The Houston Rockets are in the early stages of a rebuild that will rely heavily on the draft. Due to the James Harden trade, the team owns the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick in the 2022, 2024, and 2026 drafts as well as the right to swap their pick with Brooklyn in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027.
While these picks remain on the horizon, the 2021 draft is right around the corner and will be the first time the Rockets make a selection in the first-round since 2015 when they selected Sam Dekker. If the franchise is to once again become a perennial contender it all starts with the decisions they’ll make on draft night.
The 2021 draft could see the Rockets secure three first-round picks due to various trades. However, the likelihood that all three convey remains incredibly low at this juncture in the season. Let’s take a quick look at where the Rockets’ 2021 draft stands right now.
The Houston Rockets’ pick
The Houston Rockets first-round pick has the right to be swapped with the Oklahoma City Thunder because of their trade for Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2019. However, the swap is not simply tied to the Thunder due to another trade that sent the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick to Oklahoma City.
The Rockets have a top-four protection on their 2021 first-round pick, which looks unlikely to factor much into the equation. The Rockets may not make the playoffs but they probably won’t be so far down the standings that they’ll land a top-four pick.
With that in mind, the Thunder have the rights to the two best picks of the three between themselves, the Heat, and the Rockets with the worst of the three heading to Houston. At the end of the day, the Rockets will have a first-round pick although they could end up selecting in the spot initially intended for the Miami Heat.
Rockets fans should keep an eye out on the standings throughout the season to see where these picks could land. Miami has been poor but is finally getting healthy and still have most of the team that made a run to the NBA Finals just last summer.
The Thunder have been better than expected this season but they have solid veterans on the roster propping their play up that they’ll look to move to spearhead a move down the standings. If the Rockets keep their pick then they’ll have been better than the Heat this season, but if not they’ll end up with Miami’s.
The Detroit Pistons’ pick
The Rockets acquired the Detroit Pistons’ 2021 first-round pick on last year’s draft-day as part of the Christian Wood sign and trade. The pick is top-16 protected with protections all the way out until 2027. Unless the Pistons make the most dramatic turnaround in the history of the NBA the Rockets will be waiting for this pick to convey for a long time.
The Trail Blazers’ pick
As part of the Robert Covington trade, the Rockets landed the Trail Blazers 2021 first-round pick with a lottery (top-14) protection. The Blazers look like a playoff team which means they’ll likely be sending this pick to the Rockets. If you’re a Rockets fan root for the Blazers to make the playoffs but fizzle out quickly.
The Nets’ pick swap
The final piece to the Rockets’ first-round puzzle is the pick swap they have with the Brooklyn Nets. The swap has very little chance of conveying because the Nets look poised for a deep playoff run.
However, any of the picks the Rockets have coming their way can be swapped with Brooklyn’s. What this means is if the Trail Blazers or Heat end up with a worse pick than the Nets then the Rockets could swap that selection for the Brooklyn pick.
Chances are that won’t happen as the Nets appear to be the best of the three teams but stranger things have happened. All things considered, the Rockets should enter the 2021 draft with two picks that are outside of the lottery.
The 2021 draft is viewed as a strong draft and the Rockets could take two shots at landing a franchise player or package the picks to move up and grab a more glamorous prospect. Either way, it’ll be nice to have two shots in the first-round after sitting it out for the past half-decade.