June 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Rockets draft power forward Montrezl Harrell in the second round

Montrezl Harrell Houston Rockets

Point guard… who needs a point guard?

The Rockets did not stray from their “Best Player Available” philosophy Thursday night. After drafting Wisconsin small forward Sam Dekker in the first round, the Rockets took power forward Montrezl Harrell out of Louisville in the second round with pick #32.

This is a throwback Morey pick, reminding you of when the Rockets drafted shorter bigs like Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey. Harrell is undersized, measuring just 6’7″ without shoes, but he’s got an excellent wingspan at 7’4″.

He averaged 15.7 points on 56.6% shooting and 9.2 rebounds as a junior. He is HIGH energy — he runs the floor and throws down a lot of dunks. Defensively, Harrell can be very good and like a Kenneth Faried, he has a terrific motor and attacks the glass.

As for free throw shooting, he’ll fit right in — he shot just over 53% from the stripe in three years at Louisville. His preference for wearing headbands probably didn’t hurt the fit either.

But I feel strongly that this team needs a solid defensive option at the four. I don’t know if Harrell will be that at this level, but I like the roll of the dice here. Considering the Rockets got this draft pick by simply facilitating a Marcus Camby sign-and-trade three years ago, I love this selection.

You can see where both Dekker and Harrell fit a common theme here for the Rockets: This team wants to attack and run.

Montrezl Harrell Highlights

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 25, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Rockets take Sam Dekker with the 18th pick

Sam Dekker Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets stayed at pick 18 in the 2015 NBA Draft on Thursday, selecting Wisconsin junior small forward Sam Dekker.

The newest Rocket was excited to be coming to Houston.

“It’s a perfect fit for me,”said Dekker. “I’m a guy that loves to get up and go. I love to run the court, play above the rim, shoot from the outside and just attack, putting the defense on its heels. That’s what the Houston Rockets love to do and that’s what I love to do as well. I think I’ll fit in very easily.”

Dekker is an interesting pick. If you listened to our recent podcast, you know David Weiner liked him for the Rockets. He has drawn some Chandler Parsons comparisons. I personally preferred Bobby Portis, who ended up going 22nd overall to Chicago, but I can definitely see how Dekker can help the Rockets.

Dekker helped lead Wisconsin to the National Championship game against Duke as a junior, averaging 13.9 points on 52.5% shooting to go with 5.5 rebounds. Like Parsons, he’s a big wing. He measured in at a hair under 6’8″ without shoes and has a wingspan at 6’11.5″ (for comparison, Parsons was 6’8.75″ tall without shoes and 6’9.5″ on wingspan). He’s got a good NBA body, athleticism, can post up and is versatile — he can do a little bit of everything. Many think he can excel on an up-tempo team.

He’s looking forward to playing with James Harden and Dwight Howard.

“I don’t know who wouldn’t be excited to play with them,” said Dekker. “There’s nothing more you can ask for than to play with great players … If I get in the paint, I can throw it up and Dwight Howard will go get it.”

Dekker does have some work to do, however. He struggled with his shot, hitting just 33.1% from deep as a junior, and that will have to to improve on this team.

But overall it looks like a good value pick and it will be amusing to see if the Rockets added a Parsons clone on a rookie contract.

Sam Dekker Highlights

Posted in Houston Rockets, NBA Draft |
June 24, 2015 at 9:04 am

Podcast: On Sergio Llull, Josh Smith and the NBA Draft

Houston Rockets Josh Smith Sergio Llull

It’s been a mostly quiet rumor mill so far, but that’s about to change with the NBA Draft upon us and the Rockets holding picks 18 and 32 (for now).

David Weiner, aka “BimaThug” on the board, joined me on the podcast to discuss Houston’s options as they enter the Draft tomorrow night and who we like for the Rockets. We also talk about the Sergio Llull situation and the positive buzz about a Josh Smith return.

