Stephen Silas had to take a minute. It wasn’t an unfair or complicated question, but he obviously wasn’t quite sure how to answer it.
The Houston Rockets, who own the worst record in the NBA, somehow became an even younger team after the trade deadline. They traded Eric Gordon, who spent half of his 14 NBA seasons in Houston, to the Clippers. They also moved Garrison Mathews and Bruno Fernando. Neither guy is exactly old, but they both at least have NBA experience under their belts.
And the players they got back? Danny Green, Justin Holiday and John Wall (duh) will not suit up for the Rockets. And Frank Kaminsky might not be long for Houston. (On a positive note for all of us, they did re-sign Boban Marjanovic after being forced to waive the affable big man last week.)
Beyond that, Silas has third-year wing Jae’Sean Tate (27) as the only player in his rotation above the age of 22.
Would Silas prefer to have a playable veteran or two around?
The third-year coach let out a Joker-style laugh that felt somewhere between “Uh, yeah, of course” and a cry for help. To his credit, Silas answered the question honestly and thoughtfully.
“Ideally, you want a few guys who have more than three years of experience on the floor,” Silas said pregame in Philadelphia Monday.
The question was specifically about Holiday, who Silas believed would bring his 10 years of experience into the fold. It didn’t pan out that way with the 33-year-old wing agreeing to a buyout with the Rockets and reportedly planning to sign with the Dallas Mavericks.
So it goes.
“But that’s the business of the game and that’s the business and the NBA,” Silas said. “And that’s where we are as an organization as far as rebuilding. So yeah, ideally, you don’t want to have to roll out 10 guys who are first-, second- and third-year guys, but these are first-, second- and third-year guys who play hard and try and learn and are improving. So that’s where we’re at.”
The Rockets would go on to lose to the 76ers, but not for a lack of effort. Houston kept things close early thanks to an aggressive approach on the glass and beating Philly in the second-chance points department.
But then the third quarter came. The trio of former Rocket James Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined to score 35 points in the period to build a double-digit lead and not look back.
Like with many rebuilding teams, you see the glimmers of hope — but you also see the fatal flaws.
Jalen Green, the No. 2 pick in 2021, is dynamic and explosive, but could really use a veteran ball handler on the floor to get him in advantageous situations. He was aggressive getting to the paint, forcing the Sixers to foul him and getting to the line 17 times, but he was 6 of 20 on the night with four assists.
This year’s third overall pick, Jabari Smith Jr., was all over the glass with 12 rebounds, including six offensive boards. But he was 3 of 14 with five turnovers, continuing an inefficient rookie season.
The Rockets’ roster is loaded with young players that show an awful lot of promise. Kevin Porter, Jr. (who was out Monday), Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, TyTy Washington, Josh Christopher — all so young and bursting with talent, but lacking something to bring all that talent out.
As we inch closer to the All-Star break, most coaches are likely exasperated and looking forward to it. It would be easy for Silas to feel that way as he embarks on the stretch run for a team that sits at 13-44, but you don’t get the sense he does.
He didn’t have to look too far to see a past example of what he’s dealing with Monday. The Sixers embarked on one of the boldest tanking experiments in the history of sports. It was Brett Brown, now back as an assistant with the Spurs, that was dealing with an influx of young talent and a dearth of playable veterans.
Brown used to joke during those years that players would get off a plane, he’d shake their hand and say, “Nice to meet you, you’re starting at point guard.” While it’s not quite at that level in Houston, it’s fair to wonder how Silas can be expected to keep the ship steadied.
Then again, it’s sort of the point, right? Landing a Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson could change the fortunes of a franchise.
But if this season is any indication, it might behoove the Rockets to give Silas a player or two to help foster the development of whichever player becomes the fruit of all this losing.