The Houston Rockets have made it known that they believe they've progressed through the initial stage of their rebuild. Phase one, as it's been phrased, consisted of tearing down the roster and undergoing an organizational overhaul, if you will.
As a result, the franchise went 59-177 over the last three seasons, winning just 25 percent of their games. But being in the dregs of the league isn't all bad, as it landed them Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen Green, two young elite talents that are easily pillars and franchise cornerstones.
The Rockets knew they'd also need to hire a proven, established coach after parting ways with Stephen Silas, and went out and paid a hefty price for Ime Udoka (north of $7 million annually), who came off the Gregg Popovich coaching tree and led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his only season at the helm. The Rockets will now look to spend big this summer to go star hunting, which should be easy as the franchise is equipped with an arsenal of draft picks by way of the James Harden trade to the Brooklyn Nets, not to mention roughly $61 million in cap space.
The Rockets could start by plucking the Udoka tree and looking for former players of his that could be attainable. At the top of that list sits Jaylen Brown, the Celtics' two-time All-Star who averaged 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists this past season.
Why the Rockets should be keeping a close eye on the All-NBA selections
Brown is entering the final year of a $106 million contract extension and is surely looking to get paid. And the Celtics certainly don't want to lose the 9th-leading scorer if they can prevent it.
But whether or not he makes the All-NBA team could be the biggest factor in the Rockets' ability to pry him away from Boston, as long-time NBA insider Marc Stein explained (subscription required).
"The Celtics’ ability to re-sign Jaylen Brown, as he enters the final year of his current contract, would undoubtedly be enhanced if Brown makes one of the three All-NBA teams and qualifies for a five-year contract extension that would creep toward $300 million."
Stein continued, elaborating on the role the Rockets could play in bringing the 26-year-old Brown to Houston.
"Boston might need that ability to put an outrageous extension on the table now that the Rockets, with wads of projected salary-cap space and no shortage of ambition after the three worst seasons in club history, have just hired a coach in Udoka whom Brown has openly praised."
The latter part is pivotal, as Brown has been a staunch supporter of Udoka, especially after the suspension.
"I hope Ime is doing well. I haven’t talked to him, but I hope he gets another chance coaching again. There were some conflictions on the information that was kind of going around and stuff like that…that has put some dirt on his name. It's a lot.
So, whether you stood on this side or this side, they was going to find wrong from a coach that I advocated to bring here to Boston. I wanted to see him back on his feet here, no matter what it was. I don’t think that’s the wrong thing to feel."
Adding one of the league's best two-way players in Brown would reunite Udoka with a familiar face, while also helping the franchise add reinforcements on the defensive end, which would be a welcome add to a team that ranked 29th in defensive efficiency in each of the last two years.
In addition, Brown would add a much-needed veteran presence for a team that had an average age of 23.5 years heading into the 2022-23 season. Brown had previously voiced his frustrations with living in the city of Boston, citing challenges that he's encountered during his time there.
"Even being an athlete, you would think that you’ve got a certain amount of influence to be able to have experiences, to be able to have some things that door open a little bit easier. But even with me being who I am, trying to start a business, trying to buy a house, trying to do certain things, you run into some adversity.”
Brown had more to say about a Celtics fanbase that can be toxic at times, as he coined it.
"It is a part of the fan base that exists within Celtic nation that is problematic. If you have a bad game, they tie it to your personal character.
I definitely think there’s a group or an amount within the Celtic nation that is extremely toxic and does not want to see athletes use their platform, or they just want you to play basketball and entertain and go home. And that’s problematic to me.”
If Brown doesn't make any of the All-NBA teams, the Rockets could grant him an opportunity to change jerseys by way of trade.