On Monday, surprising news emerged about the Houston Rockets, who dominated the team’s headlines for the day. It had nothing to do with her upcoming No. 3 pick overall in Thursday’s NBA draft or Christian Wood’s blockbuster trade last week. The news also had nothing to do with the crux of its young core in Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun. However, it did matter.
KJ Martin, Houston’s second-round pick from the 2020 draft and son of Kenyon Martin Sr., reportedly reached out to the front office about a potential trade. This all ties into the likely selection of Duke’s Paolo Banchero or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren this week, with both likely to eat into the court minutes available.
It’s quite an amazing development for a team that gave Martin a chance when no one else did and saw him thrive, albeit in limited capacity, during his first two years in the league. After averaging 21 minutes in 79 games over the last year, Martin clearly believes he deserves a bigger role going forward – and the possibility that that’s the case with the Rockets and their deep young core is certainly murky.
This raises an important question: What is Houston doing with Martin as they navigate the rest of the 2022 offseason?
You can always choose to do nothing. Signed for another two years, Martin represents the type of young talent that is attractive to a recovery team. He doesn’t have the star power to hand out general manager Rafael Stone like James Harden once did. Most likely, Martin would eventually join the line and try to break the rotation.
Martin’s father, former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin, said in a later interview Markus Bermann from Fox 26 Houston that his son’s focus is still on being with the Rockets and becoming a better player.
But in the context of a team trying to transition into a winning culture, keeping Martin against his will may not be ideal. That begs the question of what options Houston might have on the trade front.
At just 21, Martin should have trade applicants, and he’s widely regarded as one of the better surprises from a weak draft class of 2020. In fact, according to a Bleacher Report article from that year, he was considered one of the top 20 players in his class if it should come to a new draft.
Still, the Rockets are unlikely to gain significant draft capital by trading a player who opposing teams now know is somewhat unlucky and only holds second-round status from his original draft. However, things could get more interesting when viewed in conjunction with Houston’s other draft picks. In addition to No. 3, the Rockets currently also have first-round picks at No. 17 and No. 26, and Stone could look to move up a few spots on draft night should a high-ranked player drop.
Athletic’s Kelly Iko reports that Houston is looking for athletic wings after his No. 3 pick. This might be a player profile that’s easier to access should the Rockets make a late lottery pick.
The Rockets seek help on the wings, targeting young players who are offensively confident and able to defend multiple positions effectively.
Could Houston dangle Martin, No. 17, and No. 26 to a team like the Charlotte Hornets and see if they could move up to No. 13 overall? The draft is very much considered a crapshoot after the top 8 picks since different teams have different preferences and big differences in their big boards. It’s conceivable that Stone and the Rockets might find someone in the late lottery who would consider relegation.
As you move up the draft board, it might be possible to target a player like Memphis’ Jalen Duran, Ohio State’s Malaki Branham, or even Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan. That’s how Martin’s seemingly unfortunate hiatus during this draft week could turn into a good favor — if it allows Houston to eventually have a better view of 2022.
Still, given Martin’s age, it’s unlikely we’ll see any significant movement on the trade front. Teams, players, and agents work out friendly agreements that benefit both sides. If the Rockets are realistic about Martin’s stocks in the league, perhaps it’s best that he plays another season in Houston with head coach Stephen Silas.
But the other possibility is certainly out there after Monday’s news.