Tilman Fertitta

Rockets Notes: Udoka, Green, Smith, Porter

At his introductory press conference as the Rockets‘ new head coach, Ime Udoka publicly addressed the events in Boston for the first time since his suspension was announced last fall, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Without revealing many specifics of the incident, Udoka admitted that he made a mistake and said he hopes the experience will ultimately make him a better coach.

“Really, that time off and really a full understanding of how many people you impact with a poor decision, that starts with ownership and accountability,” he said. “I preach that to players. I take responsibility for my part in it. I took leadership and sensitivity training and some counseling with my son to help him improve the situation I put him in. You can grow from adversity — and I think I’ve done that this year — if you … take the right steps.”

Owner Tilman Fertitta said the Rockets received approval from the commissioner’s office before hiring Udoka, who received a four-year, $28.5MM contract. After three years of rebuilding, the organization was eager to add a coach with a proven track record.

“The NBA told me that they felt very comfortable with Ime becoming the coach of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said. “That felt good to me after a lengthy conversation. We’re a forgiving society, and everybody makes mistakes.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Udoka should have an immediate influence on the Rockets’ young talent, states Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Weiss expects Udoka to help Jalen Green learn how to slow down his game and play under control, and he envisions Jabari Smith Jr. developing into an exceptional defender in the role that Robert Williams plays in Boston. Weiss points to Kevin Porter Jr. as someone who could either improve under Udoka’s guidance or wind up being shipped to another team.
  • With their coaching hire out of the way, the Rockets will turn toward maximizing the roughly $60MM in cap space they’ll have this summer, Feigen adds in another Chronicle article. According to Feigen, the organization is still committed to the core pieces of its rebuilding process — Green and Smith, along with Tari Eason and Alperen Sengun — but Udoka talked about the need for a “different” type of big man. The front office will also prioritize shooting and hopes to add some veterans to an inexperienced roster.
  • Fertitta revealed that the Rockets plan to build a new $70MM practice facility, Feigen states in a separate story. It’s expected to be completed for the 2024/25 season.

Rockets Notes: Green, Rebuild, Martin, Fertitta

A left groin strain forced Rockets guard Jalen Green to miss the Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend, but the team was “relieved” by the results of the MRI he underwent this week, a source tells Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

According to Feigen, the Rockets will have a better sense of Green’s return timeline early this week, after he has received a few days of treatment. However, there’s optimism that the injury shouldn’t result in a long-term absence.

If the strain was determined to be more severe, it could have sidelined the former No. 2 pick for most or all of Houston’s remaining 24 games, especially given that the lottery-bound club has no reason to rush one of its cornerstones back to action.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • While general manager Rafael Stone is willing to face criticism for how the Rockets are building their roster, he bristles at critics who suggest that Houston is moving forward without a clear plan in place, per Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. “If you paid no attention at all, you could say, ‘Hey, these guys don’t even have a plan,'” Stone said. “No, we absolutely have a plan. We told everybody what the plan was. So I don’t think the ‘They don’t have a plan’ is a valid criticism. If someone wants to be skeptical about our ability to execute it, that’s TBD and we’re cognizant of that. And I think this summer we intend to use our cap space and bring in some veterans.”
  • Rockets wing Kenyon Martin Jr., whose name came up frequently in trade rumors during the weeks leading up to February’s deadline, tells Shams Charania of Stadium (Twitter video link) that he’s happy he ultimately stayed put in Houston, where he’s averaging a career-high 26.3 minutes per game this season. “It was kind of weird,” Martin said. “Obviously it was my first time being in a situation where teams wanted me or there’s a possibility that Houston could get rid of me. But at the same time, I understood that it was nothing that I could control. … I kind of just left that up to the front office.”
  • Interviewed by KPRC 2 in Houston at a Mardi Gras event in Galveston, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta shouted what sounded like, “Pray for Victor!,” an apparent reference to top prospect Victor Wembanyama (Twitter video link via Sean Pendergast of SportsRadio 610). The 13-45 Rockets have the NBA’s worst record and would have the best lottery odds in this year’s draft if the season ended today, but the league still may not love seeing one of its team owners already talking about targeting a specific prospect, with so much time left in the season.

