The Houston Rockets are staring down a roster crunch. The team currently has 19 players under contract, plus Trevor Hudgins on a two-way. While teams are allowed to roster 20 players in the offseason, when the season starts, that number needs to be trimmed to 15.
Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun, Kevin Porter Jr., Tari Eason, Jae’Sean Tate, Usman Garuba, Josh Christopher, Garrison Mathews, and TyTy Washington should factor into the Rockets' plans in 2022-23. However, that leaves Bruno Fernando, Trevor Hudgins, Daishen Nix, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Boban Marjanovic, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Kenyon Martin Jr., and Eric Gordon competing for the final five roster spots.
Hudgins is likely to be sent to the G-League, but that will still leave the Rockets four players over the maximum. Nix’s contract is guaranteed for $1.6 million this season, so he’d have to really flounder to be released, but the remaining eight players should all be trade or release candidates.
Instead of releasing a player and losing them for nothing, the Rockets should work hard to find their excess players a new home. These are four trades the Rockets need to make before the start of the season.
Trade #4: David Nwaba
David Nwaba has slowly fallen down the pecking order in Houston, but that doesn’t mean he’s a useless player. Nwaba is a defensive specialist on a team that lacks a true offensive force. On a contender with an elite or multiple elite offensive players, Nwaba could slot in a multi-positional defensive wing. His 3-point shot, except for 20 games in 2019-20, has been far below league average, but he is a smart cutter and only takes high-value shots. Nwaba won’t get a haul back, but he deserves to be on a team that has more use for his talents.
Trade #3: Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjanović
The four quarters to Christian Wood’s dollar all need to find new homes. Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, and Boban Marjanović are all veterans that could help a playoff team as the ninth or tenth man and don’t figure to play much as the Rockets hand the keys to the kids. Marquese Chriss is the youngest of the group but has seen his star fade after being selected eighth overall in the 2016 draft.
While keeping Boban would be tremendous for the locker room and the fans, he’s one of the funniest and best actors in the NBA, the Rockets shouldn’t shy away from finding the NBA’s favorite giant a new stomping ground. Sterling Brown had a successful season with the Rockets in 2020-21, but he’s a smaller guard who is coming off his worst 3-point shooting season. Trey Burke is a low-end backup point guard that could attract some interest for a contender looking for depth.
Trade #2: Kenyon Martin Jr.
While the first two trades featured veterans who have more value to a contender, Kenyon Martin Jr. is a young player who looks likely to be squeezed for minutes after the Rockets bolstered their wing rotation in the draft. Martin Jr. is a fan favorite and a great energy player with some upside, but he remains far away from being a starting caliber player.
Martin, through his father and backchannels, has expressed interest in a trade away from the Rockets. He won’t command a first-round pick, but it’s likely that the Rockets could get more than a protected second-round pick for him as well.
The Rockets don’t need to trade Martin, but they also should do right by him to help build their cache with players around the league. Players talk, and cheap and domineering organizations that forget that players are humans and not vectors for basketball production can find themselves on the short end of free agency and trades if their reputation has been tarnished.
Trade #1: Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon, if he isn’t traded, will likely feature heavily for the Rockets. He’s the final holdover from the James Harden-led teams that almost broke through the Golden State Warriors juggernaut, but he deserves one more chance to chase a ring. Gordon has been awesome in Houston and has been nothing less than a true professional.
The Kevin Durant trade saga has likely held up Gordon’s market as teams interested in his services are presumably also chasing Durant. Once that situation is sorted, expect trade rumors to heat up. Gordon’s 3-point shooting gravity and secondary ball handling are a perfect compliment next to a superstar. Due to his age and salary, the return for Gordon is unlikely to blow away Rockets fans, but doing right by Gordon should be the franchise’s main priority.