Just a month separates Houston Rockets fans from the first opening tipoff. With some new faces on the roster and Ime Udoka at the helm, the upcoming season for Houston appears promising to make some key strides from the three years of the Stephen Silas Era. However, Just when things were starting to look up, guard Kevin Porter Jr. was allegedly arrested for assault and strangulation against his girlfriend, WNBA player, Kyrse Gondrezick, in New York City.
This impact of this news spread like wildfire, shocking the landscape of the NBA. Most importantly, fans and reporters of the Houston Rockets, as they were primed to see how Udoka would include Porter in a special sixth man role on the roster this upcoming year. The 23-year old had a solid season in the prior year as Houston’s starting point guard, averaging 19.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists while shooting 44.2% from the field and 36.6% from deep in 59 games. Quoted “Scary Hours” with his backcourt teammate Jalen Green prior to the 2022-2023 season, Porter looked to continue developing as a formidable combo guard in Houston.
A Wasted Commodity
However, Porter’s experimentation as a primary facilitator diminished his true talent, which is scoring. Given Jalen Green is the presumable franchise backcourt star, this pair didn’t necessarily work while on the court, which led to Alperen Sengun making most of the plays. Nevertheless Porter’s scoring still made an impact, which is precisely why Udoka initially looked to slide him as the leader of the second unit.
After this tragic news, these plans have completely backfired. In response, General Manager Rafael Stone immediately switched gears and plan to keep KPJ away from training camp and intend to place him on the trading block.
— The Rockets Wire (@TheRocketsWire) September 15, 2023
This is a clear indication that the Rockets front office are done with Porter at this point. His track record with aggression is unfortunately paired with his capable scoring talent.
In hindsight, this incident makes his contract even smarter. In the 2022 offseason, the Rockets dealt him a four year, $72.6 million extension that only guaranteed the first year in case things like these went awry. For starters, Houston reaps the benefits of the contract by sacrificing just $15.9 million in total this upcoming year, rather than the full deal. If any team decides to take a crack at the controversial guard, Porter wouldn’t be much to invest. The investigation is still ongoing. If there is concrete evidence that Porter did assault Gondrezick, Adam Silver could issue a full void on the contract payment, according to the NBA’s Domestic Violence Policy.
How Should The Rockets Align Their Bench?
With Porter’s intended departure, this leaves quite a bit of decisions for Houston’s bench construction. Here is the projected Rockets bench for the 2023-2024 season:
Porter’s expected departure makes this very interesting. If a trade does go through, does Houston receives a quality bench scorer in return? Just recently, the Indiana Pacers are looking to move guard veteran scorer Buddy Hield. While this is still in play, let’s analyze the current bench going forward. A team without a quality scorer for the second unit would surely hurt the offensive variety. On the bright side, this opens up more opportunities to prioritize playmaking.
2023 4th overall pick Amen Thompson briefly displayed his facilitation talents to great impression in the Summer League before suffering a Grade 2 ankle sprain. Every time Thompson had the ball in his hands, the Rockets pace increased by tenfold. Each teammate got a chance to get touches, which kept the offense fast and unpredictable to the defense. Thompson also had quick hands on the perimeter, deflecting key passes from the opponent, including two straight steals. Now fully healthy and NBA ready, Thompson will surely receive more minutes than initially decided. It’s likely he will play directly underneath VanVleet, who’s veteran playoff experience and expert playmaking of his own will benefit Thompson throughout the season.
Coming up on his 4th year with Houston, Jae’Sean Tate should play more of a significant role than years past, especially with Porter out of the picture. An athletic finisher with a serviceable three point shot, Tate’s talent is perfect for the Houston’s offensive game plan.
Tate nearly averaged 30 minutes three seasons ago in his rookie year. But when Porter was traded to the team in 2021, minutes were shaved off of several players including Tate. Given his three-year $21 million contract extension in the 2022 offseason, Tate appeared to be slowly falling out of the roster picture, with a gradual decrease in minutes each year. Porter’s absence could surely provide more minutes to Tate this season, filling more of the void for wing defense and a faster paced offense.
There’s a strong case for Tari Eason to become the Rockets sixth man. His ability to work well on the perimeter, inside, guard multiple positions, and be present on both sides of the floor is textbook sixth man material. With his 9.3 points and 6 rebounds per game in 21.6 minutes, these are surely expected to increase substantially. While at only two Summer League games, Eason dominated, averaging 23 points, 9.5 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. A stat sheet stuffer, Eason is known to do the little things and can be a potential glue guy moving forward.
Whitmore certainly benefits this more than anyone, mainly because of his scoring talent. His performance in the Summer League showcased this beautifully, averaging 19.3 points 5.2 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. Whitmore earned Summer League MVP for his performance. While it’s common for the Summer League not translating much to the NBA, the Villanova product is entering this season with a chip on his shoulder. Expected to be a lottery pick, Cam fell all the way down to the 20th slot. For him to receive a boost to his minutes will provide ample opportunities to fuel his adversity. Things are looking up for the Villanova product, as the city of Houston has welcomed him with open arms.
— Vanessa Richardson (@SportsVanessa) September 22, 2023
Still A Crushing Blow
Losing significant scoring depth hurts the Rockets. They were initially expected to be a fringe playoff team with the new acquisitions.
Assuming the roster stays as currently constructed (no *** trade for a win-now piece), I’m going to predict a 35/36-win season for the Houston #Rockets.
I think we finish as the 11th/12th seed and miss out on the play-in tournament by a game or two.
— ᵂᴵᴸᴸ (@BiasedHouston) September 23, 2023
Regardless, this is still a huge step up from their previous three seasons. Along with Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup, the young roster needs to lean on veteran Jeff Green, who has over a decade in the NBA, appearing on multiple playoff rosters throughout his career. This includes a championship with the Denver Nuggets in the prior season.
If Houston can’t find a trade partner, then the best route would be to cut Kevin Porter Jr., eat up $15.9 million, and sign another vet for the final roster spot. It’s unfortunate the KPJ experience had to end like this, but the chemistry needs to be on the right foot, especially when the season starts.
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