Stein’s Latest: Kuzma, Tampering, Lasry, Rockets, Wood

There’s a rising belief around the NBA that Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma will be “gettable” prior to this season’s trade deadline, Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack story.

Based on the whispers he has heard, Stein has a hard time envisioning Kuzma wanting to remain in D.C. beyond this season. If the Wizards have heard those same rumblings and consider them credible, it would make sense for the club to recoup some value for the standout forward on the trade market rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer.

Kuzma is enjoying a career year in his second full season with the Wizards, averaging 21.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 3.5 APG in his first 33 games (35.4 MPG). He has a $13MM player option for 2023/24, but has already indicated that he plans to decline it to become an unrestricted free agent.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • The penalties the NBA has handed out for tampering and free agency gun jumping have been widely regarded as toothless, Stein writes. “If second-round picks are the only punishment,” one general manager said, “nothing will ever change.” As Stein observes, the NBA made a show of instituting more punitive anti-tampering rules in 2019, but hasn’t taken full advantage of those new measures, including the ability to fine teams up to $10MM for instances of “egregious” tampering.
  • There’s has been increased chatter about the possibility that Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is open to selling his share of the franchise, Stein writes. Lasry and Wes Edens have been the team’s primary owners since 2014.
  • Although it seems unlikely that the Rockets would welcome a reunion with James Harden, given how his last stint with the franchise ended, Stein notes that Houston’s rebuild has progressed slowly so far and says team owner Tilman Fertitta is widely believed to be “antsy” to accelerate the process and return to contention. If that’s true, the Rockets could be in the market for veteran help with their cap room next summer even if Harden doesn’t return.
  • The “consistent signals emanating from Dallas” in the early part of this season have suggested that a contract extension for Christian Wood is unlikely, according to Stein. Still, he points out that the Mavericks big man has been playing well as of late and had some encouraging moments on defense without needing to play alongside Maxi Kleber.

Rockets Notes: Wood, Mathews, Fertitta, Injury Timetables

Rockets center Christian Wood discussed his role in Houston’s recent turnaround, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. The Rockets, winners of six straight games, have moved their way up to a still-bad 7-16 record on the 2021/22 season, in no small part thanks to Wood becoming the lone big man for much of his time on the floor. The 26-year-old is currently averaging 16.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and 1.1 BPG, with a shooting line of .466/.368/.574. In the win streak, Wood has boosted those counting stats to 19.3 PPG, 11.3 RPG and 1.8 BPG.

“So my job is just to make sure everybody touches the ball,” Wood said of his role as a calming influence in the Rockets offense. “Make sure everybody’s not going to so many isos and it’s not as contagious. Because once you start getting contagious, it gets a little bad, gets a little stagnant. We start taking bad shots, and my job is just to make sure everybody’s cool, everybody’s touching the ball and tapped in.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The Rockets appear to have uncovered a new floor-spacing threat in their win streak, thanks to the emergence of Garrison Mathews, writes Rahat Huq of the Houston Chronicle. The 6’5″ shooting guard is averaging 11.9 PPG and 3.1 RPG across 10 games with Houston and owns a shooting line of .488/.420/.800. The three-point percentage is particularly encouraging, as the 25-year-old is taking a volume 6.9 triples per game. Beyond simply excellent percentages, Mathews also has helped open up the club’s offense as the team’s only real catch-and-shoot threat who can operate on the run. Huq observes that Mathews now boasts the best efficiency differential for the Rockets, meaning that the team’s offensive output is better with him on the floor than without him at a level beyond anyone else on the team.
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has discussed how the team’s approach to a full-on tank will help the club re-shape its roster for the long haul, per Rahat Huq of the Houston Chronicle. “We don’t want to be one of those building programs that are just mediocre for four years or five years,” Fertitta said of the team’s plans going forward. “And when you’ve been as good as we were for so many years, yeah, we could have had the eighth seed in the playoffs or the ninth seed. But it’s better to tear it apart and start over and build up again. It will last for many years to come.” Huq praises Fertitta for acquiescing to deals that sent out veteran win-now players like P.J. Tucker and Victor Oladipo last season. Along these lines, Huq wonders if the team will look to ship out current veterans like Wood and Eric Gordon in exchange for either young players with upside or future draft equity.
  • There is no return timeline yet for the starting Rockets backcourt of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Green continues to recuperate from a hamstring injury that has kept him on the shelf for the Rockets’ five previous games, all victories. Porter suffered a thigh injury and missed Sunday’s contest. “Kevin, we’re still kind of evaluating what is necessary but he is doing his treatment and we’ll have an update sooner or later,” head coach Stephen Silas said.

