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Five Out - Fourth in our hearts

Not Wemby.

2023 NBA Draft Lottery
Charm Offensive, but No Wemby.
Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome back to Five Out, where we have much to discuss, so run, no run damnit, to the corner.

1. Not Wemby. Not Scoot. Not Even Non-Accessory. Amen?

After Victor Wembanyama going to the team that’s been hyped to him constantly by his French basketball mentors and heroes, the one they played for, we Rockets fans should be able to insist upon a few things. Any great Nigerian, Chinese, or Turkish, NBA prospect is automatically a Rocket. It’s only fair. It’s what those players, former and otherwise, would want, and that’s what’s important.

In all seriousness, I was disappointed, but not heart-broken, that Wemby didn’t fall to the Rockets. I never thought he would for some reason. He was never part of my future vision. The team to feel badly for is the hapless Wizards. Apparently upon the last of three numbered balls picked for lottery position, Washington had had around 50% of the possible combinations that would lead to a 1-1 pick. They didn’t win.

This lottery went very much according to narrative, and prevailing sentiment, which of course is nothing but luck. And Krampus.

2. Hold me when?

Every mock draft appears to have the Rockets taking Amen Thompson. I must express mixed feelings about this potential pick. The talent seems to be there, but Amen’s managed to muddy the waters about his prospect status in two major ways.

One, his shooting form is atrocious. How can someone who chose a “Developmental Program” for future stars have this form? Let’s presume Overtime Elite is serious, with great coaching, and is not just a jumped up YouTube channel. That means they’ve tried to change that form, and haven’t succeeded, for whatever reason.

Sometimes there are very athletic players whose athleticism is not expressed through shooting. Sometimes players learn to shoot real shots once they reach the pros. Lonzo Ball learned to not shoot like a 6th grader without the strength to shoot a three, so it’s possible. It is, however, a real concern. If he’s your primary ballhandler, how many such players now just don’t shoot? Not many.

It might work on the Rockets. However, you might be drafting Ben Simmons with a better mindset. That can be very useful, but truly warps who else can be on the court with him. Now a traditionally non-shooting, or less shooting oriented, position/player has to be an able shooter.

Two, the Thompson Twins seem to be playing against children, at 20 years old themselves. Let’s put the modern NCAA environment into perspective with this. The UH Cougar’s starting lineup was on average older than the 22-23 Rockets (after Gordon departed). (The Coogs certainly tried harder on defense.)

With the NCAA transfer portal, extended eligibility (will those rules get rolled back?), NIL money, or other money pretending to be NIL money, it’s possible to be a journeyman NCAA basketball player for at least five years, maybe more. What this means for the competition that NBA prospects face is that it will be physically mature and strong, disciplined, experienced and generally mentally tougher than teenagers.

Playing against AAU 16-17 year olds really isn’t the same thing. No major NCAA program full of NBA prospects made the Final Four. The strength and experience of NCAA 22-25 year old upperclassmen was too much to overcome. That may change, but the days of college basketball being a free and easy experience at an NBA prospect factory, or soft in some way, is over, for now anyway.

The GLeague is one of the better pro leagues in the world, in terms of talent, if not always coaching and team discipline. Either would have been better for The Twins, in my mind.

So while I see possibilities for Amen to be like Lamelo, but more athletic and plays some defense, or Ricky Rubio, but more athletic, I also see Michael Kidd-Gilcrest (the shot is that bad). It would have helped to watch Thompson play against real competition, so we could see how the athleticism and grace hold up when not facing tall bundles of 16 year old twigs who don’t know where to stand, let alone how to switch.

Perhaps we’ll see some video of the Thompson Twins absolutely roasting some chairs to top things off?

3. Don’t Remarry The Ex.

Are we really doing this James Harden thing? Again? Did the Rockets eat all that dead money to just to book a trip back to Hardenland? Are we really up for more James Harden Freedom of Expression? How will he look at 38, when we aren’t seeing anything like peak Houston James Harden now? I don’t think Houston Harden is coming back, absent a Lebronian effort, and spending level, on personal conditioning and diet, though Harden may come back to Houston, anyway.

