Reuniting with Victor Oladipo was not on anybody’s Rockets bingo card.
He’s a symbol of an era that wasn’t. For Rockets fans, Oladipo is a world where Tesla invented electricity. History could have taken a different direction, but it didn’t, and the electricity that we have now is probably better.
Yet, Oladipo is once again a Houston Rocket. Although, it’s more accurate to say that his contract is on the Rockets’ salary sheet. He’s not going to be part of the rotation. Oladipo might want to take this half-season to focus on his R&B career (I don’t mean to be flippant - he’s a really good singer!).
Who should the Rockets be looking to trade him for?
Should the Rockets find a backup guard?
Allegedly, the Rockets have three targets in mind. They’re supposedly looking at Alec Burks, Malcolm Brogdon and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Let’s not mince words: Horton-Tucker would be an asinine acquisition for the Rockets. Another playmaking, defensive-minded, non-shooting wing? Unacceptable. Malpractice. What’s Horton-Tucker’s place on this team? He could leapfrog Tate? OK - so could Cam Whitmore. Hopefully, that’s subterfuge on Stone’s part, if not an outright fabrication.
The other two targets make sense. I think Burks is the right call. He’s shot above 40 percent from three-point range in each of the last four seasons. During that same stretch, Brogdon has alternated between excellent and atrocious long-range shooting — and he’s due for a down year.
Sure, Brogdon is a better all-around player. They’re both solid defenders, but Brogdon is in a different league as a playmaker. There are two reasons why Burks is a better option anyway.
Firstly, this roster’s most pressing need is floor spacing. If the Rockets trade for Brogdon and he doesn’t shoot well, they’ve likely traded Oladipo, Tate and four second-round picks for, essentially, nothing. His playmaking has relatively little value for a team with ample playmaking and little shooting. Burks is as sturdy as they come from long-range.
Secondly, the entire priority for the season can’t be wins. I firmly believe this. Development should still count for the Rockets. Brogdon takes the ball out of Amen Thompson’s hands in a way that Burks doesn’t.
On the other hand, there’s a world where bench shooting isn't even Houston’s biggest priority. If Aaron Holiday and Reggie Bullock are holding down the fort and Jock Landale is struggling, the Rockets might want to target a big.
What kind of options will they have?
Should the Rockets target a backup big?
Two names have been floating around Rockets X (ugh...X): Nicolas Claxton and Robert Williams III.
I’ve had a quote from one of my articles attached to an image that made its way around the internet once. It was me advocating for the Rockets to trade Alperen Sengun and all of the Brooklyn picks for Mikal Bridges and Claxton.
Now I feel like I can’t write about this, but yet, my fingers carry themselves. Let’s just say this:
If the Rockets trade for Claxton, that’s an official change of direction. It’s a declaration that this is the type of big man they want. Claxton is the league’s most versatile defensive big man. He garnered Defensive Player of the Year consideration in 2022-23. If he is a Rocket, he’s not coming to back Alperen Sengun up. Sorry.
He’ll cost a lot more than Oladipo, too. He’d probably cost Oladipo and two of the Nets’ picks back. The Nets could entertain moving him at this year’s deadline if they’re having a tough season. Claxton is due for an extension next summer, and they could be weary of committing to mediocrity.
So could the Indiana Pacers. With that in mind, Myles Turner would be another big game target. The Rockets flagrantly pursued Brook Lopez this summer, so it’s not a wild leap in logic to assume that the floor spacing, rim-protecting package appeals to them.
As for Williams III? He’ll give Sengun some stiff competition, but he wouldn’t be the de facto starter. He may be a little more affordable as well, given his injury history. His relationship with Ime Udoka makes him an intriguing option as well.
On the other hand, if the Rockets would rather spend less to get less, they could look at some more obvious backup options. The Dallas Mavericks have a lot of big men - could Richaun Holmes be available? The Los Angeles Clippers have two starting caliber bigs - perhaps Mason Plumlee will find his way to the trade block.
One more: Kelly Olynyk. There’s some cosmic cohesion in reuniting with a player who didn’t work out, only to flip him for a player who did. Olynyk alleviates some of the spacing concerns, too. He’s not the conventional rim-protecting big that the Rockets may be looking for, but Olynyk does provide some defensive value with his gritty brand of play.
Could he be part of the next era of Rockets basketball?