Cynicism is a temptress. The older you get, the harder she is to resist. She beckons you - “things are not good. If you believe things are good, you can get hurt. If you believe things are bad, you can be pleasantly surprised”.
Houston Rockets fans are trying not to be cynical about Jalen Green. Some are having more success than others. For younger fans, it’s easy. They see the flashes, and they ignore the long bouts of poor play. For those of us who were burned by Steve Francis, it’s a little bit harder. We’re starting to feel cynical.
Should the Rockets trade Green? Could they?
Could the Rockets trade Green?
They certainly could. Zach Lowe is hearing that he could be available. That’s not nothing. Lowe is among the most credible reporters in the NBA. He won’t put this on the record unless it’s got some legs.
Yes, Green was selected with the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Sure, it feels premature to quit on him now. We’ll get into the “should” shortly. Let’s establish one thing - the Rockets are likely considering moving Green. This is real.
It’s also not completely unprecedented. Rasheed Wallace had a solid rookie season for the Washington Wizards in 1995-96. He was the fourth overall pick. The Wizards traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers that summer anyway. With Chris Webber and Juwan Howard on the roster, they (rightfully) felt he was a bad fit with the team.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flashed star potential as a rookie in 2018-19, and the Los Angeles Clippers traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire Paul George. Speaking of the Thunder...
James Harden was on his rookie deal when they sent him to the Rockets. If you don’t remember that, eat your vitamins, stay in school - and always wear sunscreen. If you don’t get that reference...fair enough.
It’s rare for a player with upside not to see a second contract with his incumbent team. It’s not unprecedented. Although, it’s worth noting that the Thunder made one of the worst trades in NBA history when they traded Harden. They also made an excellent deal when the Clippers sent them Gilgeous-Alexander.
Should the Rockets trade Green?
This isn’t a question with a black-or-white answer. If the Milwaukee Bucks called tomorrow and offered Giannis Antetokoumnpo for Green straight up, all Rafael Stone has to do is pray that the league doesn’t veto the move on the grounds of insanity.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. The Rockets shouldn’t trade Green and all of the Brooklyn picks for Mikal Bridges. That’s got as much to do with all of the Brooklyn picks as it does with Green.
Look at the Rockets’ current situation. They’ve got a core of six young players with (varying levels of) star potential, and they control an entire NBA franchise’s future up to 2027. Now, look at their situation if they make this trade. They’d have a core of five young players, Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, and Mikal Bridges, and no valuable draft capital.
Frankly, that’s still a pretty good situation. It’s also an unequivocally worse one. The Rockets shouldn’t be cashing in assets - whether human or otherwise - unless there’s a deal on the table that makes them title contenders.
That specific trade doesn’t serve their interests. That’s not to say that Green should be untouchable. There are good arguments in favor of moving him.
To begin with, keeping the core six together is going to be tangly. I’m not a cap expert - I get confused - but to my understanding, the new CBA incentivizes teams to keep their drafted core together. If all six of these guys hit, my understanding is that the Rockets could keep them together until their third contracts if they surround them with veteran minimums.
Fair. Are we sure that’s the vision? If Alperen Sengun and Amen Thompson are the primary playmakers, and Cam Whitmore is the alpha scorer, where does that leave Green? He would make a good sixth man - but for a team with so much offensive firepower, are we sure that another three-and-D wing, a combo big, or just better overall depth wouldn’t be a better use of cap space?
So for the right return, you can make the case for moving Green. Pushing so many chips in on a guy who’s something between a fringe star and an elite role player isn’t the move. What about, for example, if the Utah Jazz liked Green? What if they’d sent Kelly Olynyk and two unprotected firsts for the opportunity to gamble on his upside?
We’re spitballing here. The more general point is this - if the Rockets are considering pushing all of their chips in, Bridges isn’t a big enough prize. If Luka Doncic shakes loose this summer? Sure. Donovan Mitchell? Possibly. Not Mikal Bridges.
Oh: and probably not Olynyk and two firsts either.
The Rockets should probably hold on to Green
We’ve been playing the sample size game with Green all year. Sure, he’s been bad - but over his last five games, he’s been good! Ah, but look at this three-game stretch - pretty bad, right? It’s silly.
With that said...
Jalen Green hoops this season from COOL ANGLES— Julieanne Gilchrist (@JulieanneGilch1) February 3, 2024
LAST 7 GAMES:
I love when he's having fun pic.twitter.com/oaktyavJKb
Green’s even been good for a 10-game sample now. That’s meaningful. It feels like he could be turning a corner. This isn’t a hot three-point shooting streak. Green is getting to the hole. He’s getting creative in how he finishes when he gets there. He’s selecting the right shots, and for the most part, they’re falling.
Let’s break that core six down a bit further. Sengun and Thompson are offensive engine types. Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason are three-and-D wings. They could each be more than that, but for this team to work conceptually, spacing and defense are going to have to be their primary responsibilities.
There are questions about whether Thompson and Sengun can play together. Let’s table them. Let’s suppose they can. Since they’re both such dynamic passers, they can likely co-exist with one alpha scorer.
It could be Whitmore - but it could be Green. Whitmore does have that new toy shine on him at the moment. He is incredibly exciting. It’s still worth noting that he averages roughly an assist per season. Whitmore has proven to be an effective defensive playmaker, but in terms of man-to-man coverage and team concepts, he’s frequently lost.
His potential is exciting - but so is Green’s. Here’s the secret sauce: Green has been playing much-improved team defense all year. He’s improved in every facet of the game besides the one area he’s supposed to thrive in - scoring. Now he’s scoring well too.
Meanwhile, Doncic won’t be available at the deadline. Mitchell likely won’t either. Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum are all staying where they are. If one of those guys becomes available this summer, it might be worth packaging Green with another one of the core six and the Brooklyn picks. That won’t be an option if the Rockets have already traded most of that package for Mikal Bridges.
Finally, the Jazz aren’t likely to send two unprotected firsts for Green. Nobody is. Green’s trade value is currently low enough that’s worth holding on to the stock. It’s so low that it’s probably only going to stagnate or get higher.
Let this thing play out. If you’ve sold some Green stock, that’s understandable - prudent even. If you input the data into a computer, the computer would tell you that his odds of becoming a superstar-impact player are lower than they were on draft night in 2021.
Use some context. Green spent two years in Silas’ Brawl for All system with Mr. Five Assists and Three Turnovers running point. Now he’s learning an entirely new (and vastly different) system. Until recently, the Rockets were grinding out every possession in the halfcourt. They’ve recently started incorporating more transition into their attack, and Green is playing better. There’s still time for him to fulfill his potential.
Don’t be cynical about it.