If James Harden’s departure marked a new direction for the Rockets, Wednesday’s PJ Tucker trade was the final confirmation. Eric Gordon is the only member of Houston’s 2018 conference finals team still on the roster. The Rockets are firmly in asset acquisition mode as we approach the trade deadline of March 25, a sea change from where they were a season ago. Life on the other side of the Harden era isn’t exactly glamorous.
Tucker will join the Bucks later this week, with DJ Wilson and DJ Augustin returning to Houston. The Rockets will likely trade their 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee’s first-round pick, and Houston will now also have the Bucks’ first-round pick in 2023 instead of 2022. This deal may not be a box office hit. but it could have a remarkable impact. impact in 2020-21 and beyond.
So how did Houston fare in his second major trade of the season? Let’s rate the deal.
Milwaukee Bucks: A-
It’s a worthwhile gamble for the Bucks to assume that Tucker will be better than he has been so far in 2020-21. The 35-year-old is averaging 4.4 points per game, a career low, this season with just 36.6 percent shooting from the field, sinking into production as the Rockets plummet through the standings. But Tucker’s disgusting numbers so far don’t necessarily mean this is a seriously declining player. He hasn’t exactly been the most committed Rocket this season. Houston’s decimated roster has often left Tucker with a shortage of players creating open 3s, a problem that should be quickly mitigated as he takes the floor with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Tucker is at his best as a companion piece. It’s not going to raise a bad offense. But with the right stars running the show, Tucker should get back closer to the efficient 3 and D option that he was before the Harden switch.
As for the cost of Milwaukee’s incorporation, it’s hard to dispute what he gave up considering the stakes. Going from near the end of the first round, where the Bucks’ pick will likely fall, to an early second-round pick in 2021 is almost irrelevant. Augustin’s playmaking isn’t that important with Holiday in the fold, and Wilson dropped out of the rotation due to no blowouts in January. Tucker may not change his season, but he is worth the modest price that Milwaukee eventually paid.
The Bucks are firmly in end or fall mode in 2021, even if they know Antetokounmpo will be in it for the long haul. They sacrificed a horde of selections to acquire Holiday. Why go back now? Tucker could make a difference in a playoff game as he protects Kevin Durant or James Harden down the stretch. He could get hurt by Joel Embiid in a pinch, or follow Bam Adebayo at key moments. Even if Tucker’s offensive decline is real, his defensive impact is still valuable. Get one for the Bucks in the Eastern Conference arms race.
Houston Rockets: B +
what a difference a year makes. Rather than chasing a ring with notable acquisitions, Houston is now trying to rebuild itself on the margins, amassing selection capital and intriguing young talent whenever possible. Going from a fringe contender in the Finals to 17 straight losses is a jarring turn. However, it appears that the Rockets are indeed taking the right steps as they begin an arduous rebuilding.
The costs of keeping a perennial contender in the Western Conference put Houston in a small hole in the post-Harden era. The Rockets sacrificed two first-round picks and two pick trades in the Russell Westbrook trade, an unfortunate step that, in hindsight, started the cycle that led to Harden’s departure. Faced with a draft deficit, general manager Rafael Stone has taken a new direction.
The Rockets received three first-round picks and four picks trades from the Nets in the Harden trade. Wednesday’s deal will generate another first round, as well as a great playable player in Wilson. A Victor Oladipo trade feels increasingly likely before the end of March, and even if held to the deadline, Houston would be well served by making Oladipo a huge trade exception and perhaps another young player before the agency. free. Houston is likely to be a couple of years away from a playoff spot unless it wins the rights to Cade Cunningham. Taking a long-term vision and building a war chest of selections is the only real way to go.
This season has been one of the most tumultuous in franchise history, with a decade of superstar drama preceding a sad losing streak. However, the situation is not as bleak as the current series of losses would suggest. Christian Wood is a legitimate offensive force with a relatively cheap contract. Kevin Porter Jr. appears to be a leading future playmaker, showing the slightest hint of Harden early if he squints long enough. Stone has demonstrated the ability to make smart moves on the margins in the same way as its predecessor. With the proper lottery luck, the Rockets could return to pursuit of the playoffs without a prolonged absence.
Will Wednesday’s deal change the future of the franchise? That is unlikely. But the accumulation of smart decisions can alter the path of a team. If the Rockets continue to acquire young picks and talents, this miserable season could pay dividends down the road.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.