The one asset the Houston Rockets cannot afford to trade

Could the Houston Rockets land Cooper Flagg next summer?
Could the Houston Rockets land Cooper Flagg next summer? / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

The Houston Rockets finished .500 in 2023-24. They've got the third overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft anyway.

Thank you, Brooklyn Nets.

This is a unique situation. A team as competitive as the Rockets isn't supposed to land a high lottery pick. For some, yielding this asset from the James Harden trade justifies the deal.

Yet, this may not be the biggest prize they receive for Harden. This class is seen as weak. If the Nets land back in the lottery after 2024-25, the Rockets could end up with an awfully big fish without doing the work to wrangle it in.

Houston Rockets could land top prospect next summer

Yes, we're talking about Cooper Flagg.

Who is Flagg? Well, he's a 6'9" wing with remarkable athletic gifts. Flagg profiles as an elite two-way wing.

Flagg is no slouch on the offensive end, either. He's a sturdy enough ball-handler to leverage his height, length, and athleticism to create offense in the halfcourt.

Is he Victor Wembanyama? No - nobody is Victor Wembanyama. Still, Flagg is a special prospect. He probably ranks somewhere between Zion Williamson and Cade Cunningham as a prospect. All eyes will be on the Duke commit when college basketball resumes.

At the same time, there are other players to watch as well.

Houston Rockets could land lottery pick in deep draft

How about Flagg's soon-to-be Duke teammate Khaman Maluach?

Granted, Maluach doesn't have Flagg's offensive polish (although he has shown some ability to space the floor). Still, his defensive potential is tantalizing. Maluach is 7'2" with a 7'5" wingspan and 9'8" standing reach. He also has relatively quick feet that should make him the rare big man who can guard the interior and the perimeter.

Don't like his fit alongside Alperen Sengun? That's fine. Maluach isn't currently viewed as a top-3 prospect in this class. After Flagg, Ace Bailey is seen as the top prize.

Like Flagg, Bailey is a 6'9" wing with top-tier athleticism. He may be a more impressive athlete, even if he has yet to demonstrate Flagg's defensive acumen.

Outside of Flagg, Maluach, and Bailey, prospects like Dylan Harper and Hugo Gonzalez would each have a chance to be picked first in the 2024 draft.

Do you see where we're going with this?

Houston Rockets need to hang onto 2025 Nets pick

We hear your reservations.

How much more time should the Rockets spend developing young players? Isn't it time to invest in the core they have? Besides - this Nets' pick defied the odds by jumping in the lottery. That isn't likely to happen again.

For starters - no, the Rockets aren't done developing young players if better young players are to be had. At the very least, Flagg or Bailey would instantly be viewed as the highest-upside prospect on the Rockets.

Discretion is the better part of valor. The Rockets shouldn't rush into a firm commitment to the players they have until they see if they have an opportunity to land a more exciting young player.

Suppose they trade the 2025 pick for Mikal Bridges. Now, suppose that pick lands first or second. The Rockets will have traded the rights to select Flagg or Bailey - along with more - for Mikal Bridges.

On that note, we don't know if the Nets will suffer in 2024-25. Who knows? They could trade for Donovan Mitchell this summer and destroy our hopes and dreams.

Alternatively, they could trade Bridges to the Knicks for draft capital. The Nets could take something of a "gap year" in 2024-25 and maximize the Rockets' chances of bringing in another blue-chip prospect.

More broadly, can't the Rockets wait one more year? They aren't going to win an NBA title next year whether they trade this pick or keep it. They're likely to be competitive by virtue of internal development even if they don't make a single acquisition.

Next summer, they could be an above.500 team with an opportunity to draft their future franchise player.