How the Houston Rockets move forward after missing out on top pick

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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Numbers don't lie. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros better be mindful. The Texas Rangers are better than the Astros right now because while the Rangers’ offense has been awesome, the Astros’ attack continues to rate as screamingly average. The Rangers have opened up a four and a half game lead over the Astros in the American League West. 27 games represent one-sixth of the regular season schedule. Over their last 27 games the Astros have gone 19-8. Extrapolated over 162 games that’s awesome 114 win baseball. Over those 27 games the Astros have gained zero ground in the standings on the Rangers.

While 19-8 is an impressive stretch no matter what, it is notable that within that stretch the Astros went 11-1 versus the A’s, Cubs, and White Sox, three bad teams. Winning five of six from the mediocre Angels was good, particularly beating Shohei Ohtani twice. The Astros lost two out of three to the Brewers, lost two out of three to the Twins, and need a getaway win in Toronto to gain a split with the Blue Jays.

Maybe the Rangers will be akin to the 1979 Astros, rising but not quite ready yet. July 4, 1979 the Astros led the Reds by 10 and a half games in the National League West. Reds’ pitcher and top 10 greatest pitcher ever Tom Seaver said no worries, the Astros would “fall like a lead balloon” in the second half. The Reds won the division. Here is one stat that points toward Rangers' slippage: as a team they are batting a preposterous .335 with runners in scoring position. No way that holds up all season. The Astros and Rangers have a four game series in Arlington starting June 30. That series looms as much more important to the Astros than one would have thought back in spring training.

Here's the catch

Dusty Baker this week offered his most elaborate explanation for his playing time split at catcher. It was largely balderdash. Thursday’s series finale in Toronto is Martin Maldonado's 45th start behind the plate. Yainer Diaz has 15 starts, Cesar Salazar three. Dusty talked of how there is more to the catching position than hitting. Fair point. His “points” deteriorated from there. It’s definitely attention getting that General Manager Dana Brown has publicly acknowledged talking with Baker about Diaz playing more. Good for Dana.

Let’s leave aside that Maldonado is a lousy offensive player, while Diaz brims with potential and recently has translated some of that potential into results. The Astros’ record is better with Diaz catching than with Maldonado. The pitchers’ earned run average is better when Diaz catches. The “Machete” blade has dulled. Maldonado has thrown out just six of 28 base stealers. Diaz has nailed seven of 18. Maldonado has three passed balls (and at least a couple more that were generously for him scored wild pitches), Diaz has none. All upside growth lies with Diaz.

Dusty sees it as tough to have rookie pitchers throwing to a rookie catcher. I guess if they stink that’s true. Especially dubious is Dusty’s “point” in having Maldonado catch Hunter Brown’s last six starts so that should Diaz get hurt, Maldonado wouldn’t have to start catching Brown with little familiarity. How about the inverse? Diaz catching all the other starters more so that should the approaching 37 years old Maldonado break down, Diaz is more up to speed. Oh, Brown’s earned run average over those six starts with Maldonado is 4.81. Over his first six starts, five of them pitching to Diaz, Brown’s ERA was 2.60.

Wednesday Dusty gave Alex Bregman and Jeremy Pena the night off. Nothing wrong with that. The 29-year-old Bregman had played in all 61 games this season to date, the 25-year-old Pena in 60 of 61. Meanwhile, 36-year-old season long disaster Jose Abreu was penciled into the starting lineup for the 60th time in 62 games. Abreu’s ended the night with his OPS at .534. He is the worst player in the Major Leagues getting everyday run. Thursday marks his 61st start in 63 games. Another spot where Diaz should be getting more time.

All eyes on Texas

Some more on those Rangers, who last season finished 68-94. They are now 40-21, and that with their desperate five year 185 million dollar contract dice roll on pitcher Jacob deGrom crapping out. deGrom finishes with all of six starts and now faces a second Tommy John surgery that could sideline him until 2025. One of the very few pitchers to ever pitch viably again after two Tommy John surgeries is Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers gave him 34 million guaranteed for two years, which so far is the best signing of the offseason. Eovaldi has been every bit as good as Framber Valdez.

Will he hold up is a very fair and very important question. Since 2015, only in 2021 has Eovaldi topped 125 innings in a season. He’s on pace for about 200 this year. Overall, Rangers’ starting pitchers have a lower ERA than Astros’ starters. The Rangers weakness is their bullpen. There is virtually no doubt they will strengthen it by the trade deadline. Their offense has had no weaknesses. Only one team since 1950 (1999 Indians) has amassed more than 1000 runs in a season. About 40 percent of the way through this season the Rangers are on pace for 1025. Going position by position, Yordan Alvarez remains the only Astro who would crack the Ranger lineup so far this year.

Reminder that there are no one game tiebreakers to decide division titles or wild card spots. Season series winners win out. Astros-Jays Thursday outcome decides the season series. It’s conceivable that could be very important come season’s end.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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