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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

With the January 25th deadline to extend rookie contracts having passed, let’s take a look at the Houston Rockets salary cap situation heading towards the March 15th trade deadline.

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With the January 25th deadline to extend rookie contracts having passed, let’s take a look at the Houston Rockets salary cap situation heading towards the March 15th trade deadline.

The Rockets’ Latest Moves
Since my last update, the Rockets have made the following roster moves:

  • There was this whole thing about a trade for Pau Gasol that didn’t end up getting approval from the league office, but I won’t get into that here. Let’s just say that Daryl Morey probably needed a hug after that ordeal.
  • Fan favorite Chuck Hayes signed a four-year, $21.3 million deal with the Sacramento Kings . . . and then it was voided due to a detected heart defect . . . and then, after receiving a (relatively) clean bill of health, Hayes received a four-year, $22.4 million deal from the Kings.
  • The Rockets signed Marcus Morris (the # 14 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft) to his first round rookie scale contract, using the maximum 120% of the rookie scale amount. The deal is for four years, $8.66 million.
  • The team received assurances in writing from Donatas Motiejunas (the # 20 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft) that he would be playing the entire season overseas and would not seek to play in the NBA during the 2011-12 season. A little-known rule change in the new CBA allows first round draft picks playing overseas–who under the prior CBA would count against a team’s salary cap during the offseason–to not count at all against a team’s salary cap so long as written assurance are provided that they will not seek to play in the NBA during the following season. These assurances from Motiejunas added about $1.13 million in additional cap room for the Rockets this past offseason.
  • The team signed Jeff Adrien to a two-year minimum salary contract. The first year is $150,000 guaranteed. The second year is fully unguaranteed, becoming $275,000 guaranteed if Adrien is not waived on or prior to July 14, 2012.
  • The Rockets signed second rounder Chandler Parsons (the # 38 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft) to a four-year deal worth a total of $3.63 million. The deal is structured somewhat like the deal for Chase Budinger, although Parsons’s contract is a little more player-friendly. For instance, unlike in Budinger’s deal, the third and fourth years of Parsons’s deal become mostly guaranteed unless he is waived by January 1 of the prior season and become fully guaranteed unless he is waived by June 30 of the prior season. Essentially, this means that Parsons cannot be “used” as a non-guaranteed salary in trades.
  • Houston Rockets Samuel Dalembert

    The Dalembert signing looks good, but it cost the Rockets their cap exceptions

  • Just before the start of the regular season, the team signed Samuel Dalembert to a two-year, $13.7 million contract. The deal pays Dalembert $7 million this season and approximately $6.7 million in 2012-13; however, the second season is only guaranteed for $1.5 million if Dalembert is waived on or before July 8, 2012 (which will presumably be the first day after the end of the July Moratorium on trades and free agent signings).
  • In order to clear the salary cap room necessary to sign Dalembert to his contract, the Rockets renounced their rights to their Mid-Level Exception, their Biannual Exception, all of their trade exceptions (including the $7.35 million trade exception from the Shane Battier trade last February), and even their rights to unsigned free agents (including Yao Ming). Presumably, the Parsons contract (originally eligible to be signed using a portion of the Mid-Level Exception) was recharacterized as being signed using the Rockets’ cap room.
  • Sometime prior to January 25, 2012, the Rockets exercised the third-year option on Patrick Patterson’s first round rookie scale contract ($2.10 million).
  • On January 25, 2012, the team declined to exercise the fourth-year options on the first round rookie scale contracts of Hasheem Thabeet ($6.47 million), Jonny Flynn ($4.33 million), Jordan Hill ($3.63 million) and Terrence Williams ($3.14 million).
(Salaries courtesy of ShamSports.com)

 

Rockets’ Cap Situation This Year: Capped Out But Looking to Trade
With the signings mentioned above (the Dalembert signing, in particular), the Rockets are essentially “capped out” for this season. They actually have around $777,000 in available cap room, but that isn’t going to do them much good.

However, because the Rockets are well below the luxury tax threshold, it is quite possible that Les Alexander would be willing to take on more salary this season via trade. Due to the more lax salary-matching rules under the new CBA, the Rockets can take back up to 150% of their outgoing salary, plus $100,000 (up to a maximum $5 million total difference) in any trade.

While it looks like the Rockets would not want to make any moves that increase payroll beyond this season (see below) unless they are acquiring a star, it is possible that the Rockets could serve as a depository for expiring contracts from tax-paying teams. That is, if the tax-paying team is willing to offer up, say, a future second round pick (or maybe even a first rounder) for the Rockets’ troubles.

Chris Kaman

This scary man could be playing for the Rockets... for the right price.

One rumored trade acquisition is New Orleans Hornets center Chris Kaman, who is on the books for a whopping $14.03 million in the final year of his contract. This is likely far more money than the league-owned Hornets would like to spend on a veteran who is not even starting on an otherwise young team. The other 29 NBA team owners that have to foot the bill for the Hornets’ expenses certainly want to reduce this season’s payroll (which is several millions of dollars over the salary cap but still below the luxury tax threshold). While David Stern (uh, I mean the Hornets’ front office) is insisting on highly coveted young players and draft picks in exchange for Kaman (ironic that the most ludicrous trade proposals are coming from the front office run by the man in charge of approving or rejecting trades based on fairness), it will be interesting to see if any team actually bends to these demands. Most likely, the Rockets will offer little more than expiring contracts and cash (perhaps also a future second rounder) to help alleviate the Hornets’ financial burden. Whether such an offer will net the Rockets Kaman will be something to watch out for between now and the March 15 trade deadline.

