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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: 2022 Offseason Pre-Draft Edition

Breaking down the Rockets salary cap situation as they head towards the 2022 NBA Draft

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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

Year 2 of the rebuild is in the books. While the Houston Rockets had the league’s worst record for a second straight season, there was much more hope and excitement this season. The youth movement in Houston is fully underway, led by scoring dynamo Jalen Green.

With their season now over, GM Rafael Stone and the Rockets must look to the offseason for ways to improve their roster and optimize their rebuild.

Player Salary, Exceptions and Available Cap Room

The Houston Rockets currently have the following player salary commitments, cap holds and salary cap exceptions available for the 2022-23 season (assuming that the league’s current projection of a $122 million salary cap is accurate):

Player salary commitments: John Wall ($47.4 million, likely), Eric Gordon (19.6 million), Christian Wood ($14.3 million), Green ($9.4 million), David Nwaba ($5.0 million), Alperen Sengun ($3.4 million), Kevin Porter, Jr. ($3.2 million), Usman Garuba ($2.5 million), Josh Christopher ($2.4 million), Garrison Mathews ($2.0 million), Jae’Sean Tate ($1.8 million, team option), K.J. Martin ($1.8 million), Daishen Nix ($1.6 million), D.J. Augustin ($333,333 dead cap hit), and in the final year of its application, the long-since-waived Troy Williams ($122,741 dead cap hit).

Cap holds: Dennis Schroder ($7.1 million – Rockets hold only Non-Bird rights), Bruno Fernando ($2.2 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights), Trevelin Queen ($1.6 million – coming off a two-way contract), Anthony Lamb ($1.6 million – coming off a two-way contract), and Michael Frazier ($1.6 million – cap hold never waived).

Other Salary Cap Exceptions: If Houston operates over the salary cap this summer (extremely likely), the Rockets will have access to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NT-MLE, expected to be around $10.3 million, the use of which would impose a hard cap at the “apron” level – currently projected at about $155.7 million). Although it would also impose a hard cap at the apron level, Houston could possibly use the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE, expected to be around $4.1 million), since they did not use it last summer. In the unlikely event that the Rockets use cap room this summer, they could instead have the Room Exception of around $5.3 million at their disposal. Assuming they operate over the salary cap, the Rockets will also have a small ($608,000) traded player exceptions (TPE) left over from the Daniel Theis trade, although it is highly unlikely to be used (or even usable).

Given their salary commitments, Bird rights to their free agents and additional cap exceptions available to them, the Rockets should operate over the cap for the 2022-23 season. Barring trades, the Rockets will be at least $5 million over the salary cap.

Preliminary Internal Decisions

Ahead of the NBA Draft and the subsequent free agent season, Stone and his staff will need to address some internal matters.

The two biggest no-brainers of Houston’s offseason will take place before the end of June: (1) Wall exercising his $47.4 million player option and (2) the Rockets exercising their $1.8 million team option on Tate.

With so many roster spots already occupied for next season, it is unclear whether the Rockets will attempt to retain Fernando, who can be made a restricted free agent by extending him a $2.2 million qualifying offer. Right now, the odds of the Rockets committing that offer to Fernando are fairly slim, although Fernando played pretty well in a limited role down the stretch.

The Rockets can make each of Queen and Lamb – coming off two-way contracts – a restricted free agent by extending them another two-way contract for next year (with only a small salary guarantee) as a qualifying offer.

Draft Night

Paolo Banchero Houston RocketsThe Rockets will enter the 2022 NBA Draft with the 3rd overall pick (their own) and the 17th overall pick (via the Brooklyn Nets). They are without their own second rounder (31st overall), which was traded away in the 2019 salary dump of Brandon Knight for Iman Shumpert. Houston will also have about $4.5 million in remaining cash available to buy draft picks, having already spent some cash in trades for Theis and Sekou Doumbouya this past season. (Credit Rockets ownership for spending over $3.7 million in salary and cash in the Doumbouya trade last fall to acquire an unprotected 2024 Brooklyn Nets second rounder.)

While trades up, down or out (for an established player) are still on the table, the most likely scenario has the Rockets staying at #3 and selecting Duke power forward Paolo Banchero, perhaps the most league-ready player in the draft and an early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

At #17, trades up, down or out are much more likely. However, if the Rockets stay at #17, expect them to take the best player available on their draft board, regardless of position. Still, all else equal, Houston would probably love to get another wing defender with size or a rim protector with length.

