Here's how the Houston Rockets can still score big in the NBA Draft

The Rockets have plenty of draft capital to play with. Composite Getty Image.

The NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone and the Houston Rockets fell just a number short of winning the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

With the intrastate rival San Antonio Spurs coming out of Tuesday holding on to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Rockets came away with the No. 4 overall selection. The Charlotte Hornets took the No. 2 overall pick and the Portland Trail Blazers ended up with the third overall pick.

While not winning the lottery stings for Houston, the results give the Rockets flexibility in terms of what they can do in the draft. They could stick with the pick and select from a plethora of talent, or they could be aggressive and choose to trade up to select either Alabama forward Brandon Miller or G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson.

Here is what Houston could package in a deal to Charlotte if the Rockets feel inspired by the Houston Texans and opt to move up and get their guy at No. 2.

Firstly, why Charlotte and not Portland, who sits at No. 3? The main reason for it is that the Trail Blazers, despite the lackluster 2022-23 season, are looking to get back up to championship contention in 2023-24 in what could be the last attempt to win with star guard Damian Lillard.

Because of Portland’s mindset, it would be less inclined to be enticed by future draft capital in a deal. When you look at Houston’s current roster there is also not a player the Rockets can include in a deal that would instantly jump the Trail Blazers into the contention conversation.

While Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Alperen Şengün could be impact players for Portland, the Rockets likely don’t want to trade anyone from that group of players either, at least its pairing of Green and Smith.

So the focus now turns to the Hornets. Charlotte has a perennial star in LaMelo Ball on its roster already, but the team is in much more dire need of adding as much talent as possible.

The non-negotiable that will need to be included in the deal is Houston’s No. 4 overall pick. That is a no-brainer. The Rockets also own the Los Angeles Clippers’ pick (No. 20 overall) that could also be included in a potential trade with the Hornets.

While the Rockets no longer control their own draft picks in 2024, 2025 and 2026 due to the Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul trade in 2019, they do own the Brooklyn Nets’ 2024 and 2026 first-round picks.

A package of the No. 4 overall pick, the No. 20 overall pick in 2023 and either Şengün, Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae'Sean Tate or one of the Nets’ 2024 or 2026 first-round picks should be enough to get the Hornets’ attention.

In exchange, the Rockets can add Henderson, who averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game in the G League last season. They can also take Miller, who put together 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest for the Crimson Tide in college.

While it is a hefty price to move up, the Rockets would have secured its core of three players in Green, Smith and whoever they take at No. 2 in this scenario, and they can add on from there in the future through free agency and trades.

If Houston believes the final piece to its core is available at No. 2, then no price is too big. With the Rockets set on phase two, the flexibility they have is an interesting luxury.

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The Rockets will pick fourth overall. Composite Getty Image.

Heartbreak. Pain. Disappointment. Letdown. Hurt. Pissed. Whatever adjective you want to use would be appropriate to describe how just about every Rockets fan felt when learning the team got the fourth overall pick in the NBA's Draft Lottery. Everybody and their momma wanted to win the draft lottery. Myself, I simply wanted a top three pick. That's why coming in fourth was ulcer-inducing.

First off, let's come to a realization. Drafting at number four overall isn't a death knell. This team still has cap space (about $60 million dollars). They also own the Clippers' first rounder this year. Oh, and this roster has a few key pieces already in place. Hiring Ime Udoka as head coach is a step in the right direction. That direction? Clearly it's time to start competing for playoff spots.

Secondly, if they decide to stay at number four overall, they are in a position to still draft a really talented player that can help this roster. Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson, Jarace Walker, and Cason Wallace are among the candidates for that slot. There may be a couple others in the running. Opinions will vary on whom most see as the next best candidate. This will largely depend on how they view the roster moving forward. Making use of the cap space to bring in a high dollar free agent will only add to what's already here. Finding the right prospect will be more difficult in this position.

Another option out there is trading the pick. Packaging this pick, along with anything else, to lure a superstar player here would be ideal. Teams will undoubtedly have interest in not only the number four overall pick, but there are a few nice players on this roster other teams would love to have as well. Figuring out who you're willing to part with in order to bring in another player can be tricky. It'll be well worth it if the team can attract the perfect fit for the pieces they keep.

The other trade option would be pulling a “Caserio.” A “Caserio” is when you shock the system and trade up into a draft when people don't really see it coming. Take number four and pair it with the Clippers pick and other assets to get the number two or three pick. Hell, I'd be okay with adding future picks to make it happen. The Spurs WILL NOT trade number one and the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama! Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller are the clear-cut numbers two and three (in whatever order you feel). Either one of those guys would be a great addition and well worth the risk.

Going into the draft lottery, a top three pick was where my head and heart merged. Getting number one overall was a lost cause. The Rockets have had more shots over the last few years and have never gotten it. Last time, it was 2002 when they got Yao Ming. Prior to that, it was 1984 and Hakeem Olajuwon. Somehow, the Spurs have won the draft lottery three times (1987, 1997, 2023). The fact that Wemby is French and fellow countrymen (and HOFer) Tony Parker is a former Spur isn't lost on me. Neither is the fact that I still believe the NBA is sort of shadow-penalizing the Rockets for Daryl Morey's China outburst.

Tilman Fertitta didn't become as successful as he is by luck. He's a very shrewd businessman who doesn't like losing. These past few seasons have been tough. The hiring of Udoka was a sign that the process is going into the next phase: winning. Securing the number four overall pick will be seen as an annoyance more than a hindrance if everything else is executed properly. I don't know about you guys, but I'm still excited. Moderately upset, but still excited.

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