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The many moves that helped the Rockets win this year’s draft

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Here’s how Houston jumpstarted their rebuild.

Detroit Pistons v Houston Rockets Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are off to a great start in Las Vegas, winning their first two Summer League games convincingly. Number two overall pick Jalen Green has not disappointed, scoring a total of 48 points on a very efficient 50 percent from three-point range. In addition, Green has played under control and has outplayed both Cade Cunnigham and Evan Mobley.

Josh Christopher has shown that his defense may be the best part of his game. That's not to forget how he relentlessly attacks the basket and has shown he can score from the mid-range as well.

The biggest surprise has been Alperen Sengun, who may be the second-best player in the Summer League and, at times, the best player. Sengun has shown the ability to score in the paint consistently. Of course, that was to be expected, but his defense has been eye-opening. Sengun has 8 blocks in two games and has shown that he can switch out onto guards and not be a liability.

None of this would have been possible without Rafael Stone and the Rockets front office's moves since Stone took over right before the 2020-21 season. This article will break down every move and non-moves the Rockets have made that led to the Rockets winning this year's draft.

Robert Covington to the Blazers for Trevor Ariza, draft rights to Isaiah Stewart, and 2021 first-round pick

This was the start of it all. On November 16, 2020, the Rockets’ rebuild began when they traded away Robert Covington less than a year after bringing in the veteran in the Clint Capela trade.

In this trade, the Rockets secured the Blazer's 16th pick (the draft rights to Isaiah Stewart), Portland’s protected 2021 first-round selection, and Trevor Ariza. Make sure not to blink because no one involved in this original trade will be around for that long. However, this trade got the ball rolling on all future trades that helped shape the 2021-22 draft.

Trevor Ariza, the draft rights to Isaiah Stewart to the Pistons as part of the Christian Wood sign-and-trade deal

The next move would take place a few days after the Robert Covington trade. Originally, the Rockets sent Trevor Ariza and the draft rights to Isaiah Stewart to the Detroit Pistons for their heavily protected 2021 first-round pick. Portland made the draft selection because of the Stepien rule, which states no team can trade first-round picks in consecutive years.

The deal would eventually be part of the sign-and-trade deal for Christian Wood, who the Rockets agreed on terms with at the beginning of free agency. The Rockets, as part of this deal, also sent cash ($4.6MM) and a future second-round pick but got back Detroit's second-round pick via the Lakers.

At the time, the heavily protected 2021 pick seem like it would take years to convey, if at all, but as we will see later, this pick plays a huge part in the Rockets’ immediate future.

Russell Westbrook to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 protected first-round pick

When the Rockets were knocked out of the playoffs by the Los Angles Lakers, it was known that the team would make some changes. However, no one expected those changes to involve Darryl Morey leaving for the 76ers, James Harden wanting to be traded (later on), and Russell Westbrook demanding a trade.

Before the 2021 season, rumblings started to emerge about Westbrook wanting to move on from the Rockets. The rumblings and rumors turned into reality when the Rockets sent Russell Westbrook to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 protected first-round pick. As of right now, it turns out that a heavily protected 2023 pick would help shape the Rockets’ 2021 draft.

James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets for more picks than I can put in the title

As mentioned before, James Harden, who led the franchise for eight years and is currently the second-best player in Rockets history, demanded a trade before the season even started. This move, in all likelihood, is the main reason Morey and Westbrook wanted out.

In this trade, the Rockets acquired G Dante Exum, F Rodions Kurucs, G Caris LeVert, a swap of 2021 1st round picks, a 2022 1st round pick (BRK own), a conditional 2022 1st round pick (MIL own), a swap of 2023 1st round picks, a 2024 1st round pick (BRK own), a swap of 2025 1st round picks, a 2026 1st round pick (BRK own), a swap of 2027 1st round picks and a TPE.

This deal would change as the Indiana Pacers were added to this deal and dealt Victor Oladipo to the Rockets in exchange for Caris LeVert. The Cavs also received Jared Allen from the Nets to help facilitate this trade. Side note as we later found out, this trade may have saved LeVert's life when an MRI revealed a small mass on his left kidney during his physical to complete the trade.

The trading of James Harden didn't directly lead to picks that were used to move into this year's draft. Still, by trading Harden early in the season and not bringing back players like LeVert or Allen, the Rockets could finish in the bottom three, which led to drafting Jalen Green.

PJ Tucker to the Bucks

The Rockets traded P.J. Tucker and Rodions Kurucs to Milwaukee for guard D.J. Augustin, forward D.J. Wilson, and the Bucks’ first-round pick in 2023. The Rockets also received the right to swap their 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee’s 2021 first-round pick (Top 9 protected), while the Bucks re-acquired their 2022 first-round pick, which Houston obtained from Cleveland part of a four-team trade earlier this season.

The key takeaway from this trade is the right to swap their 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee's 2021 first-round pick. That swap would turn into another possible diamond in the rough for the Rockets.

Let's bring it all together.

To bring all these moves into perspective, let's see what each pick ultimately led to.

  • The Covington trade netted the Rockets Trevor Ariza, Isaiah Stewart's draft rights, and Portland's 2021 first-round pick, used to draft Usman Garuba.
  • Traded Trevor Ariza and Isaiah Steward in the Christian Wood sign and trade, which also help the Rockets get the Pistons 2021 first-round protected pick.
  • That 2021 pick was traded along with the Wizards’ pick acquired in the Westbrook trade to the Thunder to draft Alperen Sengun.
  • The pick swap that was acquired in the PJ Tucker trade was used to draft Josh Christopher.
  • To wrap this up in a neat bow, the Rockets were able to be bad enough to draft Jalen Green by not bringing back marginal players that would still be on the team in the Harden trade.

Yes, that is a lot, but it shows you how much work Rafael Stone and the Rockets have done to rebuild this team in less than a year. All of these moves help the Rockets come out as the winners of this year's draft.