The Houston Rockets are ramping up preparations for their season opener vs the Orlando Magic. The Rockets are coming off a successful 4-1 record in the preseason after defeating the Miami Heat in their final game.
I was out at the Rockets Sunday practice, where we spoke with Ime Udoka, Jeff Green and Dillon Brooks post-practice. Coach Udoka was asked about Tari Eason, who missed the last three preseason games, about his status for the opener.
Here is Coach Udoka talking about Tari Eason injury pic.twitter.com/B7on6UrK9B— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) October 22, 2023
Coach Udoka stated that Eason will be out for at least two to three weeks, with him being reevaluated in two weeks to determine if rehab is going well. Eason did not miss a game last season, as he was one of a handful of players to play every game. A list that included former Rocket KJ Martin Jr. Eason played 21.5 minutes a game last season and was expected to play even more this season, possibly becoming the Rockets’ sixth man.
So the question now is, who will fill the 25-30 minutes that Eason was going to play to start the year? There are four likely candidates to take up the slack with Eason missing time. Jeff Green, Reggie Bullock, Jae'Sean Tate and Cam Whitmore.
Jeff Green and Reggie Bullock are the likely candidates. Both have the experience you need to be able to play multiple positions, and both bring the outside shooting the Rockets have lacked in the last few years. Green can play both center and power forward, and his ability to play power forward is how he will help fill the minutes left by Eason. I asked Green about his versatility Sunday after practice.
Yesterday I asked Jeff Green about his ability to play center or power forward. Something that will come in handy with Atari Eason missing time— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) October 23, 2023
“Being able to be a plug and play guy” https://t.co/Sf4R68zx47 pic.twitter.com/ggWyjfkAY5
As I just mentioned, his flexibility will allow him to take some of those minutes that will be available for the next few weeks.
Another candidate is Bullock, who, despite a less-than-stellar showing during the preseason, may also take some of those minutes. Bullock was signed after his release from the Spurs during training camp and can play shooting guard or small forward but will spend most of his time, if not all, as a backup small forward. His outside shooting and defense are the main reasons he was brought in, and on a team that lacks shooters, he could be a plus this season, especially now that the Rockets are shorthanded.
The other two candidates, Tate and Whitmore, could become interesting as the season progresses. Despite the Rockets Twitter opposition to Tate, he is someone the Rockets’ front office and coaching staff love. He brings intensity and is still one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. After missing almost all of last season dealing with different injuries, he is back fully healthy.
Whitmore, of course, is coming off a Summer League MVP and an encouraging preseason. Many may believe that Whitmore is too far down the depth chart to see any early minutes, but the coaching staff has been impressed by his development from the day he stepped into Houston. He may not get minutes in the first few games, but it seems Udoka is open to playing him anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, which opens up different possibilities.
It won't be easy to fill the minutes left by Eason, who has become an integral part of the Rockets rotation in a short period. However, the Rockets have depth at the forward position, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out to start the season.
I have the entire post-practice interviews over on my Rocket Fuel YouTube page, as I will all season long, so make sure to subscribe and like!