HOUSTON — After the Houston Rockets acquired Kevin Porter Jr. in January, change has been a constant theme for the 21-year-old USC prodigy.
Porter went from a reserve player who played an average of 23.2 minutes with the Cleveland Cavaliers, to a full-time starter averaging 32.2 playing time with the Rockets. He went from playing off the ball as a two-guard in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, to the primary facilitator as the point guard on the wooden floors of the Toyota Center in Houston.
But the most considerable change Porter experienced after joining the Rockets had nothing to do with his play on the basketball court. Instead, it took place in his personal life.
Amid a career that began with several hardships during a troubled rookie season, Porter has discovered his serenity within the Rockets organization. Porter said during Rockets Media Day Monday afternoon:
“This organization saved my life — definitely a breath of fresh air. I needed a new scenery from where I was. And they [Rockets] picked me up when I was down. I love being here. And I want to be here for a while.”
Porter fell into a profound depression during his time with the Cavaliers. And unlike growing up in Seattle, Porter could not use basketball as an escape in Cleveland. The game became unenjoyable.
The Rockets made Porter a better person with the confidence, love and motivation they manifested into their young star. And Porter is driven to pay the Rockets back for the time they invested into him on a personal level.
Three notable figures assisted Porter in finding his happiness in Houston, but none more so than coach Stephen Silas.
Silas has taken Porter under his wing and has been a confidant to his starting point guard. Most of the time, their conversations do not involve basketball but everyday discussions like food and going to the beach. For Porter, having a coach who cares about his well-being as a person is where he is most appreciative. Porter said:
“Sometimes, I don’t wanna think about basketball. A ritual for me on game days is to don’t think, see or touch a ball until you get to the gym. I play my worst when I’m thinking about the game every day. Conversations like that are what help me. He is always here, 24-7. One phone call away.”
John Lucas, Houston’s player development coach, has been just as influential on Porter as Silas. Porter describes Lucas as a unique guy who pushes him to the point of a headache — but he has nothing but love for the former Rockets star.
But prior to working with Silas and Lucas on the basis, Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah was the first to establish a foundation for Porter to begin changing his life both on and off the court.
Abdelfattah was the first to take on the endeavors of coaching Porter during the 2021 G-League bubble in Orlando. As the head coach of the Rockets G-League affiliated team, Abdelfattah enhanced the talents that later witnessed Porter become the youngest player in NBA history to amass a 50-point, 10-assists double-double during a Rockets victory against the Milwaukee Bucks in late April.
Abdelfattah spent five to six hours a day with Porter in the bubble and watched him become the leader of the Vipers — describing Porter as “his guy.” Porter said:
“I changed my everyday life mechanics. Knowing my worth and value, all of that came with being here. I did not know my worth or value where I was before. This move helped me a lot, and I am going to continue growing.”
The Rockets have been a haven for Porter to obtain a balance between his mental health and his career. And now, he can enjoy basketball again.
As he enters his third season in the league, second with the Rockets, Porter’s energy is building on the 23 games that entrenched him as a foundational piece to the Rockets after averaging 16.6 points while shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 6.3 assists.
After an offseason of training and seeking advice from John Wall, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, Porter sees himself as a combo guard who can affect the game with his passing and scoring.
Over the past season, Porter’s personal life changed for the better when he joined the Rockets in a trade from the Cavaliers. And in 2022, Porter’s life — and on-court production — will reap the benefits from his career alternating move. He said:
“Coming here was a complete 180 for me. You can feel the different energy just being in Houston and being a part of this family. I couldn’t grow without this move. Maybe I could. But it would have been a big wall versus a step.”