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Rockets Need a Culture Reset

Houston should move on from disgruntled players Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood.

Houston absorbed its eighth straight loss in Philadelphia on Monday.

Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood didn’t play.

Don’t worry—they’ll be back on Wednesday.

One game. One game. That’s Porter Jr.’s punishment for quitting on his team at halftime of a double-digit loss to Denver. That’s right: When the going got tough, Porter Jr., the Rockets’ starting point guard, literally hopped in his car and got going.

Before Antonio Brown quit, Porter Jr. did.

One game. One freaking game. That’s the slap on the wrist Wood received for refusing to go into the same game in the second half. At halftime, Wood reportedly got into a heated argument with assistant coach John Lucas. Lucas, in addition to having more than four decades of NBA playing and coaching experience, has devoted countless hours to helping embattled athletes become better versions of themselves.

One beef with Lucas, and Wood decided to let Nikola Jokić be someone else’s problem.

And the Rockets made it worse by shrugging the incidents off as the kind of thing that happens during an NBA season. On Monday, Stephen Silas addressed reporters for the first time since the suspensions were announced. He said Porter Jr. “lost his temper.” He called the incident with Wood “a disagreement as far as him going back in.”

“My job is to hold people accountable [for] their actions,” Silas said. “And not overreact at all but react appropriately … one thing about disputes, you always come out of it with a better understanding of each other. With what happened, hopefully everybody grows from it. Maybe it doesn’t happen immediately. Hopefully it does.”

Poor Silas. He spent 20 years chasing this opportunity. He has been an assistant in Charlotte, New Orleans, Cleveland, Golden State and Dallas. He has worked with Stephen Curry, helped develop Kemba Walker, and spent two seasons grooming Luka Dončić.

He wanted to coach an NBA team.

He got the Rockets.

What is Silas doing answering these questions anyway? He didn’t put together this group. Rafael Stone did. Yet every time the front office makes a mess, Silas has to clean it up. James Harden wants out? Here’s Silas. John Wall wants in? Here’s Silas. Porter Jr. and Wood were two of Stone’s most visible acquisitions. When they quit on the team … here’s Silas.

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There’s a solution to all this: Cut Porter Jr. Waive him. Release him. Whatever. Eat what’s left of the $1.8 million he’s owed this season and the $3.2 million he’s got next and move on. Trade Wood. Call up Charlotte or Portland or any other team desperate for frontcourt infusion and swap him for spare parts.

Need a player? There’s an ex-All-Star point guard on the bench rarin’ to go.

Cold moves? Sure. Porter Jr. appeared to find a home in Houston. After an incident-filled rookie year in Cleveland, Porter Jr. thrived with the Rockets. He averaged 16.6 points last season. He handed out 6.3 assists. Among the reasons Houston shelved John Wall was to give Porter Jr. room to grow. At the Rockets media day in September, Porter Jr. suggested the organization saved his life.

“[Porter Jr.] is emotional, he’s a competitor, he’s a good kid, he owns up to his mistakes when he makes them and tries not to make mistakes again,” said Silas. “That’s pretty much all you can ask for from a guy.”

Wood has put up numbers since signing a three-year, $41 million deal with Houston in 2020. Last season he finished fourth in the voting for Most Improved Player. He’s averaging 16.8 points in this one. In theory, a 26-year-old big man with Wood’s skill set is exactly the kind of player the Rockets want to build around.

But it can’t work. It won’t work. Not anymore. Arguing with your coach is one thing. Quitting on your team is another. How can Porter Jr. and Wood walk back into that locker room to teammates that can’t be sure how committed they are to playing with them?

Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. (3) and center Christian Wood (35) react after a play during overtime against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Rockets have too much at stake. Jalen Green is a brilliant young talent. Alperen Şengün, a sturdy, 6' 10" big man, looks like one of the steals of the first round. Jae'Sean Tate could have P.J. Tucker-like potential. There’s another high lottery pick on the way. The cupboard isn’t bare in Houston. The culture is.

The Rockets need to fix that. Stone needs to fix that. There’s no long-term future for Porter Jr. or Wood in Houston. Not anymore. Porter Jr. is extension eligible after this season. Think the Rockets should commit real money to him? Wood has one year left on his contract. He can be extended, but why would Houston dangle franchise player cash to a player who has yet to have an impact on winning?

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The Rockets need a course correction. They have the right coach. And they have good young players. Green is the future. Şengün is the future. Tate is the future. Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith or whoever Houston snags in the lottery is the future. Those are the guys the Rockets should be building around. Every other roster spot should be committed to players who can help them succeed.

Porter Jr. and Wood made their choices.

The Rockets need to make theirs.

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