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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

Now that the March 15th trade deadline has passed, let’s take a look at the Houston Rockets salary cap situation heading towards the 2012 NBA Draft and the 2012 offseason.

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Now that the March 15th trade deadline has passed, let’s take a look at the Houston Rockets salary cap situation heading towards the 2012 NBA Draft and the 2012 offseason.

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

  • The Rockets waived Jeff Adrien prior to his contract becoming fully guaranteed.
  • The team signed Greg Smith on February 8 to a three-year deal for the league minimum.  The deal was fully guaranteed for this season, is 50% guaranteed for 2012-13 and is non-guaranteed for 2013-14.
  • At the trade deadline, the Rockets traded Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and Minnesota’s 2012 second round pick (previously acquired with Flynn during last year’s draft) to the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for 6-11 center Marcus Camby.
  • Also at the trade deadline, the team traded Jordan Hill to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Derek Fisher and the Dallas Mavericks’ 2012 first round pick.  The pick from the Mavericks (previously acquired by the Lakers in the Lamar Odom trade) is top-20 protected through 2017 and then becomes fully unprotected in 2018.
  • On March 16, the Rockets waived Terrence Williams.
  • On March 17, the team signed Courtney Fortson to a 10-day contract.
  • On March 19, the team reached a buyout agreement with Fisher. 

The Derek Fisher Buyout:  Cap Consequences

Derek Fisher Oklahoma City Thunder

The buyout benefited both the Rockets and Derek Fisher, who signed with the Thunder

Whether it was due to Fisher’s altruism or Daryl Morey’s hard-line stance in negotiations (or both), the Rockets ended up making out like bandits with Fisher’s buyout agreement.  Fisher elected to leave his entire 2012-13 salary ($3.4 million) on the table and to walk away from Houston, choosing instead to seek a key bench role on a title contender (which, sadly, the Rockets currently are not).  Shortly after clearing waivers, Fisher signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

However, due to league rules, Fisher was technically not allowed to waive his 2012-13 player option.

The most likely reason for the league’s denial of Fisher’s waiver of his player option may have been that Fisher’s contract included a set window during which his player option either be invoked or waived; and since this window had not yet opened, Fisher was not permitted to take any action with respect to his option.  Furthermore, league rules prohibit a team and its player mutually amending a player contract if the end result is to shorten the length of that contract, so Fisher and the Rockets could not even mutually agree to the waiver of the player option.  While the parties theoretically could have mutually agreed to eliminate the OPTION (making Fisher’s 2012-13 year fully guaranteed), they could not have eliminated the YEAR on his contract.  (Many thanks to Larry Coon for guidance on these technical contractual issues.)

So, rather than waive his option, Fisher and the Rockets agreed that Fisher’s buyout amount would be the equivalent of the remainder of his 2011-12 salary, which was then allocated across this year and next in proportion to what his remaining salary would have been had he not been bought out and had instead exercised his player option.  Since most buyouts do not include a setoff right for any additional salary the player makes on a new team — as opposed to the setoff typical for most waived players who are not bought out — Fisher’s new salary with Oklahoma City was not subtracted from (or “set off” against) the Rockets’ salary obligations.  And even had there been a setoff, it would not have affected the Rockets’ cap numbers; it would only affect salary paid.

The result?  The Houston Rockets will take a salary cap hit of $644,005 in 2012-13.

This is an almost negligible amount.  To put it in perspective, the league minimum salary for a player with only one full year of NBA experience is $762,195.  Given the Rockets’ penchant for making moves to gain further cap flexibility, this cap hit is rather inconsequential.

So, after the dust had settled on the Fisher trade and buyout, for the burden of taking this insignificant cap hit next season, the Rockets in essence paid almost nothing for a first round draft pick likely to be in the early 20s.  By comparison, most first round picks in that range cost a minimum of $3 million cash, if not the inclusion of future second round picks or the obligation of taking on a bad contract (like Fisher’s, had he not left so much money on the table).

I know it’s not the home run that we were all hoping for, but this trade turned out to be one hell of a deal for the Houston Rockets.

