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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

David Weiner breaks down the Houston Rockets salary cap situation and the tools they will have at their disposal to improve the team this summer.



Well, that sort of sucked.

After a strong regular season — in which the Houston Rockets amassed a 54-28 record and got the 4-seed in the Western Conference despite several key contributors missing stretches throughout the year — the Rockets bowed out in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, succumbing to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2 despite holding home-court advantage in the series.  Each game was a down-to-the-wire nail-biter — Rockets GM Daryl Morey even described each game as “a coin flip” — yet Portland seemed to make just a few more key plays than Houston did throughout the series, none bigger than Damian Lillard‘s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the Rockets’ season in Game 6.

So, as we Rockets fans attempt to dry our tears and/or to get over our hangovers (both figurative and literal), it’s time to take stock of the team’s current salary cap situation and where the Rockets can go from here.

Salary Commitments and Available Cap Room
(All salaries and contract information courtesy of

Daryl Morey

Here is Daryl Morey just finding out he placed 9th in Executive of the Year voting

The Houston Rockets are currently scheduled to have nearly $64.95 million in team salary committed for the 2014-15 season: Dwight Howard ($21.44 million), James Harden ($14.73 million), Jeremy Lin ($8.37 million cap hit), Omer Asik ($8.37 million cap hit), Terrence Jones ($1.62 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($1.48 million), Francisco Garcia ($1,316,809 – player option), Josh Powell ($1,227,985, non-guaranteed), Omri Casspi ($1,063,384, non-guaranteed until August 5), the cap hold for the #25 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft ($991,000), Chandler Parsons ($964,750, assuming the Rockets exercise their option – more on that here), Patrick Beverley ($915,243, non-guaranteed), Isaiah Canaan ($816,482), Robert Covington ($816,482, partially guaranteed for $150,000), and Troy Daniels ($816,482, non-guaranteed).

If the Rockets slashed all non-guaranteed salary (other than for those in the 2014 Playoffs rotation), their total salary commitments would still be around $61.99 million.  However, with the most recent projections of the 2014-15 salary cap at around $63.2 million, it is unlikely that the Rockets will have cap room this summer . . . unless a trade involving either Lin or Asik (or both) is made that brings back little to no salary.  (Hint:  Such a move will most likely be explored in great depth.)

Available Roster-Building Tools
Even though the Rockets could easily wiggle a little below the projected salary cap, electing to use a small amount of cap room would not make much sense.  By doing so, the Rockets would need to waive their rights to several other roster-building tools.  The following are some of those tools, which we may see Morey and the Rockets utilize this summer.  (Note:  I have purposely avoided talking about larger trades in general, since trades are always in play for Houston.)

Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception:  This is the largest form of Mid-Level Exception (MLE) available.  It allows a team to sign one or more free agents to contracts of up to four years with a starting salary, in the aggregate, of up to $5.305 million.  Any team that utilizes this MLE (as opposed to the smaller Taxpayer MLE) will be “hard-capped” at the luxury tax “apron” level (currently projected to be around $81 million next season).

The Rockets could either shoot for the best player available on the market willing to take a full four-year MLE deal, or they could dangle a one-year deal in the $4-5 million range to a lesser (but still pretty good) player in order to preserve salary cap flexibility in 2015 (when Houston could once again have near-max cap room).

If the Rockets use a high second round pick on a player who will not be stashed overseas, expect the team to set aside a small portion of the MLE in order to sign that pick to a three- or four-year deal (akin to deals they’ve given guys like Chase Budinger, Parsons and Canaan in recent years).  Houston could also use a portion of the MLE to bring over promising Greek small forward Kostas Papanikolaou, whose draft rights the Rockets acquired in the Thomas Robinson trade with Portland last summer.

Bi-Annual Exception:  This exception (a/k/a the BAE) allows a team to sign one or more free agents to contracts of up to two years with a starting salary, in the aggregate, of up to $2.077 million.  Like the Non-Taxpayer MLE, the use of the BAE will create a hard cap at the luxury tax apron level.

As the name suggests, this exception is only available once every two years.  The Rockets will likely either be under the cap or approaching the luxury tax next summer, so in either case it is unlikely that they will have any use for the BAE in 2015.  However, since the BAE is not much larger than the veteran’s minimum salary for many vets worthy of the BAE, look for the Rockets to avoid using this exception unless they find a younger veteran willing to play in Houston on the cheap.

