The Houston Rockets’ baffling draft shows the direction of the franchise

Houston Rockets Tilman Fertitta (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Tilman Fertitta (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets had a baffling 2020 draft night that saw them trade away a first-round pick to cut salary in a move likely mandated by ownership.

The Houston Rockets draft day contained a string of baffling decisions that did nothing to improve the quality of the roster. The day began with optimism over the direction of the franchise only to reveal that ownership is concerned with everything but basketball.

Earlier in the week, the Rockets traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trailblazers for the 16th overall pick, a 2021 first-round pick, and Trevor Ariza. The move that netted the Rockets the 16th pick inspired optimism that they were looking to restock their asset cupboard, left bare by their trade for Russell Westbrook.

Before the draft even began the Rockets decided a 2020 first-round pick was not necessary for one of the league’s oldest rosters. In a shocking trade, the Rockets sent the newly acquired Trevor Ariza and 16th overall pick to the Detroit Pistons for a highly protected future first-round pick in a move ostensibly to get Ariza off their books.

Ariza’s salary for 2020-21 was $12.8 million but was only guaranteed for $1.8 million. The part that should sting the most for Rockets fans is that Ariza’s small guarantee meant waving him was an easy avenue to cut spending without having to surrender a draft pick.

The decision becomes even stranger when one considers that there could have been a trade market for Ariza. The veteran wing might be towards the end of his career but his robust playoff experience and 3-point shooting could have netted the Rockets a few second-round picks or an interesting young player.

In the end, the flurry of moves by the Rockets resulted in them losing Robert Covington for a 2021 first-round pick, a Pistons’ first-round pick that is top-16 protected for the next four seasons, and about $12 million less in salary commitments for the upcoming season.

While this string of moves looks to be a shrewd avenue to cut cost, the Rockets reversed course the same day when they bought a 2021 second-round pick via the Los Angeles Lakers from the Pistons for $4.6 million. The pick will likely be towards the tail end of the 2021 draft and for reference, $4.6 million is the projected salary for the seventh overall pick.

The real reason the Rockets looked to cut costs

The Rockets had a horrible draft night without making a single pick. The team is not headed towards a rebuild but rather an all-out campaign to cut salary. In a quickly deleted tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta retweeted a post highlighting the Golden State Warriors’ massive $134 million luxury bill tax.

While Tilman Fertitta might loathe paying a luxury-tax figure that high, the fans of the Rockets thought they had an owner that was willing to push the team towards a championship. When ownership decides to cut costs to make their business more profitable they are the only winner.

When a franchise only cares about their bottom line the fans, executives, coaches, and players all lose because, for them, winning basketball games is the only thing that matters. Tilman Fertitta’s bank account won draft day so everyone else in Rockets’ nation had to take the loss.

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