HOUSTON — When the Houston Rockets begin their four-game preseason schedule on Tuesday, several players will take the court trying to leave an impression on the organization with the optimism of making the 2021-22 final roster. And no player will be under more pressure than Dante Exum.
The preseason could be his last chance of finding an NBA home, as the Rockets re-signed Exum to a non-guaranteed three-year deal during the offseason.
Drafted by the Utah Jazz during the 2014 draft, Exum was the fifth pick, but injuries have derailed what was once a promising career. Exum was a throw-in for the Rockets as part of the four-team trade that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in January. But the 26-year-old combo guard never played a minute for Houston last season due to a lingering calf injury.
Now fully healthy, Exum says this is the best he has felt since his rookie season, and his production during training camp has reassured head coach Stephen Silas’ belief in his veteran guard.
“He has done a great job, and he has been a veteran on the floor. He knows what he is doing. He is a guard who can play both on and off the ball, and his defense has been good. He has done a little bit of everything and has fit right in with this team.” — Silas
The journey to re-sign with the Rockets was a grueling process for Exum. He stayed in communication with the team throughout the offseason, but it wasn’t until after his play during the Summer Olympic Games in Japan when general manager Rafael Stone made an offer.
Exum helped his native country Australia capture their first-ever Olympic medal in men’s basketball. Australia took home bronze amid Exum averages of 9.0 points while shooting 56.7 percent from the field across six games.
During his short stint in Japan, Exum prompted the presentiment that once had him the top NBA prospect outside the United States.
Exum was an additional playmaker for Australia, creating scoring opportunities for teammates Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. But more importantly, Exum showcased he can be a reliable three-point shooter — connecting on 60.0 percent of his three-point field goals.
In the game against Team USA, Exum proved that he could sustain his noble play against some of the NBA’s most pristine talent. He scored an Olympic best 14 points during a 97-78 Australian loss during the Semi Quarter Finals.
“I did not get a chance to see Dante at all last year because he was hurt. He was just during individual drills last year, and this is my first time getting a chance to see him in a team setting. I’m glad to have him back.” — Silas
Silas does not know what Exum’s role will be should he make the 15-man roster. But he acknowledged that Exum must continue his impressive training camp in hopes of finding a vital role within the team.
Silas is planning on activating 11 or 12 players during their preseason opener against the Washington Wizards, and Exum could be one of several playing a bulk of the minutes on the floor of the Toyota Center.