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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: 2015 Off-Season Edition

David Weiner breaks down the current salary cap situation for the Houston Rockets after an off-season full of ups and downs,

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Houston Rockets 2015 Offseason

It’s been an up-and-down journey thus far for Houston Rockets fans this off-season.

UP:  The Rockets pulled in a nice haul in the 2015 NBA Draft, nabbing Wisconsin small forward Sam Dekker with the #18 pick and stealing Louisville power forward Montrezl Harrell with the #32 pick.  Mock drafts had Dekker going as high as #8 and rarely lower than #15; and most mocks had Harrell as a sure-fire first round pick.

DOWN:  Not long after the draft, word came out that Spanish star point guard (and 2009 second round pick) Sergio Llull had elected not to accept a contract offer from Houston, believed to be for a substantial portion of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (MLE).  One of the world’s best players outside the NBA, Llull represented a potential solution to the Rockets’ point guard troubles.  But, alas, it was not meant to be this summer.  (Note: Llull has since reportedly agreed to a contract extension with Real Madrid that might actually lower his NBA buyout amount for next summer.)

UP:  Early in the July Moratorium, the Rockets agreed to terms on new deals with Corey Brewer (three years, $23.4 million) and Patrick Beverley (four years, $23 million).  Both signed contracts that decline in salary each year.  Brewer’s starting salary is the maximum amount Houston could sign him to with Early Bird rights; and his total contract pays him the exact same amount as Trevor Ariza over the next three years.  The fourth year of Beverley’s deal (at just over $5 million) is fully non-guaranteed.  Given the contracts that have been handed out this summer, both deals were largely viewed as reasonably good value.

DOWN:  On July 4, the league’s premier (departing) free agent, LaMarcus Aldridge, announced that he was joining the San Antonio Spurs, shunning the Rockets’ bid for him.  A key reason for the speedy agreements with Brewer and especially Beverley (a restricted free agent) was to prove to Aldridge that Houston would be fielding a competitive roster.  It is believed that the Rockets were attempting to acquire Aldridge via sign-and-trade using a package centered around Jason Terry (to be signed-and-traded via his Bird rights), Kostas Papanikolaou (and his non-guaranteed contract) and young players and/or draft picks.

UP:  The Rockets added veteran shooting guard Marcus Thornton on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal.  While not much of a defender, Thornton is expected to provide much-needed three-point shooting to a team that utilizes the three-point shot more than any other team.  He is also capable of the occasional scoring outburst.

DOWN:  Seeking a more defined role in advance of hitting free agency again in 2016 (and probably also a little miffed that the Rockets were not willing to use their MLE on him), Josh Smith bolted Houston for the Los Angeles Clippers after endearing himself to Rockets fans during the team’s recent playoff run.

UP:  The Rockets agreed to a new deal with restricted free agent K.J. McDaniels (three years, $10 million, using a portion of the MLE).  The McDaniels contract includes a team option in Year 3; and by virtue of signing him outright (rather than waiting to match an offer sheet he could have signed elsewhere), the Rockets can trade him without restriction after December 15.

DOWN:  Several hours went by following news of the McDaniels signing without the Rockets making another roster move, leaving many fans to be moderately bored for a short period of time.  But Houston’s most notable off-season move came later that evening.

Ty Lawson traded Houston Rockets

In Ty Lawson, the Rockets have that secondary play-maker they’ve lacked

UP:  Houston pulled off a major trade, acquiring Nuggets star point guard Ty Lawson and a 2017 second round pick in exchange for Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, and a lottery-protected 2016 first round pick.  In order to make the salaries match in this trade, the Rockets had to renounce their rights to Terry, whose $8.7 million cap hold came off the books, allowing Houston to take back over 150% of its outgoing salary, which is reserved only for teams whose total team salary (including players’ cap holds) does not exceed the luxury tax threshold upon completion of the trade.

The downside risk of acquiring Lawson — who not long ago was arrested for his second DUI this year — was mitigated by several factors.  None of the players traded to Denver were in the Rockets’ rotation.  The 2016 first rounder immediately converts to a 2017 second rounder (via Portland) if the Rockets somehow miss the playoffs this season.  But most notably, Lawson agreed to make the final year of his contract (for over $13.2 million) fully non-guaranteed, essentially making it like a team option for Houston (although, unlike with a “real” team option, the Rockets would not have any Bird rights to Lawson next summer if they waived him).  At worst, the Rockets will have wasted a draft pick and some money on a troubled point guard.  At best, Lawson can be that second ball-handler and shot creator the Rockets desperately missed in their recent playoff run.