Tilman Fertitta Says He’s Excited About Rockets’ Future

The Rockets have lost an incredible 43 of their last 48 games, will finish the season with the NBA’s worst record, and will only have a 52.1% chance to keep their first-round pick, which is top-four protected. However, team owner Tilman Fertitta tells ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he remains bullish on the future of the franchise.

“I never thought I could feel this good after winning only 16 games,” Fertitta said of his 16-53 club. “I never thought I could feel this good when I’ve been so upset about losing. But when I look at all the draft picks that we have and the future, I’m just happy. I know it’s unusual to feel this good with your coach (Stephen Silas) and your general manager (Rafael Stone), but I do.”

If the Rockets’ 2021 first-round pick falls outside of the top four, they’ll have to send it to the Thunder in exchange for Miami’s first-round selection. Houston also owes two more future first-rounders to Oklahoma City, in 2024 (top-four protected) and 2026 (top-four protected).

However, the Rockets have acquired several other first-round picks and swaps in various trades, including the James Harden blockbuster — they’ll have Portland’s and Brooklyn’s first-round picks this year, as well as first-rounders from the Nets, Pistons, Wizards, and Bucks in future drafts. Fertitta expressed a willingness to be patient waiting for those extra selections to pay dividends.

“It could be 2027 that we get a top-five pick that ends up being the next greatest player,” Fertitta told MacMahon. “We don’t know, but my people have shown all they’ve done so far is made the right decision, and I’m proud of all of them. I’m proud of the basketball ops people and I’m proud of Silas, because they keep showing me they’re doing the right things.”

Fertitta specifically credited Stone for the acquisitions of Christian Wood and young building blocks like Kevin Porter and Kenyon Martin Jr. He also praised Silas for the work he has done dealing with adversity this season and developing those young players. The Rockets’ owner added that he doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind for the club becoming a legit contender again.

“I can tell you this: I’m going to be patient,” Fertitta told ESPN. “I know my basketball guys know what they’re doing. We’re not going to go do something stupid to try to get into the playoffs next year that then will prevent us from competing for a championship in a couple years. … I think we’ll be much better next year and we’ll be much better the following year and then we’ll be much better the following year.”

Rockets Notes: Fertitta, T. Brown, Wilson, Exum

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has watched his team go from among the NBA’s best to the league’s worst record very quickly, and he’s realistic about how long it will take to get back on top, writes Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. Houston arrived in training camp with playoff aspirations and a veteran core in place, but after a massive roster overhaul, the Rockets are just 4-35 since February 5.

“It’s really, really hard because I am competitive and I hate to lose,” Fertitta said. “But my people, including (CEO) Tad (Brown) and (general manager Rafael Stone) and even my son Patrick, just (say) the biggest mistake you can make right now is use all these picks to be a .500 club, because you’re never able to be a championship caliber club,” Fertitta said. “But I hate losing so much I’m totally staying out of it, because I’m scared that I can make the wrong decisions. I want to win today. I just have to (stay out of it) because they’re right and they just gave me examples and examples.”

There’s more on the Rockets:

  • Tad Brown has become the latest high-profile figure to leave the organization, announcing Friday that he will step down as CEO at the end of the season, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Brown made it clear that he wasn’t being pushed out and said he spent several months considering his future before deciding to leave. “This is something that is going to be a part of my heart and soul for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s very difficult to transition out, but I do believe it’s the right thing to do.”
  • The Rockets were down to seven healthy players for Saturday’s loss in Denver, which meant extended minutes for some players who aren’t used to a lot of court time, Feigen notes in a separate story. D.J. Wilson played 40 minutes and K.J. Martin was on the court for 42 minutes. “We put the work in behind closed doors,” Wilson said. “When our number is called, we’re definitely going to be ready, each and every one of us. When you’re not getting those minutes on a game-to-game basis, you can’t do much but ask to play. I don’t think anyone was asking for a sub. Everybody was enjoying the minutes. It was just tough we couldn’t get the W.”
  • Dante Exum, who was acquired in January as part of the James Harden trade, is considered out for the rest of the season, Feigen tweets. Exum only played six games this season because of a calf injury and hasn’t been available since the trade. He has a $9.6MM expiring contract.

