Culture / Sporting Life

Jalen Green and a Bold Rockets’ Draft Haul — Tilman Fertitta’s Team Instantly Becomes Infinitely More Intriguing, and That’s a Start

The Rebuild Climb Remains Steep, But a More Watchable Team is a Win

BY // 07.29.21

Jalen Green is already adept at creating buzz. The 19-year-old who becomes the new face of Tilman Fertitta’s Houston Rockets (ready or not) stole the fashion show at the NBA Draft with his sparkling silver and gray Balmain suit. His sheer athleticism and viral dunks have already made him the darling of hoop fans who worship at the altar of highlights.

Jalen Green will have some wow moments next season — and his counting stats will look good with so much opportunity next season. Whether he will ever be a franchise difference maker is a much more uncertain proposition.

The Fertittas (Tilman and his basketball obsessed son Patrick) and Rafael Stone made the Rockets infinitely more interesting with their somewhat daring NBA Draft night. But the Rockets are still one of the worst teams in the NBA — and their record the next few seasons will surely reflect that.

Jalen Green is not a LeBron James or Luka Doncic level supernova talent whose arrival will instantly transform a franchise. And Rockets fans are kidding themselves if they do not think this is going to be a multi year rebuild.

And that’s IF everything goes right.

Still, becoming much more interesting — much more watchable — should not be dismissed. It’s an important step. By grabbing Green at No. 2 and trading for another first round pick to take multi-talented Turkey big man Alperen Sengun at No. 16, the Rockets took two giant steps towards remaking themselves as one of the NBA’s youngest intriguing teams.

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Add in potential defensive impact big man Usman Garuba and Arizona State guard Josh Christopher — and that’s four talented 19-year-olds thrust into the Rockets pipeline — in one night. All of them do not have to hit for this to be a successful draft for Stone. (I’d argue that taking 21-year-old University of Houston product Quentin Grimes at No. 24 instead of Christopher would have been the smarter, surer move. Grimes went one pick later to the Los Angeles Clippers, who shipped him to the New York Knicks for a near perfect fit for UH’s program changer.)

The Rockets became a more talented team on this night. They also bought themselves more time to figure out the best way to rebuild. That’s part of going so young too.

It’s smart. But it’s not winning. Not yet. Not for a good while.

Jalen Green is not a LeBron James or Luka Doncic level supernova talent whose arrival will instantly transform a franchise.

Watching Jalen Green try to win Rookie of the Year — and he’ll have every chance with the rest of this Rockets’ roster — should be fun. This is professional sports, it’s about entertainment too. Green seems to understand this.

“Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract,” Green says someone asks what goals he has for his career. “We’re doing it big — so yeah.”

Jalen Green suit Rockets NBA Draft
Jalen Green’s sparkling Balmain suit turned heads at the NBA Draft. Making the Houston Rockets winners will not be so easy.

Yes, new Los Angeles Laker Russell Westbrook seems poised to join Chris Paul as the next player the Rockets shipped out to appease Harden who makes an NBA Finals run, but the sins of Houston’s basketball past should not be visited upon Jalen Green. He’s a 19-year-old grabbing a moment after taking the still somewhat unconventional path of choosing an apprenticeship in the G League over one season in college basketball.

Green already knows how to go viral. He has flair and a style as big as his hair. Now he needs to learn how to win.

“They’re going to say it was a great choice,” Green says of his selection in his draft night press conference. “Because the goals that I have for myself, I plan on reaching them.”

It’s good that Jalen Green is thinking big. Especially when the mountain back into contention is this high. This steep. Stone and the Rockets still did not come close to getting enough for James Harden. But Stone deserves credit for not letting that failed opportunity stop him from being bold.

The Houston Rockets are certainly that on draft night. Get as much young talent as you can — and hope. It’s a start. Maybe even a high flying one. At least in the highlights.

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