While spots on the 15-man roster are hard to come by for next season, don’t be shocked if the Rockets try to deploy some of their remaining cash to buy a draft pick in the late 40s or the 50s if there is a player they like who is willing to be stashed overseas for a year or two. Especially with the Rockets expected to have a massive amount of cap room in 2023, having a second round pick (as opposed to an undrafted free agent) to add for the rookie minimum that summer would help maximize their cap room.

Of course, as is standard operating procedure, look for the Rockets to pursue a handful of undrafted free agents for their summer league team, training camp and possibly two-way contracts for next season.

Internal Free Agent Decisions

Houston will have some decisions to make with its own free agents heading into July.

Dennis Schroder: After taking a major hit to reputation over the past couple of seasons, Shroder did a noble job as a veteran presence for the young Rockets down the stretch this season. However, both sides will likely part ways this summer. Shroder will look for a starting (or key backup) point guard role on a playoff team. Meanwhile, the Rockets will probably look to give backup point guard minutes to Nix and/or one of their new rookies.

Bruno Fernando: Even if the Rockets don’t extend a qualifying offer to Bruno, they could still bring him back this summer via full Bird rights. Still, it would probably require a trade moving out Wood or another big to open up a roster spot for Fernando.

Trevelin Queen: Queen just had one of the greatest seasons in G-League history. MVP. Finals MVP. All-Defense Team. With a qualifying offer potentially costing the Rockets very little in guaranteed salary, it would seem foolish for them not to extend a qualifying offer to Queen. Expect him to be in a similar position to Armoni Brooks last summer, a restricted free agent who ultimately accepts the two-way qualifying offer before playing well enough to earn a multi-year standard NBA contract. If a trade opens up an extra roster spot on the wing, Queen seems a likely contender to take that spot.

Anthony Lamb: While not receiving the same accolades as Queen, Lamb had an excellent all-around season for the RGV Vipers this season. Even if he is ultimately cut from one of the two-way spots in favor of an undrafted rookie, Lamb has probably earned the small investment it would take to potentially keep him in the fold this summer and into this fall. At the very least, Lamb would be a nice addition to training camp.

Outside Free Agents

Mo BambaDue to the shortage of roster spots – and the team’s goal to have significant 2023 cap room – it is unlikely that the Rockets will be as active in free agency as they’ve been in years past. However, armed with their full NT-MLE, they could possibly acquire a real contributor via free agency if they so choose.

One possible free agent who could slip through the cracks and could be a contributor for the Rockets next season is Mo Bamba. Orlando must extend Bamba a $10.1 million qualifying offer in order to make him a restricted free agent. Given the presence of Wendell Carter, Jr., Jonathan Isaac (expected back from injury) and presumptive top pick Jabari Smith (or Chet Holmgren), there’s a decent chance Orlando doesn’t elect to make that financial commitment to Bamba.

At 7-1 with a ridiculous 7-10 wingspan and 9-7 standing reach, Bamba would provide the length and rim protection that is missing from the current Rockets roster. Bamba also shot 38% from 3-point range this season, an impressive percentage from a big man. While his stats this season (10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game) don’t necessarily jump off the page, and while he certainly comes with a little risk, 24-year-olds with Bamba’s physical tools don’t often hit unrestricted free agency.

Especially if Houston trades Wood this summer, they should look long and hard at Bamba for most/all of the NT-MLE. He could come in and start at center, with Sengun being the higher usage sixth man dominating second units. Meanwhile, they could let Bamba take those early game lumps against other teams’ starting centers. The promise of (or at least the chance to compete for) a starting spot could entice Bamba enough to sign for a little less than some other offers. (And yes, the Longhorns connection doesn’t hurt, either.)

Of course, Bamba isn’t the only free agent out there who could help the Rockets. But that list is probably a short one for a team expected to keep enduring growing pains next season with its many young players.

Conclusion

Entering Year 3 of the rebuild, no one is expecting the Rockets to contend for a playoff spot, let alone a championship. However, with a burgeoning core of Green and (probably) Banchero, the hope and excitement from last season should continue to grow. The franchise is aiming for a brighter future ahead.

Here’s hoping it comes soon.

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Podcast: Houston Rockets options with the #3 pick of the 2024 NBA Draft

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Houston Rockets 2024 NBA Draft prospects Zaccharie Risacher Stephon Castle Reed Sheppard Donovan Clingan

The offseason is now underway.

