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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

With the final cuts made and season set to start, David Weiner breaks down Houston’s cap situation and how the Rockets have positioned for a trade.

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Since striking out swinging for a super-team (a risk that, in this author’s opinion, was well worth taking), the Houston Rockets have been waiting for their next chance to get that significant hit.  So far, there has been a single or two for Rockets GM Daryl Morey; but that situational at-bat has not yet presented itself for the next big swing to be taken.

With the Rockets closing the book on training camp and ready to enter the regular season, it’s time to once again take a look at the team’s current salary cap situation and where the Rockets can go from here.

Player Salary, Exceptions and Available Cap Room

(Salaries and contract information courtesy of ShamSports.com and some good old-fashioned digging.)

Daryl Morey

Daryl Morey is positioning the Rockets to be able to make a significant trade this season

The Houston Rockets currently have the following player salary commitments, cap holds and salary cap exceptions available for the 2014-15 season:

Player salary commitments:

Dwight Howard ($21.44 million), James Harden ($14.73 million), Trevor Ariza ($8.58 million), Jason Terry ($5.85 million), Kostas Papanikolaou ($4.8 million), Terrence Jones ($1.62 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($1.48 million), Clint Capela ($1.19 million), Joey Dorsey ($948,163),  Patrick Beverley ($915,243, non-guaranteed), Francisco Garcia ($915,243), Isaiah Canaan ($816,482), Troy Daniels ($816,482), Nick Johnson ($507,336) and Tarik Black ($507,336, partially guaranteed for $50,000), along with guaranteed money owed to Jeff Adrien ($915,243), Ish Smith ($915,243), Robert Covington ($150,000) and Akil Mitchell ($150,000).

Cap holds:  None.

Exceptions:

(1) a trade exception from the Jeremy Lin trade that allows Houston to absorb one or more contracts totaling not more than $8.47 million (and which CANNOT be combined with other salaries for matching purposes in trades); and

(2) the Biannual Exception (BAE), which allows Houston to sign one or more players to contracts with starting salaries totaling $2.077 million for up to two years in length.

Given Houston’s current salary situation, the Rockets can no longer waive enough cap exceptions and salary to drop below the cap.  Barring another big trade in which meaningful salary is sent out for little/nothing in return, do not expect the Rockets to have any cap room this season.

The Rockets are about $9.6 million shy of the luxury tax threshold and about $13.6 million shy of the “apron” level that also acts as a hard cap for Houston this season.  That should be enough room for the Rockets to utilize most of the Lin trade exception, possibly the BAE, and still use salary matching rules to take on additional salary.  If there is a move to be made for a third star player, don’t expect the luxury tax to be a significant deterrent for Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.

What Are They Doing?

As expected, Houston elected to operate over the salary cap this season, most notably because the combined value of their cap exceptions far exceeded the amount of cap room the Rockets would have had to make player acquisitions.

Instead, the Rockets have been attempting to fill out their bench with shooting (Garcia, Daniels) and defense/toughness (Dorsey, Black), all with league minimum signings.  In fact, other than signing the very raw Capela to his first round rookie scale contract, Houston has only made two additions making more than the league minimum salary since trading for Ariza in mid-July.

Jason Terry Houston Rockets

Jason Terry could be the key salary piece of a trade later this season

Papanikolaou — the 24-year-old Greek small forward whose draft rights Houston held — was lured away from Europe with an eye-popping two-year deal paying him most of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (other than the rookie minimum-sized portion used to sign Johnson to a three-year deal).  Even with the second year being both a team option and fully non-guaranteed until early October 2015 (making his contract a potentially valuable trade asset next summer), a $4.8 million starting salary is far more than players of Papanikolaou’s caliber normally receive when first coming to the NBA.

Terry — the 37-year-old veteran guard whose best days are behind him — was acquired from Sacramento in what was obviously a salary dump for the Kings.  The Rockets received Terry and two potentially valuable future second round picks in exchange for the non-guaranteed contracts of Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson, two players who were never part of the Rockets’ future on-court plans.  (Quick tangent: With the trade of Gee and Hopson, Houston’s total haul from the Omer Asik trade this past July is now Ariza, Terry, a potential lottery pick and two second rounders, making it one of the most underrated deals of the 2014 offseason.)

