Where Does Jae’sean Tate Fit In The Houston Rockets’ Crowded Frontcourt?

The start to Jae’Sean Tate’s NBA career has been a mixed bag, so to speak. In 2020-2021, the then 25-year-old burst onto the scene at the start of Houston’s rebuild in the post-James Harden era. He appeared in 70 games, starting 58, averaging 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, logging 29.2 minutes per contest for Stephen Silas. Tate drew raves from the organization for his leadership and locker-room presence and from coaches for his versatility and defensive tenacity.

In 2021-2022, Tate put up almost identical numbers, averaging 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 26.4 minutes per contest; he appeared in 78 games and started 77. On July 6, 2022, the organization rewarded him with a three-year, $20.63 million contract with an average salary of $6.87 million.

But then 2022-2023 was a down year, plagued by injury, as Tate suited up for just 31 games for Houston. His minutes dipped to 21.8 per night with new, younger faces appearing in the Rockets rotation. Somehow, Tate’s shooting got even worse as he connected on just 28.3% of his three-point attempts.

The decline begs the question of what is next for Tate with the Rockets franchise. The 6’4 muscular wing has appeared in all three spots along the Houston frontline. But in 2022, the Rockets spent major draft capital—the #3 and #17 overall picks in that draft, to be sure—upon two long, versatile forwards in Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason who both figure to be long term fixtures for the franchise. And while small forward K.J. Martin was traded this offseason, the Rockets snatched up explosive rookie Cam Whitmore in the 2023 draft after he fell to the bottom of the first round on draft night after being projected to go as high as fourth to the Rockets. They spent $86 million to secure a long-term commitment from Dillon Brooks who figures to be the opening day starter at small forward. Lastly, Kevin Porter Jr., the starter at point guard over the last two seasons, and a player the franchise considers to have been its top performer last season, figures to get a large chunk of the backup wing minutes after the team expended major capital in the offseason to overhaul its point guard rotation.

This is all to say that there does not figure to be many minutes left over for Tate in the Houston lineup. The development or presence of each of the aforementioned players is of higher priority than minutes for Tate, now 28. Brooks and Porter are better than him; Smith, Eason, and Whitmore, while not better in the present, are in more need of minutes, for the long term. Still, Tate is such a positive influence and so highly regarded that it would not come as a shock to anyone if Udoka relied upon him.

Tate’s contract is essentially expiring. While he earns $6.5 million next season, the $7.065 million he is set to earn in 2024-2025 is subject to a team option that the Rockets must exercise by June 29, 2024. That means if Tate is traded, his new team could wipe his salary off its books next offseason, making him a potentially attractive trade piece if team management looks to go shopping closer to the trade deadline.

Right now, it’s anyone’s guess how Tate, one of the first pieces of the Houston rebuild, fits into the long term picture headed into next season.

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