Rockets owner Leslie Alexander sat behind his desk with a stack of poker chips piled to his right as symbols of his second favorite sport, but also of the Rockets’ draft strategy.
The Rockets head into today’s NBA draft willing to gamble, happy to accept risk in exchange for a chance to hit it big.
More than a philosophy, or a strategy that fits their spot choosing 14th while working the phones hard in search of a deal to move up, it is a directive from the owner.
“I always do,” Alexander said of his determination to take a chance in search of draft “upside.” “To win a championship, you have to accept risk. Otherwise, you’ll never get there.”
This is not a point he has had to reiterate to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey through Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s meetings.
“Daryl knows that by now,” Alexander said. “That’s him, too.”
That preference had the Rockets working to move up into the top 10, apparently targeting Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins — perhaps the draft’s most intriguing risk/reward prospect – if they can move high enough.
In a draft deep with talent, however, there could be players who fit the Rockets’ pursuit of great potential in their spot in the middle of the first round.
Once the top five to seven picks are taken, forwards Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Patrick Patterson and Luke Babbitt, center Cole Aldrich and guard Xavier Henry are considered players likely to be chosen in the next group that includes the Rockets’ pick.
Guard Avery Bradley, small forward James Anderson and center Hassan Whiteside also are expected to get heavy consideration by teams drafting in the middle of the first round.
Though the Rockets’ roster is crowded with wings and a lack of interior size, Morey and vice president of player personnel Gersson Rosas have said the team will not choose based on need. The preference for potential over certainty indicates they are more likely to choose George, Henry, Anderson or Whiteside, than Aldrich or Patterson.
“We feel like there is a pool from six to 17 almost, and there’s players that are establishing themselves early in the order,” Rosas said. “We also feel like where we’re at, 10 to 16, there is a lot to be said (for) what do you like, what do you value. At that point, things can shake up at any moment.”
Lottery pick a hot ticket
The Rockets can change their fate dramatically if they move up, but they also could be subject to other changes even if they remain at No. 14. The Indiana Pacers have been actively shopping the 10th pick, with that selection likely to impact the picks that follow. The Detroit Pistons, who head into the draft with the seventh pick, could move up to get the size they seek, but, failing that, they also could move back.
If the Rockets believe the wings have greater potential than the big men expected to remain in the middle of the first round, they could choose between the player remaining from among Babbitt, Hayward, George, Henry and Anderson.
“We feel the pick has value for us in terms of getting a player we like and also value around the league,” Rosas said. “The board changes. It changes hour by hour (based on) trades, rumors, players being in position where you don’t expect them to be. We’ve got to go through all the scenarios we can go through and prepare ourselves for how we have to react.
“We feel there are some spots we feel teams might move into and that can change the whole board.”
Rosas also would not rule out moving back, as the Rockets have in recent seasons, though that seems less likely with a relatively rare place in the lottery.
“I think the league values a lottery pick,” Rosas said. “I think there’s some opportunities you can get a lot for it. I think you have to be prepared.”
The top of the draft seems to have settled into place, with Kentucky guard John Wall certain to go first to the Washington Wizards before the Philadelphia 76ers choose Ohio State’s Evan Turner. There were indications Tuesday the New Jersey Nets are considering Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson, but they remain more likely to take Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors. That would allow Minnesota to take Johnson and Sacramento to choose Cousins.
Changes like the weather
Still, trades could change much of that, with the Rockets among the teams jockeying to improve their position.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Alexander said. “That’s an honest answer. GMs call. They want to do something. Then an hour later, they don’t want to do something. An hour later, they want to do something else. Then they don’t want to do something. That’s how it goes all the time. It changes constantly.
“Who knows what’s going to happen. We’re trying to move up. We’re trying to get better players. We’d move down. It’s such a fluid thing, it changes every 20 minutes.”
Gambler that he is, even he would not bet on how the draft would unfold. Starting with the 14trh pick, however, he did like his chances.