Do rockets really rebuild quickly?

Rome was not built in a day. By the way, she was not an NBA dynasty.

Of course, it is easier to destroy than to create. From this perspective, building an NBA team is like building a house of cards. It requires a steady and patient hand.

Unless, of course, you’re in the finals of the World Card Building Championships (WHCBC?), it’s a quick run. Is there a clock ticking in the rebuilding of the Houston Rockets?

In the grand scheme, it wasn’t long since Daryl Morey was at the helm of this organization, treating first-round picks as if they were gym tickets and collecting plush toys. To his credit, he was almost working.

Even James Harden called for a trade. The rest is history. Exit Harden, enter seven first-round picks or pick trade-offs. Exit Mori, enter the stone. Missiles now resemble a former Soviet block: they have changed radically, but traces of the past remain.

Monuments like the Capital Project team are still indebted to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Will the missile tank stop rolling after next season?

These outbound picks are one of the reasons many Rockets fans feel this rebuild is running on a fast schedule. They owe Thunder their pick of 2024 with the top four protections, and next year’s pick with the top 10 protections.

Missiles have already cheated death once. The 2021 pick that was (happily) used to pick Jalen Green had the same flimsy protection in the top four. If one lottery ball bounces differently, Alperin Sengon’s star potential will be an even more important issue for this club.

Not many Rockets fans would like to play this game of chicken again. The logic is that the team should be competitive before the 2023-24 season. After all, it’s better to throw the Thunder at 18th overall than give them a 5th overall pick, right?

Last next season, the Rockets’ fortunes were tied to the Brooklyn Nets. There is nothing they can do to force the nets to collapse from within (unless you are a staunch believer in transfiguration). It’s a compelling reason to start winning basketball games.

One of two compelling reasons.

Missiles ready for cover space

It is easy to confuse chance with fate. Missiles stop controlling their support after next season. It’s the same point where the lid space opens.

It seems like a critical juncture. A moment in history when course is irreversibly changed. John Wall got off the books, on the condition that his situation remained unresolved up to this point. Eric Gordon has a team option. It’s safe to assume that at $20.917,902 the Rockets won’t pick it up.

The facts overwhelmingly point in one direction: the tank stops after the 2022-23 season. The Rockets risk losing their picks for two consecutive seasons. They will be armed to the teeth with cover space. There would be no reason not to use it, right?

Not so fast.

The missiles must continue on the path

I’m not suggesting that the Rockets’ goal is to be bad next season, exactly. I’m just suggesting that the stakes are not as high as it might seem.

First, a look at the 2023 Free Agency category provides a bit of inspiration. LeBron James would be in the market, but he rejected the Rockets when they were both bona fide rivals. James Harden’s reunion becomes possible when he reaches free agency, but he’s already showing signs of waning: Will he be a $40 million man by 2023-24?

Nikola Jokic leads the class, and of course it would be a dream to sign for the Rockets. However, the hope of signing a permanent Best Player nominee falls short of the plan. The Rockets will be one of 30 teams wanting to take over the Serbian mega man that summer.

Otherwise, the market is completely naked. I’m not very Kyrie Irving’s signature, and not just because I’m happy to ignore Ted Cruz. Bradley Beal would be available if he didn’t extend to Washington, but Galen Green will (hopefully) get close to his playing level at that point.

To attract any of those free customers, Rocket will have to be more competitive next year. As distressing as it may be to hear that, there will be benefits in one additional season as well. The 2023 draft is likely to be historic.

Victor Wimpinyama leads the class. The French phenomenon seems to be the end point of the emerging archetype of slender, mobile adults with guarding skills. Rockets fans who still bemoan Evan Mobley will be acquitted if team Chet Holmgren misses out on finding themselves in a position to recruit Wimpanyama.

Scott Henderson is not far behind. Some Rockets fans may still feel attached to our current silence, but Henderson is already a dominant force in the G-League at the age of 18. He looks like Russell Westbrook if he got into the mind of Rajon Rondo on some kind of disingenuous science experiment.

Other than that, quality prospects like Dariq Whitehead, Amari Bailey, and Derrick Lively all spark intrigue, not to mention anyone else who shows up now and then.

Nothing which means that the missiles Need For tanks next season either. In some ways, that’s the beauty of their situation. Missiles don’t need to do anything.

A lot will be determined by the lottery lock. Jabari Smith Jr. and Paulo Banchero look NBA ready: Drafting for either of them could push the Rockets into play next season. In this case, they may start looking for a free agency or trade for a disgruntled star.

On the other hand, Holmgren may be a long-term project. If that’s the case, and the Rockets land him, perhaps their fans will be tracking lottery odds more than rankings again next season. The same could be true if they slipped in the lottery. Players like Keegan Murray and Adrian Griffin Jr. As long-term pros, they don’t seem like players who can change the fortunes of the franchise overnight.

Which is fine. Rockets have one specific cornerstone in Galen Green. Moving a single lottery pick to Thunder wouldn’t be the end of the world if they had one or two more by the time that happened. What is more important than when here it is how. Specifically, how strong will the Rockets be when they are ready to compete again?

Hopefully it’s strong enough that it can’t be destroyed easily.

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