Omer Asik

Morey will likely shop Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin before balloon payments kick in

Non-Guaranteed Salary:  The Rockets have a handful of small non-guaranteed contracts (most notably, those of Powell and Casspi) that they can combine in order to take in larger salaries in trades, either for existing contracts or in sign-and-trades.  Such salary could either be a decent MLE-level player on a team looking to slash salary or possibly even a straight salary dump of an unwanted player as part of a larger deal otherwise benefiting Houston.  Because the Rockets are well below the luxury tax threshold, they should be able to make smaller trades in order to take up to 150% plus $100,000 of outgoing salary.

For example, if the Rockets were able to pull off a sign-and-trade deal for Carmelo Anthony (presumably using the contracts of Lin and Asik along with other assets and likely involving a third team), the New York Knicks may want the Rockets to also take back some unwanted salary, such as Raymond Felton (still owed over $3.79 million next year with a player option in 2015-16 for $3.95 million).  In a separate trade, the Rockets could send a package of Powell, Casspi and Covington in exchange for Felton.  In such a (side) trade, the Knicks could dump Felton’s salary and take back only $150,000 in guaranteed salary in Covington or, more likely, just keep Covington on his cheap contract.

These roster-building tools do not even account for what players the Rockets might add in the draft.

The Draft
Houston goes into the 2014 NBA Draft holding the 25th and 42nd picks.  The Rockets also have approximately $1.48 million in cash remaining from their Maximum Annual Cash Limit for the 2013-14 season.

Expect Houston to attempt to move up in the draft — as they try to do every year — if there is a player they value highly enough in the lottery or mid-first round.  That $1.48 million allowance (which cannot be carried over after June 30) could be useful in a draft day trade.  The Rockets also own as many as four 2015 second round picks that could be used to trade up.

If Houston is unsuccessful in moving up in the draft, the NBA Transaction Geek in me is hoping that Morey does what he did during the 2008 NBA Draft:  Trade his way down to acquire multiple/future picks.  In 2008 (the last time the Rockets selected 25th), Morey traded down twice and turned the 25th pick into the 28th and 33rd picks and a high 2009 second round pick.

If they stand pat at #25, expect the Rockets to do what they do every year and take the best player available on the board, regardless of position.  At #42, if there is not a highly-enough rated player on their draft board, Houston could elect to take a foreign prospect to stash overseas for a few years.

Upcoming Roster Decisions
Some decisions involving certain Rockets players will need to be made during the first few weeks of the NBA’s offseason.  Here are a few of those:

Chandler Parsons:  Again, the issue of whether or not to pick of Parsons’s team option by the late June deadline has been discussed ad nauseum.  Here’s the link again.

Francisco Garcia

Garcia holds a player option for 2014-15

Francisco Garcia:  In a rare scenario under Morey’s tenure as Rockets GM, the Rockets will actually have to wait and see what Garcia does by June 30, as Garcia has a player option for 2014-15 at the veteran’s minimum (for him, just over $1.3 million).  If Garcia declines his option, do not be surprised if the Rockets once again re-sign him.  The league would pick up the tab on a good chunk of Garcia’s salary on a one-year deal (as opposed to on the second season of the two-year deal he signed in 2013), without reducing Garcia’s paycheck.

Jordan Hamilton:  As Houston’s sole unrestricted free agent, the Rockets will need to evaluate whether they want to keep Hamilton around beyond this season.  While the CBA limits the Rockets’ ability to offer Hamilton more than $2.1 million next season (since Denver did not pick up their option on Hamilton’s rookie scale contract), it now seems unlikely that Hamilton will command that much on the open market.  If the Rockets select a wing player in the NBA Draft, or if the team simply feels that Covington is a better long-term prospect at that spot, then Hamilton’s days in Houston may be over.

Omri Casspi:  If the Rockets don’t use Casspi in a trade before August 5, they will need to decide how badly they want him next season.  Like with Garcia, the Rockets could possibly re-sign Casspi to a one-year deal in which the league picks up part of the tab . . . assuming that Casspi clears waivers.

The other non-guaranteed guys (Beverley, Powell, Covington and Daniels) presumably will not require decisions on their futures at least until training camp in October.

Rockets fans are hurting right now after a tough first-round loss.  But there is some room for optimism.  Houston has several tools at its disposal to improve the roster for next season, even if a third star player doesn’t “shake loose.”  By utilizing those tools — and with this young core having another year to gel — the Rockets should be better positioned to make a deep playoff run next May.

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Mike D’Antoni: The Rockets isolation offense wasn’t pretty, but it was effective




Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets

Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made an appearance on the Thinking Basketball podcast to discuss his career, and he went into his stretch with the Houston Rockets (2016-2020).

