Here's why the Rockets next move must start with this critical first step

Here's why the Rockets next move must start with this critical first step
The team is reportedly interested in dealing Wood. Composite image by Jack Brame.
Rafael Stone , Christian Wood, Stephen Silas

Last Saturday night, at halftime of another Rockets blowout loss, guard Kevin Porter Jr. decided that was an excellent time to throw a temper tantrum and get into a shouting match with respected Rockets assistant coach John Lucas. Porter Jr. left the arena at halftime and went home. We don’t know if he took his ball with him.

Earlier that New Year’s Eve, forward Christian Wood missed a mandatory Covid testing window, showed up late for warmups, was taken out of the starting lineup, scored no points in eight minutes in the first half and later refused to sub into the game. The Rockets lost, 124-111, to the Denver Nuggets at home in Toyota Center.

Yeah, this was exactly what head coach Stephen Silas and the plummeting Rockets, owners of the worst record in the NBA's Western Conference, in the throes of a seven-game losing streak, needed. Silas promptly suspended the two idiot players for the next game Monday night, which turned out to be another lopsided loss, 133-113, to the Philadelphia 76’ers.

What were Porter Jr. and Wood possibly thinking? These bad actors aren’t veteran superstars who wield power with the owner and can get a coach fired. In fact, in Porter Jr.’s case, he couldn’t have picked a worse coach to mess with. Lucas is respected by the NBA universe. He’s a hard-ass, no-nonsense figure. He reportedly laid into several Rockets players, including Porter Jr. and Wood at halftime, after the Rockets gave up 47 points in the second quarter.

Porter Jr., 21, was a first-round draft pick (No. 30) by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019. He promptly was traded to Cleveland and was suspended during his rookie season for making contact with an official. The following year, he was arrested on a weapons charge, which was later dropped. Last year, after Porter Jr. threw a locker room tantrum, the Cavs announced they would either trade Porter Jr. or release him. The Rockets acquired him for a future second-round pick.

Wood, 26, went undrafted in 2015. He has played for six teams during his six years in the NBA, with a few visits to the G League along the way. He has a reputation for being pouty and moody. Earlier this year, the Rockets were rumored to be offering Wood in a trade.

According to media reports, the Rockets intend to keep Porter Jr. and deal with his anger issues. The team is interested in dealing Wood, despite his trade value diminished by this latest episode.

It’s time for Silas and the coaching staff to take charge and lock down the locker room. That’s the first step toward respectability. Because right now, this team is a rudderless clown show and Silas’ nice guy personality isn’t offering any promise of a brighter future.

Lucas is just the guy to play bad cop. To be honest, I’m scared of Lucas and he’s not even the boss of me.

I have history with John Lucas. Several years ago, I played in a media doubles tennis tournament. During one round, a local newscaster, it might have been Linda Lorelle, and I played Lucas and his partner. Lucas hit a kick serve at me that burrowed into the clay court then bounced over my head wide right. I had never seen a serve like that. It defied physics. I jumped at the ball and swung and whiffed. I was embarrassed and awestruck at the same time.

In addition to being an All-American basketball player at Maryland and the NBA’s overall first draft pick in 1976, Lucas was an All-American tennis player and two-time ACC singles champion. He played pro tennis for two years before focusing only on basketball.

Several years later, I finally exacted my revenge against Lucas on a tennis court. Charlie Pallilo and I had reserved the court at Judson Park in West University Place. When we got there, we found Lucas playing former Top 10 women’s pro Lori McNeil, who made the semifinals at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Pallilo and I looked at each other. What do we do? I said, “Charlie, I have no problem doing this.” I walked on the court and told Lucas, “You’re one of my favorite players, although I hated what you did against the Knicks. You’re a great coach, I admire what you do educating players about substance abuse, and my kid attends your summer basketball camp in Houston. He kind of worships you. But I have the court reserved so you have to leave.”

Lucas looked at me like “seriously?” I said “seriously.” I think that was the only time I ever impressed Pallilo.

Forward to about six months ago. A friend and I were having lunch at Cleburne Cafeteria on Bissonnet Street. Lucas walked in, noticed me, and came over to my table. He told my friend, “I was once playing tennis with Lori McNeil and this guy kicked me off the court.” Then he turned and kept walking.

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Jose Abreu has been released. Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images.

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