The Rockets also made some tough final cuts to bring their roster down to the league-mandated 15-man maximum.  The most controversial of the cuts were Adrien and Smith.  Many had felt that Adrien had out-played Dorsey for a backup big man spot; and coach Kevin McHale had been using Smith as his primary backup point guard throughout much of the preseason.

So why take on Terry’s contract (even for the second rounders)?  Why pay Papanikolaou so much?  Why keep Dorsey over Adrien?  And why get rid of Smith?

Why Are They Doing That?

As I mentioned on the podcast with Dave Hardisty back on July 1, the trades of Asik and Jeremy Lin threatened to leave the Rockets devoid of contracts large enough to match salaries in major trades to add talent to the core of Howard, Harden and (now) Ariza.

By acquiring the mid-sized contracts of Terry and Papanikolaou, Morey has put himself in position to at least be able to make trades for players in just about any salary range.

While CBA rules dictate that Terry’s salary cannot be aggregated with other salaries in trades for a period of two months after he was officially acquired (that period expires on November 16), he is immediately eligible to be traded by himself for one or more players making up to nearly $8.9 million.  Even if salary aggregation is required, Terry will be trade eligible long before the next mini-trade season begins in mid-December.

As a signed draft pick (rather than an outside free agent), Papanikolaou became trade-eligible only 30 days after his signing.

The most important part about Terry’s and Papanikolaou’s contracts, however, is their expiration date.  Terry’s contract expires after this season; and Papanikolaou’s has a team option that will most likely be picked up but that won’t remain guaranteed unless he greatly outperforms initial expectations or a major trade is made without using his contract (it being quite likely that Papanikolaou ends up being traded or waived instead).

With both salaries cleared off the books next summer, combined with a potentially huge increase in the salary cap, the Rockets could open up a significant amount of cap room.  Even if both players are waived/renounced, there is still a chance that one or both could be back on next year’s team at a reduced salary.

Joey Dorsey Houston Rockets

The length of Joey Dorsey’s guaranteed contract likely played a role in his making the final roster over Jeff Adrien

None of this is to say that Terry and/or Papanikolaou are not viewed as potential contributors to this Houston team.  But the presence of their mid-sized contracts (versus the bevy of rookie scale and veteran’s minimum contracts currently filling Houston’s roster) will facilitate a variety of trade options that otherwise would not be available to the Rockets, all while still allowing for material cap room next summer.

Dorsey — who had been battling a foot injury for much of training camp — was signed to a two year, $2 million contract this summer, which includes a fully guaranteed salary in 2015-16.  Unlike Adrien (whose contract — while fully guaranteed — would have expired after this season), Dorsey could not be cut without negatively impacting the Rockets’ available cap room in 2015.  That was never really an option for Houston.  This, combined with Capela’s decision not to play overseas this season, resulted in Adrien (who himself battled an ankle injury throughout training camp) being the unlucky “odd man out” among the bigs.

As for Smith (who also had a fully guaranteed one-year deal), his lack of a reliable outside shot — combined with the increasingly impressive preseason performance of Canaan and the growing belief within the organization that Terry can be passable as a backup point guard playing alongside Harden — spelled his doom.  And with the Rockets otherwise lacking in depth at the small forward position behind Ariza and the rookie Papanikolaou, roster balance dictated that Garcia should claim a roster spot over Smith.

Conclusion

Morey has done an admirable (albeit not sensational) job of picking the team up off the canvass after a major swing-and-miss for a super-team.  The resulting supporting group of players is expected to provide the Rockets with both added perimeter defense and improved three-point shooting — two areas that sorely hurt the Rockets last season — while still offering the flexibility to make in-season trades of significance and/or to open up significant cap room next summer.

While the scoring and play-making ability of Chandler Parsons and Lin, as well as the post defense and rebounding of Asik, will be missed in Houston, there have been improvements made in other areas.  The end result, the Rockets hope, is a team better prepared for the NBA Playoffs.  And maybe for a big trade, too.  All while preserving flexibility to make a major addition next summer.

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Houston Rockets

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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