The forecast looks good for the Houston Rockets, but… there’s pressure as well this offseason because there are a handful of other West teams that might have rosier futures. Ime Udoka wants to win and win big. As we are about five weeks away from the NBA Draft, what are the Rockets looking to do this summer?

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Rockets shockingly landing the #3 pick and their options in this draft, including Reed Sheppard, Donovan Clingan, Zaccharie Risacher, Stephon Castle, Matas Buzelis and others. They also discuss the possibility of some big game hunting in Houston.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Podcast: Steven Adams, Mikal Bridges and Trade Possibilities for the Rockets

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Houston Rockets Trade Deadline 2024

The Houston Rockets already made one deal, acquiring center Steven Adams from Memphis for a handful of second-round picks, but we still have several days left before this Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline.

Are more deals on the way?

Rumors of interest in Mikal Bridges have swirled, with the Rockets holding precious (and unprotected) first-round picks from Brooklyn. They also could use some help inside this season, which Adams can not provide. Shooting is always in demand.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Adams trade, its impact on the Rockets in 2024-25 and beyond, the Mikal Bridges rumors, the Brooklyn picks, other trade possibilities and options for Rafael Stone moving forward. Also discussed is the play of Houston’s core 6 prospects: Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and Jalen Green.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Rockets trade for center Steven Adams

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Steven Adams Houston Rockets

The Rockets made a surprise trade on Thursday, sending the contract of Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks to Memphis for center Steven Adams.

The deal came together quickly and the Rockets had a small window to get it done, hence why this trade was made with a week to go until the trade deadline.

The Price

When you consider that Memphis did this for cost savings primarily and that Adams would not play for any team in the league this season, the price seemed a little high to me. The Rockets gave up the OKC second-round pick this year, which is no big loss, but they also give up the better of Brooklyn’s or Golden State’s second-round pick this season. That’s a pretty good pick (likely in the late 30’s). They also give up the better of Houston’s or OKC’s second-round pick in 2025. If things go as planned for the Rockets, that pick should be in the 45-55 range.

But they didn’t sacrifice a first-round pick, which would have been brutal, and they were not going to use all those seconds this season. So it’s just a matter of opportunity cost — who else could they have gotten for this package?

My understanding is they (particularly Ime Udoka) are very high on Adams.

The Rockets also did this move for cap purposes as well. By moving out the Oladipo contract, which was expiring, and bringing in Adams’ deal, which is signed for $12.4M next season, the window for the Rockets to put together a trade package for a star player is extended out until the 2025 trade deadline. They continue to wait to see which players, if any, shake loose here and become available. They want flexible (see: expiring) contracts that they can combine with assets and this gives them another year to be in that position.

The Trade

It’s not often that the Rockets acquire a player I had not considered beforehand but that’s the case with Steven Adams. The Rockets sorely need a big with size that provides more traditional center strengths, making Clint Capela, Robert Williams, Nick Richards or Daniel Gafford potential candidates, but Adams was overlooked for a few reasons.

First, the 30-year old big man is out for the season after knee surgery cost him the entire 2023-24 campaign, so the Rockets won’t get any benefit from this trade this season. Secondly, Adams is not your traditional center either when it comes to rim protection.

But what Adams does do, he’s really good at and he has some of the same strengths of Brook Lopez, who the Rockets tried to sign in the offseason. Adams is quite possibly the strongest guy in the league and a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He’s an outstanding screen-setter, something that could really benefit the likes of Fred VanVleet, Amen Thompson and Jalen Green. He was also an elite rebounder last season, finishing 6th in the league in caroms at 11.5 a game despite playing just 27.0 minutes a contest.

After watching Jonas Valanciunas absolutely bully the Rockets inside on Wednesday, it should be apparent by now to everyone that this was a pretty big need.

In 2021-22, the Memphis Grizzlies finished #2 in the West at 56-26. Their top two players in Net Rating that season were Dillon Brooks (+11.0) and Adams (+8.3), key cogs in a defense that held opponents to 108.6 points per 100 possessions. They’re both now Houston Rockets.

So this adds another trusted vet to Ime Udoka’s rotation.

The question is will the 30-year old Adams return to form after the knee injury? Adams sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago, which cost him the end of that season and the playoffs. He tried rehabbing it and it never got better, so surgery became the option just as this season was kicking off.

