We laughed at Dillon Brooks’ unceremonious exit from the Memphis Grizzlies, but it will be him with the cheshire grin plastered to his face every time that a direct deposit hits his account. On Saturday he signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Houston Rockets. The day before, Fred VanVleet signed a three-year, $130 million contract.
Veteran help was certainly needed for the Rockets. In 2022-23 their roster was the second-youngest in the NBA. Professional athletics is a business that requires youth, but if a team has too many players closer to high school graduation than their 30th birthday, postseason success is highly unlikely.
Will Houston be worth watching?
The Rockets are still many miles away from championship contention with their current roster. However, the NBA salary floor is real, so they had to spend some money to reach it. In doing so, they have jammed together a roster that is at least worthy of a few league-pass check-ins next season.
Jalen Green — the highest drafted player to come through G-League Ignite — may be inefficient, but he is certainly a bonafide NBA scorer. His scoring average jumped from 17.3 points per game as a rookie to 22.1. Although all of his shooting percentages dropped and his turnovers increased.
Just like Green, Alperen Şengün was drafted by the Rockets in 2021. In his second season, he began to blossom as a true low-post threat. His scoring average increased by five points per game, and his field-goal percentage also went up from 47.4 to 55.3 percent. He also improved as a rebounder, increasing his average from 5.5 per game to nine.
In this year’s draft they selected Amen Thompson, who might already be the best overall athlete in the league. Last year they drafted Jabari Smith Jr. third overall. Throw in Kevin Porter Jr. who is equipped with both talent and a temper, and this a team made for highlight reels along with another top-five draft pick next season.
With a clear hole in their roster when it comes to veteran experience, the Rockets decided to plug it with Brooks and VanVleet. Brooks is a strong defender and irritant who has no idea the meaning of the phrase “bad shot.” As a starter on the Grizzlies who won 50-plus games in consecutive seasons, it was reported this offseason that they were going to make zero effort to re-sign him.
Welcome to Houston, Fred VanVleet
VanVleet has been a valuable contributor for the Toronto Raptors since their 2019 championship postseason. With that team nowhere near ready to contend for the franchise’s second title, it’s reasonable that they would not want to pay him over $40 million per year. In Houston he will be counted on to provide a steadying presence as a veteran point guard who has only once in his career shot better than 42 percent from the field for a season.
The Rockets are certainly a better team after adding these two playoff-experienced veterans to their roster, but they couldn’t get much worse. They haven’t reached 23 wins in a season since before COVID. Maybe they win 32 games this coming season, but that is still not good enough for a play-in berth.
While these two additions won’t turn the Rockets into champions, it will be worth turning to their games on television to see how this hodgepodge of talent will work on the court together. Because while this roster will be a tough fit, what it won’t lack is players willing to heave up 27-foot 3-pointers with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
For those like a smooth, free flowing basketball game, the 2023-24 Rockets are not for you. But for those who enjoy a mashup explosive athleticism and terrible decision making, the Rockets will serve it up in enormous portions.