How the Rockets should maximize "Phase 2" of their rebuild
The Houston Rockets appear to be on track to finish their season as a near-.500 basketball team. This is a huge step up from the near-.250 basketball team they were during the first three years of their rebuild. Before the season, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta nicknamed this era of basketball to be “Phase 2” of Houston’s rebuild and that appears to be prodigious. But what should the Rockets be looking to accomplish during “Phase 2”? And how can they go about accomplishing those things?
1. Identify foundational young talents
In many ways, this process is well under way for the Rockets. To start, they traded away first round talents Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba, TyTy Washington, and KJ Martin this summer. As much promise as some of these players showed, this was Houston signalling who their foundational talents weren’t. It narrowed down their pool of young talent to six men: Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith, Tari Eason, Amen Thompson, and Cam Whitmore.
So far, Alperen Sengun has been the only player that’s really cemented himself as a foundational talent. Other players have shown promising flashes, but not enough to set their places on the roster in stone for the long-term. The rest of the season may be an exercise in finding this out. Considering Houston just selected two more Top-5 caliber talents this year, we may not get this question answered for another two years
2. Prepare to pay or prepare to move on
Again, the Rockets have already done some this by trading away all those young players this summer. However, there are still six players left and two of them will be up for contract extensions as soon as this summer (Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun). Sengun has obviously done enough to warrant full-throated extension talks. However, the Rockets may choose to delay formally committing so they can retain financial flexibility like other teams have done with their young stars (ex: Tyrese Maxey in Philadelphia).
With Green, it’s a tricker proposition. While he’s indeed improved as a player (particularly defensively), he hasn’t produced at the level that would justify Houston entertaining extension talks. The Rockets must resist the temptation of doubling down on a possible draft miss by extending a potentially cumbersome offer. Until Green shows something closer to All-Star play, all options must remain on the table.
And those options include, but aren’t limited to, possible trades.