I like to think the Rockets did their due diligence on that, despite the short time it took for this deal to come together, but that’s unclear.

If he does bounce back, then Udoka has a big man he can turn to reliably in situational matchups or on nights when the younger bigs struggle. He wouldn’t be Boban or even Jock Landale in that scenario — he’s going to play, so the frontcourt depth in 2024-25 should be better. In the end, they got a starting-caliber center who will have no problems coming off the bench, and that’s what they were looking for.

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On the KPJ trade and future of the Rockets

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The Houston Rockets are back to being a professional NBA team once again.

The Rockets finally ended the Kevin Porter Jr. era on Tuesday, coughing up two second-round picks in order to unload his contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder, getting back the contract of Victor Oladipo and third-year forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The move puts an end to a long investment and very rocky tenure with KPJ.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Porter Jr. Experiment, the price paid to move him, Houston’s potential trade options moving forward, the new culture and the current state of the Rockets young core.

ClutchFans Podcast: On Apple | Spotify

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Heavy investment in Kevin Porter Jr raises serious questions about Rockets front office

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Kevin Porter Jr. Rafael Stone

Soon-to-be-ex Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, resulting in a fractured neck vertebra and a deep gash above her right eye after an attack at a hotel in New York. He allegedly woke her up by punching her repeatedly, strangled her and did not stop hitting her until she ran out of the hotel room screaming for help and covered in blood.

“This is a serious domestic violence case,” said assistant Manhattan district attorney Mirah Curzer.

First and foremost, I wish the victim healing. I don’t know what to say about the nightmare she went through. She and her family will forever be impacted. As for KPJ, if this is true, he doesn’t belong on the Rockets or in the NBA at all. He belongs in jail.

Secondly, this can’t be overlooked and just swept under the rug: Why did the Houston Rockets bank on and invest so heavily in this guy?

Kevin Porter Jr. being accused of crimes of this severity should not be shocking – at all. Before he even came to the Rockets, he had a long list of serious problems. He was suspended multiple times in high school. In 2019, he had a “conduct issue” significant enough that USC suspended the 5-star recruit indefinitely. He fell to the end of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft because of his behavior liability. He was accused of punching a woman in the face in Cleveland. He also had a gun and marijuana charge later dismissed after getting into a car crash. He went into a tirade and got into a nasty confrontation with both the Cleveland coach and GM, resulting in the Cavs severing ties immediately and dumping him to the Rockets for nothing.

You could make the argument that initially giving Porter Jr. a second chance in Houston was praiseworthy, but the Rockets experienced KPJ’s anger management and immaturity issues firsthand on several occasions.

Former Rocket Austin Rivers said this week that this isn’t the first, second or even seventh issue with Porter Jr. and that Rockets “higher-ups” confided in him that they had no idea how to handle him.

“I remember talking to guys in the Houston Rockets organization, higher-ups, [and] they were having issues then,” said Rivers. “They were like, ‘We don’t know what to do with him.’ And that’s when he just got there from Cleveland!”

Porter Jr. was routinely a nightmare for Rockets coaches to deal with. On several occasions, he confronted and cussed out members of the coaching staff, saying they didn’t have the “credentials”, per source, a reference to the fact that him playing heavy minutes at point guard was a decision they did not control.

Once at a night out, Porter Jr. had a disagreement with a DJ over music choice and he snapped, smashing the DJ’s laptop to the floor. He needed to be restrained and removed. Rockets personnel and several of Porter’s teammates witnessed the incident.

Curzer also dropped a bombshell at the arraignment in saying that Porter Jr. has a history of abusing his girlfriend, who he had only been dating since early last year, his second season with the Rockets. Curzer specifically cited an incident in which KPJ allegedly rammed his car into hers.

There were dozens of maturity issues visible on the court to anyone paying attention. He refused to check out of games. He got into an argument on the bench with assistant Lionel Hollins. On numerous occasions, he would visibly shut down when he wasn’t passed the ball. I invite you to watch this video from a game against Memphis on March 20, 2022. Just listen to the Grizzlies broadcasters, particularly starting at the 1:40 mark, talk about what they are witnessing here:



Privately, people around the league would say they were baffled by the Rockets continued fascination with Porter Jr. Nobody could understand it.

That fascination starts with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who by every account over the last two years was the driving force behind the investment in Porter Jr. It has been no secret. Trading for him in January 2021 was seen by some with the team as his “Harden acquisition”, code for a signature move that makes an executive’s career, much in the way landing James Harden did for Daryl Morey in 2012.

