The Rockets’ suboptimal-primes
The three players the Rockets employ who are in their primes are Garrison Mathews (26), Jae’Sean Tate (27), and Bruno Fernando (24). All three are solid bench players but would struggle to crack just about any starting lineup. There’s a reason the Rockets stink, and a large reason is the players who are the right age to carry a team cannot, under any circumstance, carry a team.
While Mathews and Fernando are bench players wherever they go, Tate has been a reliable starter when healthy and is clearly the best of the bunch, but being the cream of the Rockets’ prime-aged crop is like being the valedictorian at home school. While none of the Rockets’ prime-aged trio are difference makers, they wouldn’t be out of place on a playoff-caliber team’s rotation.
By the time the Rockets are a playoff team, Mathews, Fernando, and Tate will likely be entering or about to enter free agency. As career role players, the time to shop them could be now, and because they’re on shrewd contracts, they all could be attractive trade candidates to contenders. The Rockets are going nowhere this season, and it would be wise to explore the trio’s trade prospects.
How attractive are Mathews, Fernando, and Tate in trade?
Fernando and Mathews are on minuscule contracts for the next few seasons that have essentially no guaranteed money left. These are the best type of contracts because they allow for maximum roster flexibility. It’s not that the production is free (although in NBA terms, it’s close). It’s that there is absolutely no risk in rostering them. If they bomb or a better player becomes available, they’re first in line to hit the chopping block. Being a marginal player in the NBA is a great job, but it is also perilous.
Tate’s contract is much larger but only pays him $6.5 million next season before a $7 million team option. For a contender in need of a versatile defender, Tate is an excellent option. The only hole in Tate’s game is the lack of a 3-point shot, which is a big hole for a non-center role player. Still, every team needs a player like Tate to absorb high-intensity defensive responsibilities.
If any of Mathews, Tate, or Fernando were made available, half of the league would make calls. Depth is crucial to weathering the regular season, and with the way the standings are shaping up, one more win could be the difference between a home playoff series in round one and the play-in.