Earlier this week, it was reported that Houston Rockets sophomore forward Tari Eason would miss two to three weeks with what was described as a stress reaction in his left lower leg. Eason, who garnered second team All-Rookie honors last season, played in all 82 games and was one of the team’s sole bright spots. He averaged 9.3 points and six rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game. His absence was immediately felt in Wednesday night’s opener as the Rockets were crushed on the boards by the Orlando Magic, outrebounded by 18.
Houston, looking to get back to its winning ways after three painful losing seasons, already features an undersized frontcourt. Starting center Alperen Sengun stands at just 6’10 with below average athleticism in the modern NBA. Jabari Smith Jr., the starter at power forward, is also 6’10, but sleight of build, and also lacking in athleticism. Off the bench are 6’8 Jeff Green and 6’4 Jae’Sean Tate. Eason, on the other hand, is a 6’8 pitbull and a relentless defender and rebounder. He can play either forward spot and the team was particularly potent last season, statistically, when he and Sengun shared the floor together. There is an argument that Eason should start over Smith given the manner in which he complements Sengun. Eason was drafted 17th in the 2022 NBA draft while Smith was drafted third.
Eason is earning $3.5 million in 2023-2024, the second year of his rookie scale contract. The Rockets have until October 31, 2023 to exercise the first of two team options on his contract; to no surprise, they have been reported to be intending to exercise the option. The last season of his rookie scale contract will be 2025-2026. By that point, the team will have had the option to extend him. Given how his rookie season played out, Rockets management hopes to have Eason in red for many years to come. For now, they hope to have him back for this season.