I can’t stop thinking about the situation. You?
It’s honestly just...so....gross. There’s a lot of morality to unpack around the situation too. Not on his end - what he did was unequivocally disgusting. Yes, details are perpetually emerging. It’s possible that his actions weren’t as severe as initially reported. Unless this was all a sick, elaborate prank, that shouldn’t change anything. Kevin Porter Jr. is an abuser.
With that said, there’s moral ambiguity on the Rockets’ end. Even thinking about the basketball implications feels icky (Editor’s note: I’m actually encouraging more basketball implications talk in this situation but will always allow my staff to fully speak their minds). Yet, Rafael Stone has to. His job is on the line here. Stone is in the hot seat. He chose to invest in Porter Jr. Stone vouched for this kid and made him a key part of the Rockets’ plans for 2023-24 and beyond.
I think Rafael Stone has done a solid job as the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. He’s made some extremely shrewd moves, and he’s made some mistakes. Putting stock in Porter Jr. could be the critical error that costs him his career. So we shouldn’t blame him for thinking about how he can remedy this situation. We cannot fault a person for protecting their job. Ownership is expecting results, and without Porter Jr., those results will be harder to deliver.
After all, this roster is now completely devoid of a movement shooter. The Rockets do not have a catch-and-shoot specialist. This is a problem. Winning markedly more games in 2023-24 than they have for the past few seasons was always essential to Stone’s vision. This is the inflection point. If the Rockets are still the butt end of a joke after committing big contracts to Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, Stone will be cast like he who is without first sin.
Is trading him a sin in its own right?
Is a Porter Jr. trade viable - ethically or practically?
Let’s imagine a hypothetical. Imagine that those horrific events never transpired. Now, imagine that instead, Porter Jr. was widely considered to be the worst player in his price range in the NBA. In that event, flipping him and some second-round picks for a (less) overpaid player would be a piece of cake.
Of course, that is not the situation. Any team trading for Porter Jr. would have to consider the optics. He’s a leper, and letting him into your colony is a risky decision.
This is one of those moral grey areas. From a strictly utilitarian point of view, there may not be an ethical issue. Any team acquiring Porter Jr. is going to cut him as soon as they’re legally able to. Woj and Shams will be instructed to make that abundantly clear as soon as the transaction is official. What’s the difference? Here’s what matters, from a moral point of view, in this situation: that Kysre Gondrezick gets the support that she needs, and Porter Jr. gets the punishment he deserves.
It’s been said that the moral wrong in all of this would be Stone benefiting from this incident. Once we start looking at some names here, it feels less like a benefit. Stone is going to trade Porter Jr. and additional assets for a player that’s worse than Porter Jr.- if he’s lucky. Trading him won’t benefit the Rockets - it will only mitigate the damage.
Don’t be naive. The Rockets are a billion-dollar corporation. Their manager isn't going to take the biggest loss that he can because it’s the right thing to do. Like it or not, Stone will trade Porter Jr. if he can find a trade partner.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that teams will be willing to acquire - and instantly cut - Porter Jr. Can Stone find a partner?
Potential trade partners for the Rockets
We’re only going to be looking at movement shooters here. This is by far the most glaring hole in this roster. The Rockets had a shooting problem before Porter Jr. excused himself from the NBA, so they’ve got a massive one now.
Let’s start with targets who should only require second-round picks. The most obvious one is probably Evan Fournier of the New York Knicks. His contract is comparable to Porter Jr.’s. He wants out of New York, and he fell out of New York’s rotation last year. He’s also, like Porter Jr., on an expiring deal. The Knicks would be getting something from nothing - they’re turning a player they don’t use into two or three second-round picks.
Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks is a name that’s floated around. I don’t see it. The Mavericks would probably like to move him, but at the moment, they’re a touch light on shooting as well. He has a meaningful role on this team - if Dallas is looking to move him, they'd probably prefer to be the team attaching picks in an effort to upgrade him.
How about Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat? I know what you’re thinking - the contract. Adjust your thinking.
Hot take alert: no contract under $25 million a season or so is a bad contract anymore. Fans have a habit of viewing contracts through a strict production-per-dollar lens. That’s not precisely how front offices look at them. You could have a player averaging 0.0 points on 0.0 field goal attempts in 0.000001 minutes per game making $16 million a year, and it’s really not an issue.
Why? Because you can combine Joe Zero’s contract with a comparable one, a player on a rookie deal and four first-round picks to trade for a star. “Not if you don’t have the picks”. Sure - but in that case, your problem is that you don’t have the picks.
Miami is low on picks. In a vacuum, they don’t have the capital to trade for a star unless they’re willing to move Tyler Herro. Meanwhile, if you haven’t heard, Miami is looking to trade for a star. Problematically, the Portland Trail Blazers likely don’t have an interest in Herro. Between Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, the only substantial young talent that they have is in the backcourt.
The Rockets could get in on a Damian Lillard deal. For example:
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Porter Jr., Talen Horton-Tucker, Kelly Olynyk, two first-round picks from the Heat, one first-round pick from the Jazz, two second-round picks from the Rockets
Utah Jazz receive: Tyler Herro
Houston Rockets receive: Duncan Robinson
Miami Heat receive: Damian Lillard
Something like that.
The Washington Wizards could host a fire sale. Landry Shamet and Delon Wright work contractually. Personally, I’d have reservations about bringing Wright on board. He’s good, but the point guard minutes are spoken for. Still, a scenario in which the Rockets add Shamet to the rotation and Wright is glued to the back of the bench as an injury insurance policy works.
Otherwise, those are the only targets I’m seeing that could be had with second-round picks. If the Rockets were willing to include a Brooklyn pick, they could aim higher. With that said, moving first-round picks at this juncture is a dangerous game. There are precious few players worth that cost to Houston at this moment in time.
Could the Rockets include a first-round pick?
One of them could be Gary Trent Jr. of the Toronto Raptors. Trent Jr. could honestly be what Porter Jr. was supposed to be, but better. Ime Udoka doesn't need to worry about him trying to commandeer the offense - Trent Jr. is a more committed off-ball player. He’s also a much better defender - Trent Jr. is active and disruptive. Take it from a Canadian Rockets fan - at one point last season, Trent Jr. was leading the league in deflections.
My friends let me know that many, many times.
With that said, it’s doubtful that the Raptors are looking to play ball. Trent Jr. is only 24. The Raptors may go for a soft rebuild, but it doesn't feel like this front office is keen on a multi-year tank job. They may trade Siakam, but they’re likely to keep any quality player in the 25-and-under club.
That’s...really about it in terms of players worth a first-round pick. It’s worth saying that Alec Burks of the Detroit Pistons is a perfect basketball fit. Still, his trade value is a bit nebulous - he’s not quite worth a first, but he’s worth more than a handful of seconds. This probably just doesn't work for either side.
Terry Rozier of the Charlotte Hornets? Too ball-dominant. Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz? Perhaps, but....too ball-dominant. The Rockets need a catch-and-shoot specialist.
They just lost one under the worst imaginable circumstances.