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

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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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 The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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