Rockets Notes: Harden Trade, Wall, House, Wood

The idea that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told general manager Rafael Stone not to trade James Harden to the Sixers – whose front office is led by former Rockets GM Daryl Morey – is incorrect, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Fertitta stays out of trade discussions, according to Feigen, who says that Stone and Morey had “extensive” discussions. In fact, talks on Harden advanced to the point where Stone made one final demand of the Sixers in the final stage of negotiations and would have traded the former MVP to Philadelphia if Morey had agreed.

As Feigen explains, Stone wanted one more draft pick or player – believed to be Tyrese Maxey – and less protection on the draft picks included in the Sixers’ offer. Philadelphia was unwilling to meet those demands, so Houston made a deal with Brooklyn. Morey has since told confidants that he thinks his former lieutenant Stone made a great trade, according to Feigen.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • While some reports have suggested that Harden favored Tyronn Lue for the Rockets’ head coaching job over Stephen Silas, the team actually didn’t know which coaching candidate Harden liked best, Feigen writes in the same story. While Russell Westbrook preferred Lue, Harden never expressed a strong preference, which may have been due to his simmering desire to be traded. Westbrook and Harden both ultimately signed off on the hiring of Silas, Feigen notes.
  • Rockets point guard John Wall isn’t accompanying the team on its road trip this weekend due to a sore knee and isn’t expected back in the lineup until at least Tuesday, according to Feigen. Danuel House (health and safety protocols) also won’t play until Tuesday at the earliest, while Christian Wood (ankle) will miss at least Friday’s game in Detroit.
  • Injuries, absences related to COVID-19, and the Harden trade had the Rockets playing rotational roulette during the first month of this season, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, who suggests the club will ideally be able to get a better read on its roster in the coming weeks.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, D’Antoni, Milton, Baynes

James Harden looked like the star the Nets were expecting as he made his debut with the team Saturday night, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Harden didn’t get to practice with his new Brooklyn teammates because the four-team trade wasn’t finalized until shortly before game time, but he still posted a 32-point triple-double in a win over Orlando.

A number of teams were rumored to be pursuing Harden, but the Nets were his first choice when he made a trade request to Rockets management. Reuniting with Kevin Durant was part of the reason, but he also wanted to rejoin former Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, who is now an assistant in Brooklyn.

“When (ex-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) and Mike left, I sat back and reevaluated everything. Those are two guys I was very comfortable with and the decision-making for the organization,” Harden said. “Once they left, I had to figure out is this organization going into a rebuilt stage or were they still trying to compete at the highest level.

“(D’Antoni) was a part of it. Mike’s an unbelievable coach. He’s been doing it for a very, very long time. Obviously Mike is a factor. Being comfortable with him being comfortable with Kevin, knowing (Kyrie Irving), just those four pieces right there made it easy. Obviously them being in Brooklyn, for me it was a no-brainer.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers were also in the running for Harden, and they believed they were so close to a deal that the agents for Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle informed them of the pending trade, Lewis adds in the same story. But the Rockets never called the Sixers back after getting the offer from the Nets, reportedly because Houston owner Tilman Fertitta was determined not to send his star player to Morey.
  • Sixers guard Shake Milton started the final 32 games of last season, including the playoffs, but he seems better suited to provide instant offense as a sixth man, which is his role under new coach Doc Rivers, according to Keith Pompey of The Phildelphia Inquirer“I just want to do whatever is best for the team,” Milton said. “Whatever helps the team win, it really doesn’t matter if I’m starting or not. It’s an opportunity. I have a really good opportunity coming off the bench right now.”
  • Free agent addition Aron Baynes is only seeing about 16 minutes per night for the Raptors, but coach Nick Nurse plans to expand his role, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.” We’re gonna play Aron, we’re gonna try to get some extended minutes out of him,” Nurse said. “I know we’re not getting very much out of him at this point. We read the game … and his stint is gonna last as long as things are going well or he’s impacting well.”

