July 2022 Mailbag: Is an Eric Gordon trade coming? Will KPJ get extended?
Answering all your Rockets questions
Another month, another mailbag. Let’s get rolling.
(Note: There were two variations of this question so we’ll go first come, first serve.)
I think the obvious answer here is Eric Gordon. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Robert Covington, and P.J. Tucker are all gone meaning that Gordon is the last significant piece from the Harden-era Rockets. Every playoff team wants an extra wing that can credibly handle the basketball, play downhill, make three-pointers, and defend on the perimeter. He’s also on a team-friendly deal. Gordon will earn about $20 million this year and since the incentives on the last year of his deal are improbable, his next season is essentially a team option.
It’s been reported several times that the Rockets have turned down multiple offers that included a first round pick. This means they’re holding out because they have yet to see an offer that contains what they want. In the Christian Wood negotiations, that was a first round pick with expiring salary. I would venture to guess it’s the same here and perhaps Houston sees an opportunity to get a better-than-expected first round pick. A pick in the 20s will always be there, but what if they hold out long enough and get offered a pick in the teens? Or even lottery?
The Kevin Durant and Donavan Mitchell dominos have also suppressed the market a decent bit so it’s important to keep that in mind. Significant league business is on the back-burner as teams wait and see what shakes out from two pending blockbuster trades. For example, the Lakers are waiting on an opportunity to snatch up Kyrie Irving so they are basically out of the market until a Durant trade happens (though Gordon could certainly be a helpful piece in Los Angeles). The team that snatches up Durant could also want to bolster their roster with someone like Gordon. Hell, Gordon’s salary in conjunction with other salary filler (likely David Nwaba) is even big enough be part of a Mitchell or Irving trade.
From a basketball perspective, Gordon’s also kind of the perfect floor-spacing small forward for the Rockets right now. Jae’Sean Tate is kind of the odd man out of the starting lineup next season and it’s much easier to sell Tate that a veteran like Gordon is taking his spot instead of a rookie like Tari Eason. Stephen Silas will utilize Gordon for a few months as Houston finds a landing spot for him and the new rookies settle into the roster.
It’s all just food for thought, but it behooves Houston to wait on trading Gordon.
(Again: Received two versions of this next question.)
I’ll say no, but I know the Rockets internally much higher on what Kevin Porter Jr. could be than I am. From a front office perspective, there’s just no rush to get something done right now. Rookie extensions are only worth doing in two circumstances:
The player in question is a no-brainer max contract.
It’s a team-friendly deal (like Jae’Sean Tate).
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes Porter is a no-brainer max guy. Those contracts are preserved for guys who are on obvious All-Star trajectories. That’s not what Porter is right now. So let’s talk about the second circumstance.
Team friendly deals are subjective because it really depends on what you view Porter’s upside to be. I’ll just say that I view the baseline for a team friendly deal to be somewhere in the mid-level exception range ($8-12 million) annually. If you can lock that in with Porter, extending him is a no-brainer. His cap-hold next summer is in that range so you’re not jeopardizing much cap space (if any). This is the most ideal situation.
The second version of a team-friendly deal is a larger contract ($12-20 million annually) loaded with performance-based incentives that trigger significant sums of the guaranteed money. Houston would choose what those incentives would be they’ve done this a few times before (notably with Clint Capela). Using shooting percentages and turnovers wouldn’t be a bad idea as those are weak areas for Porter. They could also request to have some sort of behavioral clause in the contract that allows them to get out of the final years of his contract (or just flat non-guaranteed years).
Option B seems to be the best deal for both parties. Porter locks in significant money with the possibility of more and the Rockets are afforded some protection against a disaster long-term deal.
Honestly, Summer League was the first time I ever watched Aric Holman play, but he had some nice moments! I’m reluctant to say anything bad about these guys because they’re all top 1% athletes and have worked extremely hard to be in the position they’re in. I want all of these guys to earn full-season contracts, but unfortunately, only 17 will and many will find themselves overseas or in the G League.
As of now, we know for certain the following players will have roster spots:
Jabari Smith Jr.
Kevin Porter Jr.
Kenyon Martin Jr.
No matter what happens in training camp (outside of trades), these 14 players will be back next season. That leaves one standard contract and both of Houston’s two-ways available. Guard Trevor Hudgins is technically signed to one of them, but he’s far from locked that spot in past training camp. Here are the six other players coming to training camp:
As you can see, Holman is currently not slated to attend. Personally, I really like Bruno Fernando. Fernando was a sweetener in the Daniel Theis trade and has real potential as a backup center in the NBA. He seems like a safe candidate to receive a two-way spot from Houston. Houston can then pick from Sterling Brown, Boban Marjanovic, and Marquese Chriss for that last veteran contract. Marjanovic seems like the favorite there, but who knows?
I would watch for Holman as someone that could get a spot with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers next season. And I can’t answer the second part of your question. I’m simply not well versed in the undrafted market as I only studied fist round pick candidates this year (all of whom have been drafted or signed by another team by now).
Thanks to all who submitted questions and apologies for the late post. I had a busier Sunday than expected.