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Rockets 2023-2024 player previews: Jae’Sean Tate

Tate is an x-factor player for the Rockets this year.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the curious case of Jae’Sean Tate. He was a little bit of a lost man last season for the Houston Rockets, spending a lot of time injured and playing in just 31 games on the year, starting seven. It was the first season of a three-year, $22.1 million contract for Tate, and it’s safe to say it was a relative disappoinment.

Consequently, other than the newly arrived Fred VanVleet, Tate might have the highest basketball IQ on the team. He can play and defend multiple positions — legitimately one through four — and is just one of those guys who’s always in the right position to make a play.

Reports at Rockets training camp on Tate have been extremely positive. He’s regularly being named as one of the most impressive guys on the court. But just where exactly does he fit in?

After the likely starting five of VanVleet, Jalen Green, Dillon Brooks, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun, you have Amen Thompson, Tari Eason and Reggie Bullock all in need of minutes at the guard and forward positions. Cam Whitmore will be pushing hard for court time as well.

But what we do know is that new head coach Ime Udoka values defense and heady play, of which Tate has plenty, but it’s going to be one heck of a competition for court time in the second unit. For a team like the Rockets who’ve been bottom feeders three years running, that’s absolutely a good thing.

But it also means that someone isn’t going to be getting the minutes that they want. To start, the 27-year-old Tate is going to be given every opportunity to shine, but Bullock didn’t sign here to not play, Eason will certainly earn his minutes, while Thompson and Whitmore might just be too good to not play by the end of the season. And with VanVleet and Brooks aboard, they’re the new lead elder statesmen.

Does that make Tate expendable?

He would seem like a logical candidate to be traded should the Rockets be looking to make a deal. He’s not quite on the same timeline as the rest of the Houston core, he has a friendly contract with a third-year team option, and he’d be a fantastic add for a team on a playoff run in need of some intangibles to put them over the hump.

But Tate might simply be too valuable to this young Rockets squad, and at least out of the gate, look for him to be snagging around 20-25 minutes per night until Udoka sees how the young guys in both the first and second units are going to shake out. Luckily for Tate, he fits in just about any role.