One of the big topics discussed was the isolation sets that the Rockets ran often and why they did it.

“If that one-on-one was not efficient, we wouldn’t do it,” said D’Antoni. “But it was doing, if I’m not mistaken, 1.2-something (points per possession) ridiculous. 1.16, for a long time, was the standard of the best offense an NBA team had. We kind of blew that out of the water a little bit (at) 1.20, but our isolation game was like 1.25, 1.24, so it was like — why wouldn’t we isolate?”

The former Rockets coach admitted it was not the most pleasing offense to the eye.

“People don’t like it,” said D’Antoni. “Aesthetically it’s not good. I don’t love it. I would rather pass the ball around. And if I had a team that didn’t have James Harden, guess what? We’d be passing the ball around… It wasn’t pretty. People can complain. But when you have the most efficient offense in NBA history, or close to it, why wouldn’t you do it? Just because you want to look pretty?”

D’Antoni talked about how good the Rockets second units were in the 2017-18 season because of Chris Paul, citing how often the Rockets boosted their lead or turned a deficit into an advantage when they turned to the bench.

“Chris was just a maestro at running our offense, and doing it a little bit (Steve) Nash-like,” said D’Antoni. “Harden had to do it like Harden did it, but both of them were good. Both of them were perfect.”

D’Antoni said part of the reason for the iso sets was he wanted to maximize James Harden and make him “the best player he can possibly be.”

“James is one of the smartest players — and there are a bunch of them — that I ever coached,” said D’Antoni. “I thought probably two or three years there, he had a complete mastery of the game. He went over 50 I don’t know how many times in a row. We were banged up one night and I said, ‘James, you might have to get 50 tonight for us to even have a chance to win.’ He gets 60 and we win. Stuff like that. He was able to do stuff (that)… just a mastery of the game.”

On how close the Rockets were to winning a title, said D’Antoni, “I thought we had it, the third year until Chris went down. Maybe not. Who knows, because Golden State had hearts of champions. Those guys are hard to beat. But I thought we had a good chance at it, that’s for sure.”

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Why Alperen Sengun will come off the bench

With Bruno Fernando expected to start, here’s the plan for the Rockets second-year center




Alperen Sengun Houston Rockets

When the Rockets traded Christian Wood, it was crystal clear that Alperen Şengün was the new starting center for the Houston Rockets.

As we’re on the cusp of the Rockets 2022-23 season opener, there’s only one problem — he’s not.

Bruno Fernando is expected to get the starting nod at the five for the Rockets, leaving many to wonder why the second-year center out of Turkey is coming off the bench.

There are a couple reasons why.

First, the Rockets are trying to optimize their prospects, putting them each in the best position to succeed. In the case of Sengun, they want to leverage his passing skillset by making him an offensive hub. That’s difficult to do when you have ball-dominant guards in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., who thrive out of isolation and are trying to make progress leading pick-and-rolls.

Fernando is a much more limited player, but he fits better right now with the starters because he screens/rolls hard and plays above the rim as an alleyoop threat — it’s been fairly apparent in the preseason how the guards use him. While not a great defender, Fernando also is more of a rim protector than Sengun.

Secondly, Sengun needs to adapt more to the NBA game. The Rockets very much believe in his prospects — he’s only 20 years old — and they still consider him the best five on the roster. But the NBA is a much different game than EuroBasket, which is where he spent more of his offseason focus. The days of just dumping the ball into a post player seem to be dwindling in the NBA. He’s got to get quicker, stronger, tougher — but most important of all, he’s got to shoot the ball better from range.

In a culture where coming off the “bench” is considered a demerit (it shouldn’t be), you have to explain the reasons why — but keep in mind, his minutes will still be significant. I expect he will likely get in the 24-26 range this year, an increase over the 20.7 he got last season. He’s still going to have plenty of opportunity to develop.

My two cents: I give the Rockets props for doing this so early. It’s been apparent to me that the Rockets have multiple players who would be considered secondary playmakers, and to maximize their skills, they need the ball in their hands (imagine if the Rockets drafted Paolo Banchero … grateful every day that Jabari fell to #3!). This hopefully allows for that. Playing Sengun off the bench gives you an opportunity to play a variety of ways and also covers up a current deficiency at backup point guard.

I don’t want to watch Sengun follow the guards around — I want to watch peak Sengun running offensive sets.

Overall, I like it — let’s get the season going.