I probably spent as much time as anyone writing about NBA basketball defending Harden from criticisms I thought were unfair. I still do. I wish him well, but I don’t particularly want to see that movie again.

The reboot is rarely as good as the original.

You got divorced for a reason.

You can’t go home again.

All these things are truisms for a reason.

James dumped us. Now he misses Houston? Too bad. You didn’t have to dog your way out.

Will it fast track the Rockets to some sort of relevance? (Sigh.) Yes. Probably.

In my mind, the chapter is closed, and I hope Houston is mostly being used to leverage the 76ers.

4. Ime’s Charm Offensive

Like me perhaps you were wondering why the hell the Rockets, of all their long time legends, their foreign-born centers in the Hall of Fame, their somewhat tarnished brand image, chose new coach Ime Udoka to represent them at the NBA lottery? The lottery, especially how it is timed now, is a gathering of, in many ways, everyone who is anyone in the NBA. The nature of the gathering, as a kind of meeting for those “in the trade” makes the choice less baffling, however it might look to outside observers.

I think the reasonwas basically a charm offensive, an image rehabilitation opportunity, for Udoka with the whole league’s top brass gathered round the ole random ball machine. If you think the lottery is somehow rigged, then it wasn’t going to the Rockets anyway - wrong narrative, wrong message. Ime might as well go, shake hands, talk about his new leaf, and personal growth, and get back in the mix.

These last three years, as painful as they’ve been for the Rockets, haven’t been so great for anyone following, running, or presenting the NBA in any Rockets context, either. The NBA worked hard to get rid of tanking by making the odds terrible, but here are the min-maxers trying it anyway, for a teensy marginal edge.

Teams not trying to win look bad. Teams that are bad, but really trying to win, or even displaying a facsimile of doing so, seem to get a different media treatment. (cf OKC, San Antonio)

No one thinks tanking is cute, clever, or novel, anymore, even if it’s sometimes necessary. The Hinkie Saga took care of that. The odds stink, and with the play-in, it’s likely that nearly anyone can build a team to sniff the play-in, at least. With a little creative roster management a team can do that, and still retain pretty good lottery odds.

The Rockets, for example, didn’t need to have so much dead money spent on players not playing for the team. Don’t think the NBA didn’t notice all those guys being paid not to play for the Rockets, so Daishen Nix could rack up some more immortal minutes.

The Rockets as recently as three seasons ago, held an important, if not starring, role as the mustache twirling (black bearded) villain who was ultimately defeated by Nice Captain Smirky. It was great drama. The NBA probably didn’t like losing that story. (Guess what? It may be back.)

All that means the Rockets three year shit show hasn’t been appreciated, much of anywhere. Portland tried to win, tried to be good, and then went full tank late. They’re picking #2. Because the odds don’t really favor being the worst that much, a team can flush a season late, with little rancor or blowback, and a shot at drafting a superstar in the right year.

Back to Ime. If you believe the NBA lottery is a perfectly straight game, then it doesn’t matter who you send - the number combinations will be random, no matter who is there, and how you are perceived. Ime might as well go, shake hands, talk about the leaf he turned over, and how ready he is to be a good corporate citizen and great coach, with the rest of the NBA.

5. What Sort of Team Do The Rockets Want To Be?

This is the question I’ll be exploring more as the off-season and draft unfolds. The Rockets now have a coach who is probably more suitable to working with young players - in that he’s known to be tough and demanding, and he has more stature than they do. A lot of how the Rockets play will depend on Udoka. A lot will depend on whether or not the the Rockets are a stalking horse, or a real destination for James Harden. Some will depend on what they do in the draft.

This seems to be, unlike the last two off-seasons, a pivot point for the Rockets. I’m excited, and also, trepidatious.


What to do with 4.

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Pick Amen
    (86 votes)
  • 8%
    Pick Wallace
    (31 votes)
  • 4%
    Pick Sideshow Bob
    (17 votes)
  • 34%
    Trade Up
    (125 votes)
  • 11%
    Trade Down
    (41 votes)
  • 17%
    Trade Out
    (65 votes)
365 votes total Vote Now