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Grading the deal: Christian Wood traded to Dallas Mavericks
It happened. How should you feel about it?
Simply put, this is on the lower end of what I imagined a Christian Wood return would be. For all his faults, Wood is a highly productive offensive basketball player that is capable of starting on a playoff team. Even on an expiring contract, the Mavericks are paying a bargain price for his services. By now, it should be clear that Houston waited too long to capitalize on Wood’s market value.
For a myriad of reasons, the prime opportunity to trade Christian Wood was 15 months ago (the 2021 trade deadline). Let’s just stick with the basics for now:
After James Harden was traded for a package that didn’t include a young star, Wood’s placement on the team no longer made sense. He was 25 years old on a team soon to be occupied by 19-year-olds.
Wood had already proven that the numbers he posted on his closing stretch with the Detroit Pistons could be replicated. And to top it off, he had two and half seasons remaining on his contract which meant his market value was only going to go down from this point.
Wood was healthy and didn’t display any of the behavioral issues that made it easier for his previous teams to stomach losing him. The NBA is just too unpredictable to bank on both of these things remaining true.
But let’s give Houston a break in this first instance. It’s not easy to trade your prized offseason acquisition after just a few months. Even if the logic behind it was sound, a Wood trade would have been perceived as bold at that point. The Rockets could also reasonably say “Christian Wood is young, he can improve, and we hold his bird rights in 2023”.
Fast forward to this past trade deadline. By this point, the Rockets passed on trading Wood in the 2021 offseason, but there was still hope. While it’s less ideal than the 2021 deadline, this was a good opportunity to move Wood. Here’s why:
Rockets rookie Alperen Sengun has now flashed franchise cornerstone potential and his fit with Wood didn’t make sense on paper, nor on the floor. If you already have your center of the future, there’s no reason to cling to your ill-fitting center of the past.
Any team that wanted his services for the 2022 and 2023 playoffs could still get him at this deadline. Theoretically, the only thing that may have lowered his value from the offseason in the eyes of a contender was his benching incident with head coach Stephen Silas.
Again, he’s healthy. No guarantee of that in the future.
And this is really why Houston’s trade deadline was so puzzling. Take this line from Kelly Iko’s trade deadline column:
But barring a blow-me-away offer, Wood should remain in Houston past the deadline, sources tell The Athletic.
Does the package Houston accepted on Wednesday night blow anyone away?
The 2022 NBA Draft is considered to be a top-heavy class that falls off a cliff before it gets to the 26th pick the Rockets just acquired. Are there helpful players that can be had in that range? Sure, but unless somebody unexpectedly falls on draft night, Houston isn’t likely to get a player of Christian Wood’s value.
In fact, weren’t the Rockets actively avoiding adding more picks in this draft?
With two picks in the next draft, if the Rockets are going to deal for more, they would value picks that would come in later seasons.
So despite all the posturing, they did the thing they were reportedly trying to avoid. This is the kind of package most would have anticipated Houston taking back for a veteran like Eric Gordon, not a 26-year-old that averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds on 59.5% true shooting last year.
With all that said, holding onto Christian Wood past the draft would not have been wise. The Rockets already had a log jam in the front court are likely to pick a high caliber big man prospect with the third pick. Wood’s usage and production was going to fall off a cliff if he stayed on the team. This would have diminished his already apparently low trade value. They had to move him now or it was going to get ugly.
This package doesn’t hurt Houston. It’s all expiring contracts and a chance at an exciting young prospect. It also doesn’t help them as much as if they had executed a Wood deal sooner. Posturing can be an effective tactic, but it can also kill you if you wait too long. In this instance, the Rockets waited too long.