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Here's what a KPJ extension could look like for Houston Rockets

Rockets Kevin Porter Jr
How much is too much to pay Kevin Porter Jr?Composite image by Jack Brame
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The Rockets are on the move. They have drafted well, gotten rid of some bad contracts, and have young guys ready to develop into stars in Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr, Jabari Smith Jr, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and others. Those days of only winning 20 or so games are about to be a distant memory. This coming season, they may even challenge for a play-in spot. At the conclusion of last season, they were 14 games out of the 10th and final play-in spot. Having to overcome the Spurs, Lakers, Kings, Blazers, and Thunder shouldn't be as difficult as it seems. Most of those teams won't be any better this coming season, and some of the other teams that made the playoffs may take steps backwards.

Part of rebuilding a team with young talent means knowing who to offer extensions to, when, and how much. Home teams can offer players a five-year deal, while opposing teams can offer a four-year deal. Enter KPJ. He's going into the final year of his rookie deal. He and the team reportedly have mutual interest in an extension, according to The Athletic. Jae'Sean Tate was the first of this new crop of guys to re-sign. His three year, $20.5 million dollar deal was very team friendly. Tate said he feels home here and took less to stay because he feels this is best for him, and he wants to see things through with the Rockets. While that's a rare idea for a young player to not maximize his earning potential, one can't expect everyone to do so.

KPJ is eligible for a five-year max worth up to $188 million (25% of the cap, with a year on salary of $32.45 million). That most likely won't happen. So what will his extension look like? I could see anywhere from a short term deal in the neighborhood of two to three years, or a full five-year commitment. The length will hinge upon how confident the team is in his ability to be here long term and develop into the role they envision for him. Part of that is contingent upon his attitude taking the full turn for the better, with no more hiccups like he's had in the past.

The monetary value is another thing. To keep it simple, I'll speak in terms of average annual value. Anything in the area of $8-15 million a year says they see him as a role player. $18-20+ million says they see him as a future cornerstone of the franchise moving forward. Green is obviously being positioned as the guy. He will command a full max extension when he's eligible. KPJ seems as if he sees himself in the same light, or at least similarly. Let's look at some of his strengths and weaknesses (shout out to my good friend Tim for his observations):

Strengths: When focused, he's proven he can be a point guard. He's improved his shooting and continues to get better. Good in transition, attacking the basket or getting the ball to a teammate. Good ball handler.

Weaknesses: Has to control his emotions, limit turnovers, and improve defense. Also needs to learn how to be a leader on/off the court.

Final thoughts: I think something to benefit him and the team moving forward would be best. A three-year deal, with a player option for the final year worth $15-20 million per year is fair. This gives him security, gives the team flexibility, and opens the door for a max extension if he proves he's worthy after two years. Jalen Brunson signed for 4yr/$104 million with the Knicks this offseason. That would be the ceiling for KPJ since his career numbers are very similar. The fear of him falling apart gives cause for concern, so does the lack of playoff production, which helped Brunson tremendously. I'd also put a Kyler Murray type clause for him to check in with John Lucas and/or a team approved mentor to keep him on the straight and narrow. He's definitely worth keeping around to see what he can develop into, but not at the cost of the team's goals and detriment of the development of others.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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