Five games into the Houston Rockets' 2023-24 campaign, one thing has been blatant: the Rockets need a rim-protecting big man. The Rockets tried to proactively eliminate this roster need in free agency by going after Brook Lopez, but were spurned and left at the altar.
Lopez ultimately agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the Rockets scrambling. Rockets GM Rafael Stone ultimately assembled a makeshift rotation of big men, as the team signed Jeff Green and Jock Landale, but there's one big issue with that.
Neither of them can do what Lopez does, especially on the defensive end.
It's largely been a foregone conclusion that the Rockets will eventually go after a big man capable of being a defensive anchor, considering Rockets coach Ime Udoka's penchant for defensive superiority.
Enter Robert Williams, who played for Udoka as a member of the Boston Celtics, and was expected to be a Defensive Player of the Year finalist in 2022 before injuring his left knee. Williams returned in time for the playoffs before having arthroscopic knee surgery in the 2022 offseason, which sidelined him for a good chunk of the 2022-23 season.
This summer, Williams was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers alongside Malcolm Brogdon in exchange for Jrue Holiday, which was essentially an extension of the Damian Lillard trade. After six games, Williams will be sidelined yet again, due to a drastic knee injury that he suffered in Sunday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Rockets' hopes of landing defensive big is dealt major blow, yet again
It's unknown what timeline Williams could be looking at and exactly what surgical procedure he'll need. But what's known is that whenever Williams returns, he'll need time to ramp back up and get back into game shape.
And considering his history of injury to his lower extremities, we should expect him to take his time, rather than rushing back to recovery. In other words, Williams will no longer be a trade target for the Rockets this season.
Which is unfortunate, because his ability to thrive in the zone around the basket would be beneficial for the Rockets, not to mention him being one of the league's top defensive enforcers at the age of 26.
And Udoka knows how to get the most out of Williams, as he averaged 10 points, 9.6 rebounds, and two blocks in his lone season with the Rockets coach, which also happened to be his only year as a starter.
Now, the Rockets will be forced to pivot if they intend to address their need for a rim-protecting big man, for the second time in just four months.