Rockets fans aren’t used to losing. For the most part, they’re having a hard time adjusting to it.
It’s understandable. An entire generation of this fanbase is entirely new to this experience. Before a fateful 2020-21 season, the Rockets held the longest playoff streak in the NBA at eight consecutive seasons. Some adults were children the last time the Rockets missed the postseason.
Those who grew up in the Harden era don’t know this feeling. Unsurprisingly, they don’t like it. They’re so averse to it that, if they were Rafael Stone, they might do something drastic.
Something like trading for Donovan Mitchell.
His Utah Jazz just endured a tumultuous 2021-22 season. It seems evident that Mitchell and his co-star Rudy Gobert are not best friends. I’m not an insider, but by now, there’s too much smoke around that situation for nothing to be burning.
Who knows what Jazz general manager Danny Ainge might do. It feels likely that he’ll trade at least one of the two. If Mitchell is on the trade market, should the Rockets pounce?
Is Mitchell the Answer for these Rockets?
In asking that question, two more questions emerge. The first one is, should the Rockets even pursue any star at the moment? The second one, of course, is whether Mitchell is the right star for this team.
After all, there are plenty of sound reasons to stay the course. As it stands, the only big money on the Rockets’ books belongs to players who, in all likelihood, won’t be here when the team is competitive again. There’s an advantage in that cost control. It allows the team the flexibility to assess the core’s development while maintaining the flexibility to add to it as necessary.
John Wall’s infamous contract expires after the 2022-23 season. The same goes for Eric Gordon (if he hasn’t been traded already). If the Rockets did trade for Mitchell, they’d be on the hook for $37 million a season until 2025-26.
They’d also, in all likelihood, be significantly lower on draft capital. If the Jazz are trading Mitchell, they’re probably rebuilding. They may ask for John Wall, and five first-round picks. There’s a lot of risk in going all-in as the worst team in the NBA.
It’s probably not advisable as a rule. I might make a couple of exceptions. I’d consider offering Deandre Ayon a max deal in restricted free agency. With a trend emerging of long, thin big men entering the league (Evan Mobley, Chet Holmgren, Victor Wembenyama), I wonder if having a more traditional, big-bodied center like Ayton will provide an edge.
I like all those guys a lot. I think Mobley and Holmgren will be outstanding, and I think Wembenyama will be some kind of living demigod. Still, zagging when the league zigs can be of benefit. Ayton has great mobility for his size. He’s even flashed some open floor ball-handling: I suspect he’s more than the rim-runner he’s been delegated as alongside Chris Paul.
I might make a godfather offer for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander if the Thunder made him available. Some have begun to speculate that the Thunder could opt to extend their tank job by moving him. Without digressing much further, I just think he’s great.
On the other hand, I’m not interested in Donovan Mitchell.
The Rockets should stay the course when it comes to Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell is not the right player for this team. Rockets fans have watched the organization try to convert a scorer into a point guard for the better part of two seasons.
However you feel about the Kevin Porter Jr. experiment, put your feelings aside for the moment. Donovan Mitchell is not a point guard.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. An NBA player’s career ages in dog years, but at least Porter Jr. is still a young pup. We know what Donovan Mitchell is by now, and he’s a shooting guard.
In case you’re new around here, the Rockets already have a shooting guard. He just scored the most 30-point games in a row as a rookie since Allen Iverson.
It’s hard to imagine that Mitchell would complement Jalen Green. That alone makes the exorbitant price the Jazz would demand for their franchise player too high for the Rockets.
A troublesome stat emerged towards the end of Utah’s regular season. It indicated that Mitchell passed to Gobert about two times per contest: roughly the same number of times that Trae Young assisted a Clint Capella field goal on a nightly basis.
Granted, there’s context there. Firstly, they didn’t seem to be getting along. Second, the Jazz ranked 26th in the league in passes per game anyway at 266.0. Still: two per game? To a player shooting a casual 71.3 percent from the field?
That’s not suggestive of a player with a point guard’s mentality. Donovan Mitchell is a gunner. The Rockets have already got a gunner.
If all goes well, he’ll be better than Mitchell in a few short years anyway. If the Rockets are going to push their chips in for a star, they should complement him.