Houston Rockets Free Agent Center #5 Nicholas Claxton
In terms of talent and upside, Nicholas Claxton should be ranked higher on the list. However, as a restricted free agent, meaning any offer the Rockets make can be matched by the Nets, he’ll be expensive enough that the Rockets will have to go to great lengths to fit his salary in.
His traditional numbers aren’t captivating. He averaged 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game on 67.4% shooting and has struggled to stay on the court, only playing in 79 of a possible 154 games the past two seasons. However, in the games and minutes Claxton has played, he has been sensational.
He has an offensive rating of 128 over the past two seasons and combines stellar rim protection with the ability to defend in space. He’s a modern pick-and-roll center that can survive switches on defense and be the last line of defense. While he’s not elite at any of the three, he’s good enough that the entire package is a plus.
The price tag for Claxton should be similar to the extension that Robert Williams III got from the Celtics last offseason. Williams landed a four year $47 million deal and then promptly broke out. Claxton hasn’t played as much or produced at the level Williams had, but the Nets basically have no choice but to retain him. The Rockets may pursue him just to try and push the Nets luxury tax bill a bit higher. Outside of the money, there are other obstacles to bringing in Claxton.
Claxton will likely want to start. Next season will be his age 23 season, and coming off consecutive excellent per-minute campaigns, it’s likely he’ll want to see what he can do with close to 30 minutes a night. Bringing in Claxton could force Garuba to the G-League and cut into Alperen Sengun’s minutes and development.
Claxton will likely be better than Alperen Sengun next season, but his role is small, well defined, and unlikely to expand. On the other hand, Sengun’s potential to impact the game on offense so far exceeds what Claxton can do, it’s like comparing the original Pac-Man to Elden Ring. With Claxton, you know what you’re getting, and it’s good but rudimentary. With Sengun, there is a world of possibilities that can range from dreadful to brilliant.
Defensively, Claxton will be better than Sengun, and that might never change, but for a rebuilding team, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to push a precocious 20-year-old down the pecking order to win a few more games with a rim-running center.
Regardless, if the Rockets can land Claxton for a cut-rate deal, they should. Value is value at the end of the day. If I was Rafael Stone, I’d have plenty of contact with Claxton’s agent and float rumors that I was clearing cap space just to make the Nets sweat. When you own another team’s draft, there’s no reason not to twist the knife when you have the chance.