For example, former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas never considered Porter Jr. to be a point guard, per sources — playing him there was a Stone mandate because the GM believed that is where his future lied.

John Wall also told us as much publicly when he explained the phone call he got from Silas about coming off the bench. He said Silas told him “This is what the GM wants,” adding again that Silas said, “Man, you don’t deserve that. You should be the starter. This is just what they want to do.” Wall was upset because he believed KPJ should have to earn the spot.

“I have a hard time finding anybody outside of the Rockets front office that believes that Kevin Porter Jr. is a starting point guard in the NBA,” said ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon in December.

There were plenty of warning signs about KPJ to the public too.

After Porter Jr. got into a heated argument in which KPJ “physically shoved” Rockets assistant coach John Lucas and quit on the team in the middle of a game against Denver in January of 2022, leaving the arena at halftime, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix famously wrote that the Rockets should “Cut Porter Jr. Waive him. Release him. Whatever. Eat what’s left of the $1.8 million he’s owed this season and the $3.2 million he’s got next and move on.” It became a source of mockery for Porter Jr’s fans, a line they would bring up after each game he hit a few threes or handed out some assists.

In February of this year, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, one of the most connected reporters in the league, flat out warned us that he was hearing awful things about the Rockets culture and locker room. He was blunt in what the Rockets needed to do — waive Kevin Porter Jr. outright and bring in a new coach and GM.

“Just cut him. That’s it,” said Givony of Porter Jr. “And you’re sending a signal to the league that we’re going to do things differently from here on out.”

“When you talk to people around the NBA about Houston, you just don’t hear good things about their culture, about that locker room. You talk to people that are on that team, and they are like, ‘We are a mess’,” said Givony. “Do people want to work with this organization? But you can change that fairly quickly if you come in, get rid of the bad apples and you change the coaching staff, and all of a sudden, you’re Houston. It’s the third-biggest city in America. There’s a history here of you actually being good.”

Porter came to the Rockets for “free” (in exchange for a top-55 protected second-round pick, which was designed not to convey), but he proved far from it as the Rockets continued to pour investment into him. Over the last 2-3 seasons, no Rockets player got more developmental capital than Porter Jr. – not Jalen Green, not Alperen Sengun, not Jabari Smith Jr. The Fertittas paid John Wall $85+ million over two years to sit at home so the team could groom Porter Jr. to be their future point guard.

Then they doubled down. With restricted free agency on the horizon and a seemingly non-existent market for KPJ’s services, the Rockets gave Porter Jr. an extension a year sooner – a contract that was presented as a four-year, $82.5 million deal. The deal was more team-friendly than that, putting team options in it after years 1 and 3. Going from the potential disaster that was initially reported to a deal they could escape after one season felt like a “win”, but the biggest question was why they wanted him long-term at all. The unprecedented nature of a contract that size with that kind of club control clearly showed the Rockets knew there was unique and significant risk here.

After KPJ signed the extension, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko summarized the Rockets view of Porter Jr. – “As has been [their] stance for months, the Rockets have maintained the notion that Porter is a priority and is considered a huge part of their core, along with Green and Jabari Smith Jr.”

The Rockets actions to kick off the 2022-23 season showed exactly that – that he was a priority. They benched Sengun to start the season, in large part to give KPJ a “lob threat” and defender in the starting lineup. They gave him the superstar “Harden Locker”. They introduced him last in the starting lineups. They treated him as the star and empowered him to be the self-proclaimed “Head Honcho” of Clutch City.

But the extension proved unwise and foolish. Porter Jr. never even made it to the first year of it. With over $80 million on the line, he snapped again. The Rockets signed him to one of the team-friendliest deals ever and still managed to both overcommit and overpay as Stone now scrambles to attach real assets to it to get another team to take it off his books.

Is it fair to question the judgment of the Rockets front office? Absolutely and without question. Whether you look at their ability to value character, evaluate risk, scout basketball, build culture, manage assets or allocate development resources, they failed at every level here. Why didn’t they act sooner? Why did they double down? Why didn’t they hold him accountable? Why did everybody in the league see it but them?

“We value the player and the person that [Kevin Porter Jr.] is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Stone after rewarding him with the extension less than a year ago.

The question you have to ask yourself now is, with all they knew and witnessed about Porter Jr. both on and off the court — why were they eager at all?

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