Summer of 2012:  Options, Options, Options
Barring any further roster moves, the Houston Rockets will have a minimum of approximately $35.01 million in salary commitments to six (remaining) players for the 2012-13 season: Kevin Martin ($12.44 million), Luis Scola ($9.41 million), Kyle Lowry ($5.75 million), Patrick Patterson ($2.10 million), Marcus Morris ($1.91 million), Chandler Parsons ($888,250), Fisher’s buyout ($644,005), a waived Samuel Dalembert ($1.5 million partial guarantee) and a waived Smith (about $381,000).

However, it is highly likely that the Rockets exercise the fourth-year option on Chase Budinger for the league minimum salary of $885,120.  It is also very likely that the Rockets will not waive Smith, since the additional amount he’d be owed if not waived would be less than the amount of a roster charge (should the Rockets have fewer than 12 players otherwise counting against their cap).  Add to that the rookie scale cap hold for Donatas Motiejunas ($1.13 million), who will likely be coming over next season, and the Rockets’ total salary commitments increase to about $37.41 million for nine players. 

Between the Rockets’ lack of other centers (Camby will be a free agent this summer) and the fact that he can walk and chew gum at the same time, it is probable that Dalembert will not be waived and that his full $6.7 million salary counts against the Rockets’ cap this summer.  That puts the Rockets’ cap figure at $42.61 million for ten players.  (NOTE:  I believe the Rockets have until July 8 to waive Dalembert without guaranteeing his entire salary; so there may be the possibility that a trade could be worked out during the July Moratorium with Dalembert being shipped elsewhere on July 8 for salary-matching purposes or as an attractive financial asset, with the acquiring team either keeping him or waiving him immediately in a salary dump. See my previous analysis of Dalembert’s contract)

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 Goran Dragic, an unrestricted free agent, will have a cap hold of about $4.01 million (details on Dragic’s free agency here). With these additions, the Rockets’ total salary commitments further increase to $52.18 million for twelve players.

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, they will have approximately $5.87 million in salary cap room.   

That’s without taking into account (a) re-signing Camby, (b) the cap holds for the Rockets’ 2012 first round picks 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, Dallas secures a top-10 record, the Rockets end up with the # 11, # 14 and # 22 picks, and if the team signs each of those players and Motiejunas to 120% of their rookie scale salaries in order to get them into summer league play on time, then the Rockets would be left with only a negligible amount of available cap room with their current set of players (less than $440,000).   

Before anyone beats his/her head against a wall, decrying that the Rockets won’t have any cap room after all, the Rockets can just as easily have plenty of cap room.  If, for instance, the Rockets (1) make the playoffs, (2) timely waive Dalembert and (3) let Lee, Dragic and Camby walk in free agency, then their cap room with the current roster would jump up to about $17.03 million.

What this means is that the Rockets will be able to easily afford one maximum salary free agent… if they are willing (and, more importantly, able) to lure one to Houston.  They are also in a flexible enough position that they can make some minor moves (e.g., trading Dalembert, packaging multiple 2012 first round picks to move up or down, or even paying another team to eat a small salary) in order to keep one or more of their free agents.  Heck, if there just isn’t anything out there in free agency on which it’s worth using their cap space, the Rockets could even choose to bring back their free agents (assuming they can get them locked into reasonable deals) and save some cap room for 2013 (when Martin, Dalembert and others come off the books).

And almost none of this analysis takes into account that the Rockets will make trades.  If the 2012 NBA Draft ends without the Rockets having made at least one trade, I will be shocked.  A draft-day (or later offseason) trade of Martin or Scola could dramatically increase the Rockets’ available cap room to sign free agents or to provide further flexibility in future trades.

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 positioning themselves as one of several NBA teams that will have enough cap room to sign a maximum salary free agent.  Or they can make some moves for the future while still preserving salary cap flexibility for 2013 and beyond.  Or they can potentially add to their list of talented players on reasonably-priced deals if they retain Lee and/or Dragic, adding even more flexibility to trade other parts going forward in their pursuit of a star trade acquisition.

F-L-E-X-I-B- . . . well, you know the drill by now.

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Houston Rockets

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

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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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