Who will win the last rotation spot?

I’ve written this week about the continuity on the Rockets’ roster in bringing back most of the core pieces and also about the need to develop Gary Clark. Both topics beg the question of how the team plans to round out its rotation.

As a starting point, the operative assumption is that the Rockets are done tinkering and will again not fully make use of their midlevel exception. I’m basing this assumption upon the fact that they sit currently just beneath the luxury tax threshold and can meet the roster minimum requirement through veteran minimum signings. (I don’t have the energy to dive anymore into this topic.)

The only open question amongst the starters is between Danuel House Jr. and Eric Gordon at the ‘3’. Even with upcoming contract negotiations, Gordon seems to not care much about a starting role while it appears House Jr. may have been possibly promised a starting job in returning to the team at what seemed to be a lower than expected annual salary. I don’t know that it really matters. Whichever of the two is playing better will close games with the possibility that they play in tandem.

Rivers is the only other vital cog, after a surprising 2019 season that saw him become one of the team’s most important players. Separate arguments can be posed that the Rockets win Game 1 against Golden State had Rivers suited up or won the series with more Rivers and less Capela. I digress. But he’ll see major minutes in what could possibly be his last year with the team.

That then leaves Gerald Green, and Tyson Chandler, and youngsters like Gary Clark, Isiah Hartenstein, Anthony Bennett, and Ben McLemore. Chandler fits into the Nene role and will see spot action, particularly against larger teams and Green will see minutes in the regular season due to his ability to light it up with 3’s in bunches, but I hope to never see him again get postseason playing time. I’m serious. I can’t handle it.

Bennett and McLemore are both complete wild cards either of whom will be a notch on the belt for this organization if they crack the rotation and become actual players. I’m watching closely but not holding my breath. Houston’s track record with former busts is brutal with I think not a single one actually panning out. It doesn’t hurt to try though and one can at least dream that one of these will eventually pan out. It doesn’t hurt to try, right?

That leaves Hartenstein and Clark, one of whom I think really needs to make the big jump this year–in the way House did last year–for the Rockets to really be able to feel good about the depth of their team. I wrote earlier about Clark’s mysterous disappearance from the rotation last season when, as an even merely capable defender, he could have helped against the Warriors when Capela became unplayable. (In fairness, any human being with an active pulse would have been an improvement.)

I really hope the Rockets develop Clark because, with his size and defensive versatility, he can really be useful against the sorts of teams the team figures to face deep in the postseason this year and beyond, in Milwaukee and in 2021, Golden State. If Clark can become even a passable 33% 3 point shooter, I think he absolutely needs to play and he won’t improve to that mark without consistent minutes.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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