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2 Sep 2023

Charlotte Hornets v Houston Rockets

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 27: Kevin Porter Jr. #3 of the Houston Rockets reacts towards the Rockets ... [+] bench during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at Toyota Center on November 27, 2021 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

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If one were to consider solely raw stats, they would assume that Kevin Porter Jr.’s role with the Houston Rockets was completely secure. After all, the 6’4 23-year-old just finished a season during which he averaged 19.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, shooting 36.6% on 3s. But the Rockets’ wasted no time during the offseason securing replacements at Porter’s position, both for the short term and for the long term.

First, they used the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to select Amen Thompson, a long and explosive 20-year-old with superior court vision and a natural playmaking tendency which had scouts salivating over his potential. They then splurged in free agency to steal veteran Fred VanVleet from the Toronto Raptors, inking him to a contract worth $130 million over three seasons (though the last year carries a team option). The two moves were not exactly a vote of confidence from Rockets brass towards Porter’s performance thus far quarterbacking the Rockets offense. VanVleet will take the driver’s seat on day one with the hope being that Thompson is ready to take over by the time the veteran’s money rolls off the team’s cap sheet.

So where does that leave Porter? Former second overall pick Jalen Green, the first lottery pick of the team’s rebuild is the team’s present and future at shooting guard. And the team just signed Memphis forward Dillon Brooks to a four-year, $86 million contract, presumably to flank Green at small forward. Some observers have speculated that with new head coach Ime Udoka’s talk of meritocracy, either wing spot could be up for grabs. But with how much the team has invested in Green and Brooks (draft capital and money), such a proposition seems very far-fetched.

The most likely outcome is that Porter will assume the role of sixth man, a demotion which could require quite the adjustment. Porter had a usage of 23.9% in each of the last two seasons, with former head coach Stephen Silas’ offense built around him serving as a major focal point. Indeed, the team started journeyman Bruno Fernando ahead of Alperen Sengun to start the season in 2022-2023 largely in part to free up driving lanes for Porter due to Fernando’s ability to catch lobs off the roll.

Porter’s greatest value to the Rockets may be the purpose he could serve as salary filler in a larger trade later in the season. That’s largely due to the structure of the extension he signed last season with the team. While the contract is reported to be for four years, $63.44 million, only the first year figure ($15.86 million) is fully guaranteed. Porter’s $15.86 million in 2024-2025 is partially guaranteed (and not fully guaranteed until June 30, 2024), his $15.86 million for 2025-2026 is non-guaranteed, and the final year—2026-2027—is subject to a team option.

Thus, if things don’t work out for the Rockets and Porter in his new role, he should not be difficult to move in a trade if another team would like to take a low risk flier on a still-young high upside talent. For all intents and purposes, Porter’s contract is essentially an expiring contract after the 2023-2024 season. The Rockets will roll the dice and enter October with hopes that Porter can provide some playmaking punch off the bench. But if things go south, or an opportunity to add a pricey target via trade presents itself, Rockets management will have options.