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Rockets extend Kevin Porter Jr. to incredibly team-friendly deal

What’s being reported as a four-year, $82M extension is actually a one-year, $15.8M extension with full club control




Kevin Porter Jr. signs Rockets extension

Today was the deadline for the Rockets to extend Kevin Porter Jr. The Rockets have had an offer extended to KPJ for some time and the word behind the scenes was it was likely this day would come and go without a deal.

That changed in a hurry Monday morning.

The Rockets and KPJ agreed on a reported four-year, $82 million extension — at least, that was the initial report.

In truth, the deal is not that at all and is more the spin of an agent. Only the first year of the deal, at just $15.9 million, is guaranteed. The Rockets have until June 30, 2024 to decide if they want to pick up the two following years (2024-25 and 2025-26).

It’s clear KPJ accepted the Rockets longstanding offer because it is one extremely team-friendly deal.

“We value the player and the person that Scoot is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone.  “He’s expressed how happy he is to be with this organization and has shown his commitment to putting in the work both on and off the court. We are excited for the opportunity to continue to build something special with him.”

In essence, the structure of this contract fully acknowledges the risks associated with betting on KPJ. It’s not the money you’re giving him — it’s the years. If you give him a long-term deal with fully guaranteed money and things go south, that is an unmovable contract — a cardinal sin to give out when your rebuild is going so phenomenally well after the drafting of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr.

This deal reflects that risk and comes close to eliminating it. The Rockets control all the upside. If KPJ pans out beautifully, they can extend him — it’s 100% their decision. If he doesn’t pan out or the roster/core shifts in an unexpected way — such as being in position to draft Scoot Henderson — KPJ could be a large expiring contract next season.

The Rockets basically signed KPJ to the Sam Hinkie Special (contracts you saw with Chandler Parsons, Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin), but with much bigger dollar figures.

For KPJ’s part, there is a small win — he’s gets almost $16 million next season and is signed for this season ($3.2M) and next. He doesn’t have to worry about the finances as much while still staying highly motivated to play well. He didn’t fully bet on himself and take this to restricted free agency, but he did still take a deal that incentivizes him to earn it. But this deal isn’t in the same stratosphere as the ones you saw signed by Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole.

The bottom line: There are risks to signing KPJ that were mitigated by this unique contract structure. If you are a fan of the Rockets remaining flexible as they strive to build a contender, you should be thrilled with this. Big win for Stone and the Houston front office.

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KJ Martin reportedly drawing interest on trade market

Rockets have had “ongoing talks” with Phoenix Suns about the third-year forward




KJ Martin Houston Rockets

According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Phoenix Suns have had “ongoing talks” about acquiring Rockets forward KJ Martin while Portland and Miami are “two other known teams with interest in Martin.”

There has been talk of trading KJ since before the summer when his father, former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin, reportedly sought a trade for his son. With the Rockets holding multiple picks in the draft, it appeared the writing was on the wall for reduced minutes for KJ.

Martin has looked like a trusted member of Stephen Silas’ rotation so far in preseason. KJ has played in all three games, averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.0 minutes, hitting 5-11 from deep.

At the same time, Jabari Smith Jr. is the future, Jae’Sean Tate seems to be the coaching staff darling and Tari Eason has exploded onto the scene. Minutes for KJ could be available but they will be hard to come by.

If the Rockets are going to trade KJ, what should be the asking price? My feeling is a “good” second-round pick (one that could be expected to be in the 31-42 range) would be the goal. If the Rockets were offered a lottery-protected first-round pick, I think that would be a steal right now for Houston.

What could make more sense is if the Rockets combined KJ Martin with a player like Eric Gordon, especially given the goals of suitors like the Suns, Blazers and Heat.


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Jabari Smith steals show in Rockets preseason opener

The Rockets rookie is legit as we take a look at what else stood out in Houston’s preseason rout of the Spurs




Jabari Smith Jr Houston Rockets

Finally, Rocketball is back — the Rockets destroyed the San Antonio Spurs 134-96 in the preseason opener Sunday night.

Granted, the Spurs look flat out terrible (the top contender for Wembanyama?) and may finish dead last (and it showed), but there were a number of things that played out in this game that should get Houston fans excited.

But before I get into that, I want to give a huge shout out to everyone who supported RocketsWatch Sunday night. We are watching and discussing Rockets games in realtime this season and the debut was overwhelming. There were over 700+ fans watching the game with Roosh Williams and I in what might be the largest online watch party ever for a Rockets game. The live reactions from the fans were priceless!

Let’s talk about what stood out in this game:

Jabari is the real deal

Going into Sunday night’s preseason opener for the Rockets, the biggest question on the minds of fans was simple — how will #3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. look in his first NBA action?

