Even getting a first-round pick is not enough to take back bad contracts.
It’s that time of year when the draft is a couple of weeks away, and if your team is not in the Finals, you are dusting off the trade machine. Some Houston Rockets fans have been hoping for Eric Gordon and Christian Wood’s trade for the past year.
When it comes to Gordon, it’s more about freeing up playing time for the younger guards and not necessarily about his play. With Wood, it is a different story. Some fans dislike his style of play or perceived lack of effort on the defensive end and want him gone to clear the way for players like Alperen Sengun.
The trade rumors have been flying for the last few weeks. Most, if not all, or just rumors. Trades rarely happen this time of year, and with the Rockets having multiple picks again this season, if it does happen, it won’t involve the Rockets. There are numerous reasons why moving Gordon or Wood for a bad long-term contract to get back another first-round pick is not a good idea. Here are some reasons why the Rockets shouldn’t even consider it.
The Rockets already have multiple picks over the next several years
The Rockets had a remarkable four first-round picks last year. For a team that was rarely, if at all, in the first round of the draft during the James Harden era, four first-round picks were a revelation. Three of those picks had an immediate impact, and the fourth, Usman Garuba, has a chance to take a huge step forward this year.
Of course, this is excellent news for the Rockets, especially as they develop, but the downside to having so many picks in a short span is that you will have to pay these players along with the players in year three or four. Factor in two more picks in the 2023 draft and possibly two more in the 2024 draft (The Thunder will acquire the pick if it is outside of the top four). This is one of the reasons the Rockets did not want to trade Gordon for a first-round pick in this draft.
Another part of this is you start to run out of roster spots. Factor in a bad contract and, more than likely, a player who wants playing time, and you are compounding your roster limitation issues.
The Rockets need to maintain cap flexibility
The Rockets, in several reports, have mentioned the 2023 free-agent class as one they are targeting. At this point, John Wall will be off the Rockets’ books along with possibly Wood and Gordon. That leaves the Rockets with only $30 million in salary and plenty of room to be a significant player in free agency.
If the Rockets, for instance, took on a player like Duncan Robinson, who is making close to $19 million a year for the next four years, to get the Heat’s first-round pick, that would not only hamper the ability to give playing time to players like Josh Christopher, it would eat into their salary cap space for years to come.
Plenty of teams would love to dump their horrible contracts onto the Rockets to free up their own cap space. However, the Rockets, as mentioned earlier, are not hurting for draft picks, and being another team’s cap savior should not be part of their future plans.
Rockets are probably not competing for another couple of years
The above cap flexibility and not competing in the next couple of years go hand and hand. The Rockets, in all likelihood, will be bad again next year. How bad we do not know, but their ceiling is competing for a play-in. Yes, competing, not even making the play-in, which leaves a lot of room to be near the bottom again next year.
With that reality, you have no reason to trade Gordon and Wood just for more picks when you can just let Wood walk after next year. Gordon has more trade value right now than Wood, and you can probably get good value for him. In Christian Wood’s case, interest around the league has been lacking for the last year.
Of course, if you are the Rockets, you don’t want to lose Wood for nothing to the free-agent market, but you are not in win-now mode. You are not the Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers, who are trying to win a championship in the next couple of seasons. The Rockets can play the long game, and that should include letting Wood sign with another team if the only offer is a long-term bad contract dump.
The Rockets should look to move Gordon and Wood. Both players can help other teams, but right now is not a great fit for the Rockets. Factor in the lack of interest for Christian Wood, and the Rockets are better off riding it out instead of bringing back players whose contracts make no sense for the Rockets long term.
Again, moving Eric Gordon is a lot easier, and you shouldn’t have to take back long-term bad contracts, but if that’s all you can get for Christian Wood, then you need to let him walk after the 2022-23 season and not hamper yourself long term.