It had to be done.
Last night, the Houston Rockets sent Twitter into a frenzy by trading Center Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks for a package consisting of Boban Marjanovic, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss and the 26th pick in the 2022 NBA draft. It was the type of trade that seems too “unrealistic”, the type you only make in 2K, when you trade 5 minimum players to match salaries and get a player making roughly 10M$ a year.
The Rockets put themselves between a rock and a hard place. It’s evident they didn’t want to keep Christian Wood and pay him long term, given the amount of young talent that exists on the roster in the front court, but they also didn’t want to lose him for nothing, or rush to trade him. That resulted in Wood’s trade value progressively decreasing, and Houston having to settle for a late first round pick in a weak draft, a pick they didn’t even value enough to trade Wood or Gordon for at the trade deadline.
As unpopular as that idea was at the time, trading Christian Wood during last year’s draft, prior to his refusal to sub in that night against the Denver Nuggets, would’ve likely resulted in a significantly better outcome. We’re not here to dwell about the past, though, so let’s talk about the trade that, at last, sent Christian Wood out of Houston.
What purpose would keeping Christian Wood actually serve to this Rockets team? He doesn’t seem to be a positive influence on the young guys, consistently dealing with his own off-court issues throughout the years. By the time Jalen Green and company are actually ready to compete in the highest levels, he’ll be out of his prime. The Rockets have achieved the undesirable feat of finishing with the league’s worst record in back 2 back to back years for the first time since the Chicago Bulls in 2002, so his positive on-court contributions aren’t exactly needed at the moment.
If we do try to evaluate Christian Wood’s value to this team by his on-court contributions, there are a couple of worrying red flags there, such as his regressing and underwhelming defense, his ball-stopping, how he didn’t seem to improve in his 2 years here, and how he certainly didn’t make his teammates better- this stat is wild:
Simply put, it was time. It’s been time. And I’m glad the Rockets have realized it.
Diving into the return, the group of players the Rockets received is unremarkable at best. Jonathan Feigen has already reported that Houston does not intend to keep former Rockets Sterling Brown and Marquese Chriss. Trey Burke is barely an NBA player at this point, and while I wouldn’t mind keeping Boban Marjanovic around, his comedic value likely exceeds his on-court value. There’s no real purpose to talk about these players, because there’s not much to be said.
Boban will probably make it to the 2022-2023 Rockets, but the real piece of value the Rockets got in this trade is the 26th pick. What once was considered a laughable return by fellow Rockets fans, including me, for the near all-star big, is now the centerpiece of the actual deal that shipped him out. And honestly? I’m grateful to even have that after his post game interviews, repetitively asking for more touches, while struggling to back down guards on the court.
Based on the Rockets’ past reluctance to value late first round picks in the past, including this year’s trade deadline, I wouldn’t expect them to keep the pick. It’s just hard for me to see the Rockets taking in more than 2 drafted rookies this year, after regrettably taking 4 last year, and seemingly ignoring the 3rd draftee until March. The truth is, it is quite difficult to find minutes and properly develop so many young players at a time, and the Rockets, unlike the Thunder, won’t just play a rotation full of 22 year olds and see who sticks.
Whether it’s via trade up, possibly including the 17th pick and Eric Gordon, or a trade out of the draft entirely for a young player or a future pick, Rafael Stone has a few more tricks up his sleeve. I assume.
In an event the Rockets do keep their pick, possibly sending out the Nets pick in a trade instead, the 3 prospects I’d be looking at are EJ Liddell, Nikola Jovic and Marjon Beauchamp, all of which I’d also considering at #17. If neither fall, Vince Williams Jr, Dalen Terry and Christian Braun would offer much improved wing play to a team sorely missing it, while Kennedy Chandler is a safe bet to stick as a smart backup point guard, and Christian Koloko’s defensive capabilities at center could make an impact from day 1.
At the end of the day, the trade accomplished 4 goals for Houston:
- Move Christian Wood to a different destination
- Clear up significant frontcourt minutes for Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and the upcoming 3rd pick in the 2022 NBA draft
- Take on no long term salary, maintaining roughly 60M in cap for the 2023 Off-Season
- Get value back for Christian Wood
Grade: B. Because the 26th pick really isn’t all that valuable.
Dallas Mavericks perspective
While this is a Rockets blog, you can’t make a trade with yourselves, as long as you’re not playing Pokemon Go. And the Dallas Mavericks did an excellent job acquiring a legit starter for minimal value.
All of Christian Wood’s issues listed above very much exist, but are also partially due to his situation. Some dudes are just not wired to play through a rebuild, with poor guard play and a lack of structure, and Wood is one of them. The Mavericks must have hope that playing with a leader, in a competent offense and for a winning team would let Christian Wood just do what he does best, and I wouldn’t bet against them.
I’d expect his effort level to significantly improve in a contract year, we know he has the versatility to defend all the way out of the perimeter, and he’s the perfect play finisher to pair with Luka on the offensive end, establishing himself as a knockdown shooter over the past year while maintaining his elite touch near the basket and his being of a lob threat.
Maybe it doesn’t “work”, maybe Wood’s interior defense and processing become too challenging to rely on in the playoffs. But really, Dallas barely gave up anything.
The Mavericks traded 4 players who were out of the rotation, and a late first, for one of the best play finishers in the league. Finding a legit contributor at #26 is hard- especially when you need him to contribute in his rookie year- and the Mavericks’ poor history of drafting certainly isn’t confidence-inspiring that they can find one.
Any way you want to look at it, they did well. How well exactly will depend on Christian Wood’s ability to fit into the type of role the Rockets envisioned for him when signing him in the first place, and Dallas’ ability to make things as simple for him as possible. Because when Wood wants to be, he’s pretty damn good.