Nets Notes: Irving, Durant, Fertitta, Shumpert

Now that a new Big Three is together in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving will likely be asked to sacrifice to make it work, two NBA scouts told Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Today’s trade that reunites James Harden with Kevin Durant gives the Nets three elite offensive players, but they may not fit together smoothly.

“On paper obviously that team wins the East and probably the whole thing,” said Bryan Oringher, a former scout with the Raptors, Hawks and Wizards. “But it all depends if they’re willing to do a Warriors-type thing and all sacrifice. (Harden’s) obviously incredible, but none of them seem super happy without the ball.”

Irving missed a fifth straight game tonight for personal reasons, and his absence could be extended if the NBA decides he has to quarantine when he returns to the team, Lewis adds. Coach Steve Nash refused to address specifics about Irving during a session with the media.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to know any new details about Kyrie’s situation,” Nash said. “So I’ll just rely on the front office to learn more as we go. They’re the ones that are going to do the messaging on that front.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Durant couldn’t talk directly about the Harden deal after tonight’s game because it’s still not official, but he did speak briefly about his previous experience with Harden in Oklahoma City, saying, “It was fun,” Lewis tweets. “I’ve heard that that’s not even finalized yet, so I’ll talk about it another time,” Durant added (Twitter link).
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta wasn’t impressed by the players the Nets were offering, such as Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, who is sidelined with a torn ACL, Lewis adds in a separate story. That explains why Allen wound up in Cleveland and LeVert was sent to Indiana, while Houston acquired Victor Oladipo and a parcel of draft picks.
  • Today’s trade leaves the Nets with three open roster spots, and free agent Iman Shumpert could be worth considering, writes Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. Shumpert played 13 games for Brooklyn last season and brought a strong defensive presence to the team. He briefly played alongside Harden in Houston, and was a teammate of Irving and Joe Harris in Cleveland.

Rockets Rumors: Westbrook, Harden, Luxury Tax, Tate

The Hornets and Knicks are the only teams with “verifiable” trade interest in Rockets star Russell Westbrook so far, Marc Stein of The New York Times writes in his weekly newsletter. And Stein cautions that both clubs’ interest is “conditional” rather than aggressive.

Some people around the NBA believe that Charlotte’s desire to acquire Westbrook will increase if the team doesn’t end up drafting LaMelo Ball on Wednesday night, per Stein. As for the Knicks, their stance is best described as “weighing, but resisting,” according to Stein, who says multiple people within the organization are hesitant to make a move for Westbrook and his pricey contract.

Stein suggests that the best offer the Rockets could expect from the Knicks for Westbrook at this point would include one future first-round pick from Dallas, along with players who aren’t part of the team’s long-term plans, such as perhaps Julius Randle and Dennis Smith Jr.. Even then, there’s no guarantee New York would want to take on the three years and $133MM left on Westbrook’s contract.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • While the Rockets remain reluctant to move James Harden and don’t feel pressure to make a move right away, the “overwhelming expectation” around the NBA is that he’ll eventually be dealt, whether it’s this week, next month, or sometime in 2021, according to David Aldridge and Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Past inquires of Harden have simply been turned aside by the Rockets, but there’s a sense that they’ll now come around if the package is strong enough.
  • Although Harden is reportedly focused on getting to the Nets, the Sixers‘ interest in him has grown in recent weeks, sources tell The Athletic’s duo. According to Aldridge and Iko, rapper Meek Mill – who is from Philadelphia – has been trying to convince Harden to come to the Sixers.
  • The Clippers aren’t currently pursuing Harden, per The Athletic’s report.
  • Sources tell Aldridge and Iko that Harden feels as if some of the Rockets’ decisions – including roster moves and hirings – have been made without substantial impact from him.
  • The Athletic’s sources maintain that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is “hellbent” on keeping the team out of luxury tax territory for the foreseeable future.
  • Sydney Kings swingman Jae’Sean Tate, who went undrafted out of Ohio State in 2018, is expected to sign with the Rockets sometime after free agency opens later this week, Stein reports. John Hollinger of The Athletic recently referred to Tate – who made over 40% of his three-point attempts in Australia last season – as one of the most highly-regarded players outside of the U.S. Houston is also bringing Sydney’s head coach Will Weaver stateside as an assistant on Stephen Silas’ staff, as we relayed last week.