Look for the Rockets to explore trades involving one or more of their own expiring contracts. It is quite obvious that efforts to trade some of the former 2009 lottery picks prior to the January 25 option exercise deadline yielded no favorable results. As the season progresses, the Rockets’ asking price for these players will probably decrease, with buyouts even possible if they are not traded by March 15. (I’m looking at you, Hasheem.)

One current Rocket free-agent-to-be to keep an eye on is Goran Dragic. Given his relatively high level of play since joining the Rockets, along with the likelihood that he will be offered more money in unrestricted free agency than the Rockets are willing to spend on him, there is a decent chance that the Rockets look to move him (perhaps for a future draft pick) at the trade deadline. Of course, the Rockets could just as easily hold on to Dragic if they feel he is the difference between making the playoffs this season and missing them in the extremely competitive Western Conference.

Summer of 2012 – Clearing the Decks???
Barring any further roster moves, the Houston Rockets will have a minimum of approximately $33.99 million in salary commitments to seven players for the 2012-13 season: Kevin Martin ($12.44 million), Luis Scola ($9.41 million), Kyle Lowry ($5.75 million), Patterson ($2.10 million), Morris ($1.91 million), Parsons ($888,250), and a waived Dalembert ($1.5 million partial guarantee).

However, given Dalembert’s strong play–and the likelihood that there would be a trade market for him next summer–it is far more likely at this point that Dalembert’s full $6.7 million salary counts against the Rockets’ cap. It is also highly likely that the Rockets exercise the fourth-year option on Budinger for the league minimum salary of $885,120. Add to that the rookie scale cap hold for Motiejunas ($1.13 million), who will probably come over next season, and the Rockets’ total salary commitments increase to about $41.20 million for nine players.

Adrien is set to earn the league minimum $854,389 if he manages to remain on the roster beyond July 14, 2012. Restricted free agent Courtney Lee will have a cap hold of about $5.56 million (more details on Lee’s free agency can be found here); and Dragic, an unrestricted free agent, will have a cap hold of about $4.01 million. With these additions, the Rockets’ total salary commitments further increase to $51.62 million for twelve players.

As of the publishing of this update, it was unclear to me how the new CBA treated cap holds for rookie scale contracts where a team option was declined (as is the case for Thabeet, Flynn, Hill and Williams).  Under the previous CBA, the cap hold amount was equal to the maximum salary.  While I am not sure whether this “max cap hold” concept carried over to the new CBA, it is largely irrelevant, since the Rockets expect to have cap room available this summer.  My gut feeling, though, is that the Rockets will be unable to exceed the salary cap to re-sign any of those four players to above the league minimum salary.

Houston Rockets Goran Dragic

How the Rockets handle Goran Dragic's free agency may greatly determine their available cap room.

Based on next season’s salary cap figure ($58.044 million, at which the salary cap will be artificially set before resetting based on the new BRI split in 2013), in order for the Rockets to maintain rights to their current players (except for the former 2009 lottery picks), they will have approximately $6.42 million in salary cap room.  This assumes that the Rockets value Dragic at an amount greater than his $4.01 cap hold and would like to retain him at a starting salary in excess of his cap hold figure rather than to spend that money elsewhere.  If the Rockets instead wish to cut ties with Dragic–or if they feel that they can just re-sign him to a starting salary of less than $4.01 million–then the team’s cap room figure increases to about $10.43 million (before accounting for the amount necessary to re-sign Dragic).

That’s without taking into account (a) the cap holds for the former 2009 lottery picks, (b) the cap holds for the Rockets’ 2012 first round picks (second round picks do not count against the cap until signed), and (c) the increased cap figure for Motiejunas if the team signs him to 120% of his rookie scale salary in order to get him into summer league before the start of 2012 free agency. If, for example, the Rockets and the New York Knicks both miss the playoffs and the Rockets end up with the # 11 and # 14 picks, and if the team signed both of those players and Motiejunas to 120% of their rookie scale salaries in order to get them into summer league play on time, then even after renouncing rights to the 09’ers, the Rockets’ available cap room with their current set of players could be as low as $2.24 million (or $6.25 million, without Dragic).

Not to worry, though. This figure is on the low end of the spectrum of the Rockets’ available cap room. If, on the other hand, the Rockets timely waive Dalembert and Adrien, don’t exercise Budinger’s option, manage to keep Motiejunas overseas for another year, renounce their rights to all free agents and do not end up with any 2012 first round picks, then their cap room with the current roster could be as high as $21.21 million.  While the Rockets will not likely commit all of those cap-clearing acts, it is reasonable to expect them to have cap room towards the higher end of this spectrum if necessary to acquire a star player.

Of course, none of these figures account for the near-inevitability of the Rockets making additional roster moves between now and the end of the 2012 offseason, with a chance that the team could open up even more cap room with a trade of Martin or Scola. Even then, though, it is unlikely that the Rockets will have enough cap room to sign two maximum salary free agents, especially if one of them is Dwight Howard (who will be eligible to receive a “super max” salary starting at about $19 million).

Conclusion
The Rockets have set themselves up nicely to make a run at a major acquisition next summer, either via free agency or via trade, by creating the potential to have copious amounts of cap room. How their desire to even have a chance at a prize like Howard or Deron Williams will affect the roster moves they make this season remains to be seen. Would the Rockets be willing to endanger their playoff hopes this season by trading current key pieces in order to increase their chance for a 2012 offseason prize?

Only time will tell.

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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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