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Kevin Porter Jr. trade grades: Rockets take low-risk home run swing as Cavaliers prioritize culture

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Kevin Porter Jr. is getting traded to the Houston Rockets, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The Cleveland Cavaliers will receive a protected second-round pick in the deal. Porter, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, spent his rookie season in Cleveland but had not played so far this season due to personal issues. 

Porter originally fell to No. 30 largely thanks to character concerns. In August, he was accused of punching a woman according to a report by Cleveland.com, and in November, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a weapon and marijuana. Porter reportedly had an outburst after his locker was moved to a different section of the locker room earlier this week, leading to Cleveland’s decision to either trade or release him. 

Porter had a very promising rookie season. He averaged 10 points on 44 percent shooting, but pushed that scoring above 14 points per game across a stretch from late January through early March when he received more playing time. He did enough in that time for some to wonder if he, not No. 5 overall pick Darius Garland, was the proper long-term backcourt partner for Collin Sexton in Cleveland. 

Now, he’ll join a suddenly crowded Rockets backcourt. The starting spots are currently occupied by John Wall and Victor Oladipo, and veteran Eric Gordon is entrenched as well. That leaves Porter to compete with players like Mason Jones, Ben McLemore and Danuel House for reserve minutes. 

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But Houston is not likely to contend any time soon with James Harden now playing for the Brooklyn Nets. Taking high-risk, high-reward swings on youngsters is typically a prudent move under such circumstances. On paper, this is the sort of move the Rockets should be making. We saw glimpses of his potential in Cleveland. Now, the Rockets will hope to find more consistent production out of the former first-round pick. Here’s how both teams graded in the deal. 

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Cleveland Cavaliers: C-

Ignoring the circumstances, this outcome is an utter disaster for Cleveland. The Cavs got 50 games out of Porter. They traded four second-round picks and $5 million in cash to get the No. 30 pick and take him. Now, they get only one pick back. Cleveland is not Oklahoma City or New Orleans. Koby Altman isn’t sitting on top of a mound of assets that he can burn at his leisure. Losing all of those picks for someone that ultimately needed to be dumped is a meaningful loss. 

But given where Cleveland is after a surprising 7-7 start through 14 games, it’s a justifiable loss. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season, and rebuilding seasons offer a degree of patience. Last season’s Cavs might have been able to work with Porter through his issues. But with Garland and Sexton breaking out and a suddenly stellar defense, Cleveland seems to have prioritized culture over talent. It’s a sensible choice. Garland, based on his play so far this season, has proven his place as a long-term starter in Cleveland. That made jettisoning Porter, regardless of his raw ability, an easier pill to swallow. The Cavs won’t want for guard help any time soon. 

But accountability is universal, and now a young team has seen firsthand what happens when someone doesn’t buy into the program. This is still a bad outcome for a young team still years away from true contention, but the Cavs managed to make the lemonade out of these lemons. 

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Houston Rockets: B+

We have to start with the obvious caveat here. Porter’s situation is messy. The lack of demand for his services made sense given the accusations against him. That would have been enough to keep him off of several teams, and what happened in the locker room earlier this week didn’t exactly help. This grade is based purely on the move as a basketball transaction, and in that arena, it’s a prudent addition. 

Right now, Houston has a crowded backcourt. That could change quickly. The widespread belief around the league is that Victor Oladipo will leave the Rockets in free agency. If the Rockets continue to flounder, they could easily flip him at the deadline in a deal that brings in more draft capital and opens up minutes. If that is indeed the path the Rockets pursue, it would hint at a full-scale rebuild over the next several seasons. That is a wise course of action. Houston controls its first-round pick in 2022 and 2023, but doesn’t in 2024, 2025 or 2026. The Rockets are incentivized to be as bad as possible in that two-year window so that by the time they start sending picks to the Thunder, they have their long-term nucleus in place. 

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A good way to be bad is to spend minutes developing young players. Players with Porter’s upside are rarely available for the price Houston paid. In an ideal world, he’d struggle through his growing pains over the next few seasons and grow into someone capable of helping the Rockets win by the time the Thunder start collecting on their debt. There’s no guarantee that he ever overcomes the issues that Cleveland traded him over, but for a protected second-round pick, Houston doesn’t need him to. They can cut him having invested very little should the need arise.

The Rockets aren’t exactly the picture of stability right now, but James Harden is gone. They can theoretically transition into a period of relative normalcy now that he’s left, and taking swings on talented youngsters is something that normal rebuilding teams do. Porter might have benefitted from a stronger culture, but if the teams that could provide such an environment were interested, he’d probably be playing for one right now. Houston was the team that wanted him. That indicates a willingness to make the necessary commitment to his growth, and given the playing time that is likely to become available soon, it’s a chance for something of a clean start on a team with low expectations. That’s about as much as Porter can ask for right now. 


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