The answer is good. Really good.

Jabari threw down a dunk out of the gate and then locked in on high-energy defense on the other end and right away you knew — the Christian Wood Era was over. Jabari’s impact was immediate on both ends of the floor. Smith finished with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, including a blistering 5-8 from deep, to go with eight rebounds in 24 minutes.

Jabari described himself as “a lot more loose” than he was at Summer League, when he struggled to knock down his shots.

“It was easy,” said Jabari. “My teammates made it easy for me, finding me when I was open. The rest just came from knocking down shots, running the floor, trusting the offense and trusting my teammates.”

What most impressed me was how quick of a trigger Jabari had on the catch-and-shoot. He would receive a pass out of the post or a cross-court pass in the corner and would instantly let it fly, shooting easily over his defender’s reach. This trait stood out and was very Klay Thompson-esque. In the second half, Jabari hit a pull-up triple in transition (his fourth) that was very enticing, then absolutely slayed those of us in the RocketsWatch room when he took two long strides back from the free throw line to drain another triple.

At that point, it was official — the rookie was clowning the Spurs. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the Rockets drafted Jabari. This man is going to fit like a glove and will be a ridiculous two-way weapon for the Rockets long term.

Defense. They’re actually playing it. It’s true.

I don’t need to repeat that the Rockets were dead last in defense last year, but… the Rockets were dead last in defense last year. Although, maybe I need to turn that frown upside down.

Sunday, however, was a different animal and you could tell immediately. The Rockets were hustling, moving quickly on rotations and closeouts.

“It’s the defense, obviously, that we’ve been concentrating on,” said Stephen Silas. “Our help was good tonight. Our multiple efforts were really good… I’m super encouraged by our intensity on the defensive end.”

Jabari was a big part of that. He made some clear mistakes, sure — I’m not going to say he was perfect — but he seemed to set the tone. Still, it’s not just Jabari — it’s clear to me the mindset of this team is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen the past two seasons. Maybe it’s the Jabari Effect or maybe Lionel Hollins is making his presence felt, but this does not look like the 2021-22 Rockets on this side of the ball.

Tari Eason is pretty much plug-and-play

I had my doubts that Tari Eason would get a ton of run in this game, but Silas played him early (note: Jae’Sean Tate sat this game out). Without having any clear plays run for him, Tari fought and scrapped for 21 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive!) in just 21 minutes. He hit 9-13 from the floor.

“My mentality never changes,” said Eason. “I’m always going to be in the right spot, get after it defensively and be one of the hardest playing dudes on the court. I think that translates at any level and I’m just going to continue to do that.”

He plays like his hair is on fire and has tremendous potential as a two-way demon. Throw him out there when things get stagnant and he’s going to make things happen.

I’ve felt that the Rockets will likely bring Tari along slowly until they figure out what the long-term solution is for guys like KJ Martin, but Operation Patience isn’t going to work if he keeps putting up lines like this. You can’t keep him to the bench or send him to the G-League.

Is Bruno Fernando the backup center?

It sure seems that way. After news broke that the Rockets had signed Fernando to a four-year, nearly $11 million deal, Bruno was the first big off the bench, subbing in for Alperen Sengun.

I’ll be honest — this really surprised me. I expected that Usman Garuba would have the clear inside track to the spot. Fernando also seemed like a good bet to be on a two-way contract, but now with this new deal, Fernando is going to be on the 15-man roster and barring a trade, someone has to be cut (Boban? Favors?) that isn’t expected to be.

But Fernando, who sources say has been terrific in camp, showed why he got that contract, finishing 3-3 from the field and was a +18 in just 11 minutes. He was very effective on rolls, capping a pair of alleyoop passes from Kevin Porter Jr. I would be lying if I said I saw this coming, but it’s a welcome development.

Rotation Notes

It’s only one preseason game, but we still can draw a lot from how Silas sees the rotation.

Bruno looking like a good bet for the backup center role was not the only surprise. KJ Martin and Daishen Nix, along with Bruno, were the first subs of the night. That indicates what we expected, that Nix is in the lead for the backup PG spot over TyTy Washington, who I would guess will run the show with the RGV Vipers early on. I like TyTy as the better bet for this spot long term, but right now the job appears to be Nix’s to lose.

But KJ is a little surprising, given he reportedly wanted out this past offseason with the Rockets slated to bring in a couple bigger prospects (Jabari and Tari) at his position.

Garrison Mathews played only five minutes. The prediction many have made that Silas would play him 15+ minutes this year is not looking so hot.

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