When the Houston Rockets landed the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft there was a small sense that the franchise had missed out. After winning three fewer games than the next worst team in the league, no franchise needed the first overall pick more than the Rockets did.
Not to mention, the presumed no. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, is from Texas, and Rockets fans were dreaming of cosmic forces conjuring up a homecoming. Unfortunately, the draft lottery didn’t go their way and the Detroit Pistons landed the no. 1 pick and presumably Cade Cunningham as well. However, a small ray of hope has opened up.
According to Jonathan Giovanny of ESPN and Draft Express, there are some teams that believe that the Detroit Pistons might be receptive to the idea of trading down to no. 2 and selecting either Evan Mobley or Jalen Green. Suddenly, the Rockets’ have an avenue to land the draft’s best prospect and keep him in his home state. The allure might be too much for the Rockets to pass up, but here are three reasons why they should not trade up to no. 1.
Reason no. 3 why the Houston Rockets shouldn’t trade up to no.1 in NBA Draft: It could be a smokescreen
NBA front offices are not known for their adherence to honesty. Trades get nixed or altered due to problematic medicals, teams routinely break anti-tampering rules, and sometimes they outright lie to their fans, the media, and the players and coaches they employ.
The idea that the Pistons are open to trading the no. 1 pick isn’t far-fetched, but their open-for-business sign might be more of an open for information sign. If the Pistons want to add to their internal evaluations of the draft’s top prospects, what better way is there to put a for-sale sign on the first pick?
Depending on the teams and offers they receive they’ll have a good idea of how teams view Cunningham, Green, Mobley, and potentially Jalen Suggs. The Rockets shouldn’t give the Pistons any information that they’ve spent months acquiring. The NBA isn’t Game of Thrones, but don’t be naive, treachery between front offices is a constant.
Reason no. 2 why the Houston Rockets shouldn’t trade up to no.1 in NBA Draft: They’ll have to give up assets
For the Rockets to land the no. 1 pick they’d have to send Detroit the second pick and likely some more. When the Sixers traded up from no. 3 to no. 1 with the Boston Celtics in 2017 they also had to surrender another first-round pick.
While that pick ended up being the 14th pick in the 2019 draft, there were multiple chances for it to end up being a top-five pick. Boston got lucky when they selected Jayson Tatum at no.3, but after that, they were incredibly unlucky to only land the 14th pick.
The Rockets would likely have to give up a strong asset to move up one spot. For a franchise that still has two first-round picks and a swap headed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s way, giving up a quality draft pick just doesn’t make sense.
Reason no. 1 why the Houston Rockets shouldn’t trade up to no.1 in NBA Draft: If Detroit isn’t sold on Cade, the Rockets shouldn’t be either
While the first pick in the draft usually ends up being the best player, if the team with it is willing to trade down then that should send off alarm bells. It doesn’t necessarily mean that player is a bust, but it does indicate that there is high-end talent elsewhere.
If the Pistons are willing to trade the first pick, then they aren’t sold that Cade Cunningham is the best player in the draft. With reports that Cunningham will only work out for the Pistons, the Rockets should worry if Detroit opens up for business.
It also means that the Pistons view Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, or Jalen Suggs as better prospects than Cunningham. The Rockets are in a good position to land a franchise-altering player at no. 2. Landing the no. 1 pick would have been a dream come true, but sometimes coming in second can be a blessing in disguise.