Posted in Houston Rockets, NBA Draft, Podcasts |
June 3, 2015 at 8:36 am

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: 2015 Offseason Pre-Draft Edition

Josh Smith Corey Brewer Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets just completed their most successful season in 18 years, advancing to the Western Conference Finals despite numerous injuries to key players throughout the season (including injuries to Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas that kept them out for the entire playoff run).

While many fans still have a bad taste in their mouths from a 4-1 series loss to the Golden State Warriors, the vast majority still seem to have (what I believe to be) the proper perspective on the overall success of this season’s campaign.

With the Rockets’ season now ended, 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

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

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), Trevor Ariza ($8.19 million), Kostas Papanikolaou ($4.8 million, non-guaranteed), Terrence Jones ($2.49 million), Motiejunas ($2.29 million), Pablo Prigioni ($1.73 million, partially guaranteed for only $440,000), Clint Capela ($1.24 million), Joey Dorsey ($1,015,421) and Nick Johnson ($845,059).

Cap holds:  Jason Terry ($8.76 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights), Corey Brewer ($6.11 million – Rockets hold Early Bird rights), Beverley ($2.725 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights), Josh Smith ($2.49 million – Rockets have only Non-Bird rights), the rookie scale slot for the #18 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft ($1.37 million), and K.J. McDaniels ($1.05 million – Rockets have only Non-Bird rights).

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.  However, the key salary cap exception available to the Rockets this summer will be the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), either the Non-Taxpayer variety ($5.464 million, the use of which would impose a hard cap at the “apron” level – currently projected at $85.6 million) or the Taxpayer variety ($3.376 million).  Houston will be unable to avail themselves of the Bi-Annual Exception ($2.139 million) this summer, as they used it this past season on Smith.  (The Rockets could instead have the Room Exception of $2.814 million if they elect to use cap room this summer, but that is unlikely, as described below.)

Given these salary commitments and exceptions, and based on the currently projected 2015-16 salary cap of $67.1 million, the most cap room the Rockets could create (barring trades . . . yeah, I know) is about $10.37 million.  However, this would involve renouncing rights to all free agents, waiving Papanikolaou and Prigioni and renouncing/trading away their first round pick.  Since the Rockets are now at a level (title contention) where roster continuity is more important, do not expect them to opt for cap room . . . unless a star-caliber player shakes loose and opening up additional cap room is the only way to obtain that player.  So the most likely scenario is that the Rockets will operate over the cap this summer.

So… What Happens Next?

As the Rockets prepare for the NBA Draft and the subsequent free agent season, there will be some internal cap-maneuvering for GM Daryl Morey and his staff to do.

The most likely such maneuver will be for the Rockets to pick up the $4.8 million team option on Papanikolaou’s contract.  This option year is fully non-guaranteed, so there is no financial commitment attached to exercising the option.  Also, exercising the option is necessary in order for Papanikolaou to be trade-eligible.  As a sizable non-guaranteed contract, Papanikolaou will probably be a crucial component to almost any trade of significance the Rockets attempt to pull off this summer.  I would be shocked if Kostas’s option were not picked up on or prior to draft day.

Houston will also likely extend qualifying offers to Beverley ($2.725 million, more than he’d otherwise receive based on his prior salary due to meeting the CBA’s “starter criteria”) and to McDaniels ($1.05 million, which is the one-year veteran’s minimum plus $200,000) in order to make them both restricted free agents and to give the Rockets the ability to match any offers from other teams.

Sergio Llull celebrates 2015 EuroLeague win

Sergio Llull may finally come over after winning the EuroLeague title in 2015

Expect the Rockets to ramp up their years-long courtship of 2009 second round pick Sergio Llull, a 6-3 combo guard who has developed into one of the top guards in Europe.  After helping lead Real Madrid to a EuroLeague title, there is little else Llull can accomplish overseas.  While being a star on a perennial title contender in his home country (as well as a prohibitive contract buyout) has thus far kept Llull from making the leap to the NBA, he has reportedly always had interest in eventually coming over.  With a title now in hand (and his buyout amount allegedly now low enough), now seems like the ideal time for the 27-year-old guard to join the Rockets.  He will likely command most/all of the MLE, so the Rockets will need to prioritize such a signing with their other offseason moves.  But hearing head coach Kevin McHale (in an interview with 790 AM’s Charlie Pallilo) recently, it sounds like signing Llull will be a high priority for this team.

