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Houston Rockets tried to pull off draft day trade for No. 1 pick

Andrew Buller-Russ
NBA: Summer League-Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets may be launching full steam ahead with Jabari Smith, after landing him with the No. 3 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but there was a time when they were prepared to move up to No. 1 for the talented forward out of Auburn.

Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic discussed a pick swap

According to Tim MacMahon and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the final discussions ran up to the night of the draft, with the Rockets making a last-ditch effort to trade up to the top of the board.

The ESPN report suggests the Rockets had their eye on Smith all along, but since there was uncertainty surrounding the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder’s selections, Houston wanted to ensure they could get their guy.

Shortly before the draft took place, the Rockets were sold on the idea of the Magic surprising everyone by selecting Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the first pick. Which was fine, it didn’t mess up their plans to land Smith, but they had no idea what the Thunder were thinking.

This led the Rockets to try and trade with the Magic, hoping the Thunder also didn’t fall in love with Smith as a prospect. From Houston’s perspective, they were unsure on Chet Holmgren, since they hadn’t yet done extensive research on his medical info.

But, even trade discussions with the Magic didn’t last long, as they too wanted to ensure they landed their top choice, Banchero.

Now we see it all worked out for everyone, with the top prospects all playing in the Vegas Summer League with their respective teams. But it is interesting that the Rockets were prepared to part with additional assets just to secure Smith.

If anyone thought they only picked Smith because he was the last one left from the projected top-three, this report goes against that idea. Then again, that could be the exact reasoning behind this leak, maybe the Rockets are just trying to convince everyone they got who they wanted all along.

Related: NBA Rookie of the Year 2023: Jabari Smith tops the list, Jaden Ivey a sleeper