind veteran rotation fixtures such as John Wall, Victor Oladipo, and Eric Gordon.

Porter, who is still on his initial NBA contract, is guaranteed $1.8 million in salary for the 2020-21 season. That deal gives the Rockets a team option to potentially retain him at $3.2 million for 2021-22. Houston accepted Porter’s salary into a small trade exception, which was made possible when the Harden trade moved them away from the hard salary cap.

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