With those ups and downs out of the way (and with more sure to come), it’s time to once again take a look at the team’s salary cap situation and where the Rockets can go from here.

Player Salary, Exceptions and Available Cap Room

The Houston Rockets currently have the following player salary commitments, cap holds and salary cap exceptions available for the 2015-16 season:

Player salary commitments:  Dwight Howard ($22.36 million), James Harden ($15.76 million), Lawson (12.4 million), Brewer ($8.23 million), Ariza ($8.19 million), Beverley ($6.49 million), McDaniels ($3.19 million), Terrence Jones ($2.49 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($2.29 million), Dekker ($1.65 million), Clint Capela ($1.24 million) and Thornton ($947,276).

Cap holds:  None.

Other Salary Cap Exceptions:  Houston has some small trade exceptions from the Alexey Shved ($1.62 million), Isaiah Canaan ($816,482) and Troy Daniels ($816,482) trades.

The Rockets used a portion of the MLE — which can be either the Non-Taxpayer MLE ($5.464 million) or the Taxpayer MLE ($3.376 million) — on McDaniels.  If Houston elects to use the Non-Taxpayer MLE (of which they will have about $2.27 million remaining) this season, it will be subject to a hard cap at the “apron” level of $88.74 million.

The maximum team salary (or “soft” salary cap) for 2015-16 came in at $70 million, with the luxury tax threshold coming it at $84.74 million, both numbers a little higher than projected.  However, based on their existing salary commitments (totaling over $85.2 million thus far), the Houston Rockets are officially over the luxury tax threshold.

More Moves Coming

With the Rockets already in tax territory, they need to be very careful about their next moves; but with only 12 players under contract, they still need to add to their roster in advance of training camp in a couple of months.

Reports are that Houston has agreed to terms with former Rocket Chuck Hayes on a one-year (partially guaranteed) veteran’s minimum deal to re-join the franchise that gave him his NBA start.  Assuming that Hayes makes the roster and is not waived before January 10 (when all NBA contracts become fully guaranteed), Hayes will make nearly $1.5 million this year based on his years of service in the league; however, by signing Hayes to a one-year deal, the Rockets will only have to pay him the two-year veteran’s minimum salary ($947,276, which will also be his cap hit), with the league picking up the tab for everything above that amount.  (Thornton is in a similar situation on his one-year deal, getting paid nearly $1.2 million, with only $947,276 of that coming from Houston.)

There are also reports that the Rockets have extended a contract offer to Terry, presumably also a one-year veteran’s minimum deal.  While Terry may still be negotiating for a second year on his deal, that concession could be costly to the Rockets, both this season and next.  Terry’s minimum salary (like Hayes) is nearly $1.5 million this year; however, for two-year minimum deals, the team is on the hook for the player’s full salary (and the cap hit would match that salary).  Signing a two-year deal with Terry would cost the Rockets an extra $1.38 million this season in salary and luxury tax than what they’d pay for a one-year deal, let alone the salary commitment for 2016-17.

Shortly after the draft, it was reported that the Rockets had reached an agreement to sign undrafted free agent Christian Wood to a contract.  Presumably, it is a two-year minimum deal with a partial guarantee.  Although his rookie minimum salary would be $525,093, for purposes of determining whether the Rockets are over the luxury tax threshold or the apron level, his cap figure will be the two-year veteran’s minimum salary ($947,276).

Because the Rockets are over the luxury tax threshold, each veteran’s minimum signing will cost owner Les Alexander at least an extra $1.42 million in luxury tax (or more, if an older vet is signed to a two-year deal), on top of the player’s actual salary.

The Curious Case of Montrezl Harrell (and the MLE)

Montrezl Harrell Summer League Rockets

Montrezl Harrell is worth a portion of the MLE, but at what cost to the Rockets’ cap flexibility?

Probably the most intriguing roster move may relate to what the Rockets do with Harrell.  As a high second round pick, Houston ideally would like to sign him to a three- or four-year deal paying above the minimum salary using the MLE.  Some players drafted shortly after Harrell have received some relatively sizable contracts, such as #33 pick Jordan Mickey (four years, $5 million, presumably with over $3 million guaranteed) and #36 pick Rakeem Christmas (four years, $4.3 million, with $3.15 million guaranteed).

Unfortunately, while Houston still has more than enough remaining of the Non-Taxpayer MLE to give Harrell a similar deal, the Rockets are dangerously close to the apron level, where they would be hard-capped if that MLE were used.  Assuming that Terry, Hayes and Wood are all added on minimum deals, the Rockets would only have enough space to pay Harrell about $665,000 in Year 1 of an MLE deal without salary being cut elsewhere.  This would also limit the Rockets’ ability to add any more salary, even for 10-day contracts and other minimum salary signings.  The hard cap is truly a HARD cap.

For these reasons, it seems that the likeliest course of action (barring a trade involving Harrell or otherwise freeing up a meaningful amount of salary) would be to sign Harrell to a one- or two-year rookie minimum deal.  However, Harrell does not have to accept a two-year minimum deal if he does not want to.  He could instead opt to accept a one-year non-guaranteed contract for the rookie minimum — the required minimum tender for the Rockets to retain his NBA rights — and become a restricted free agent next summer.  This was the same strategy used by McDaniels last year with the Philadelphia 76ers, and that strategy clearly paid off for K.J. this summer.  But McDaniels had the benefit of assured playing time on a horrendous Sixers team, whereas Harrell will likely be relegated to the D-League for most of this season, with no assurances of NBA playing time on a talent-laden Rockets roster.

With Harrell not being signed to an MLE deal, the Rockets would be free to sign as many minimum contracts as they wish in order to fill out their training camp roster and would be free to make trades taking back additional salary (although they will likely be limited to the 125% matching rules for taxpaying teams).  Of course, any additional salary would still be subject to payment of the luxury tax.

To Extend or Not to Extend?

Another key issue on the table for the Rockets this off-season: whether or not to extend the contracts of Jones and/or Motiejunas.  Each is eligible for an extension of their rookie contracts, which can be up to four (new) years in length and at up to the maximum salary (based on the new increased salary cap), although odds are that each would get less than that on an extension.

As Bobby Marks wrote about recently, Jones and Motiejunas could be two of the most highly coveted free agents next summer.  With the vast majority of teams expected to have copious amounts of cap room, and with the league mandating a minimum team salary at 90% of the new salary cap, teams will be spending like drunken sailors, out of both desire and sheer necessity.

Terrence Jones Donatas Motiejunas

Both Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are due lucrative new contracts next summer

But even with the imminent threat of them being poached in free agency next summer, it is not expected that the Rockets will take the extension route with either player.  If allowed to hit free agency, each would have a much lower cap hold than what he would likely get on an extension or in free agency ($6.22 million for Jones; $5.72 million for Motiejunas).  Having those lower cap holds gives the Rockets greater flexibility if they want to pursue another star free agent, such as Kevin Durant in 2016, or other avenues for roster improvement.  The Spurs recently used this strategy (electing not to sign Kawhi Leonard to an extension last summer) in order to gain the cap flexibility to sign Aldridge this summer.

Don’t be surprised if the Rockets explore trade scenarios for at least one of Jones or Motiejunas, perhaps for a future draft pick or a power forward with more years remaining on his contract.  It is unlikely that Houston can afford (or is otherwise inclined) to re-sign both to large new contracts when both play the same position.  On the other hand, the Rockets may just as well be inclined to let both play out the year and go with whichever player best distinguishes himself.  Or hell, they could re-sign both.  There are options galore on that front.

Conclusion

It has been a pretty wild off-season thus far for the Houston Rockets.  With the addition of Lawson, they are positioned as a top title contender this season.  While the likely inability to lock up Harrell on a longer-term deal is not ideal, it is a small price to pay for avoiding a hard cap and being able to add to the roster and to make in-season moves.  And with a roster lined with veterans on reasonable contracts and first round picks on rookie scale deals, the Rockets have plenty of flexibility going forward, whether via trade, free agency or otherwise.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

https://twitter.com/brhoops/status/1576753965730889729?s=20&t=X5YfCfDU5HwynBnvqoicSQ

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.

https://twitter.com/FraudeauxNBA/status/1576358215406989312?s=20&t=X5YfCfDU5HwynBnvqoicSQ

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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