Draft Day Maneuvering

The Rockets will enter the 2015 NBA Draft armed with the 18th and 32nd picks, about $800,000 in remaining cash to spend, as well as an assortment of young players, draft rights and future picks to trade.  Knowing Morey, expect Houston to diligently seek out a draft night deal.  Whether that is an attempt to trade up in the draft or a shot at acquiring an established point guard (such as Kyle Lowry or Ty Lawson) remains to be seen.

Unlike trades consummated after the July Moratorium, draft day trades (as in, those trades actually consummated before July 1) are made using this current season’s cap figures.  With the Rockets only about $2-3 million below the luxury tax threshold this season, any large draft day trades they make will probably subject them to the “taxpayer matching rules” (in which a team that will be over the tax threshold following a trade may not take back more than 125% of outgoing salary plus $100,000).  Therefore, we may see the Rockets agree to terms on a trade during the draft but not have it consummated until some time in July (when the cap figures reset, certain outgoing players’ salaries increase, and the team can possibly drop far enough below the tax threshold to work under more favorable salary matching rules).

The more likely scenario (as is always the case) is that the Rockets are unable to pull off a significant draft day trade.  We may instead see Rockets owner Leslie Alexander once again allow Morey to spend his remaining $800,000 cash allotment this season on a late second round pick to stash overseas (as the team has done in recent years with Furkan Aldemir and Alessandro Gentile).

Free Agent Decisions

The Rockets have several key decisions to make regarding their own free agents that could greatly impact what they do about any outside additions to the roster.  In his interview with Pallilo, McHale made it quite clear that retaining most/all of their free agents was a high priority for the Rockets.

Patrick Beverley:  While Beverley’s relatively low cap hold could possibly help the Rockets make other maneuvers before re-signing him, don’t expect Beverley to be overly generous in his contract demands.  Despite his injury history, expect his agent to cite (repeatedly) Beverley’s honor as an NBA All-Defense Second Teamer in 2013-14 and to look for a deal in the range of what Boston defensive guard Avery Bradley received last summer (4 years, $32 million).  That might be a tad rich for Houston, especially if they hope to muster any meaningful cap room in the summer of 2016.  However, if Beverley is willing to sign for less in order to retain a starting spot on a contender, there is still a decent chance that he’ll be back next season.

Corey Brewer:  After waiving his player option as a condition to his trade to Houston last December (an option that he undoubtedly would not have exercised anyway based on his late season performance), Brewer will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.  The Rockets hold Early Bird rights to Brewer, which means that they can offer him a deal starting as high as about $8.23 million.  As it is unlikely that Brewer will do better than that (or even get that high an offer from the Rockets), Houston should be able to exceed the cap in order to retain Brewer if the sides can agree on a deal.  While Brewer’s high motor is a huge plus for this team, the Rockets will need to weigh his strengths against his weaknesses (poor 3-point shooting and a tendency to overplay too much on defense) when deciding how much to offer him.

Josh Smith:  I wrote in my last cap update about the details surrounding Smith’s free agency and how much the Rockets could offer him.  Essentially, Houston must either hope that Smith accepts its Non-Bird free agent tender ($2.49 million) or use the MLE (or cap room) to re-sign Smith.  While Smith would still clear over $7 million in total salary next season between a Non-Bird tender from Houston and his stretch payment from the Detroit Pistons, he can always make more with a larger new contract.  It seems the Rockets are hoping they can leverage Smith’s happiness in Houston to convince him to stay for the Non-Bird amount.  Only time will tell if that strategy will work.

K.J. McDaniels Houston Rockets free agent

It could be tough to keep K.J. McDaniels, who should get a lot of league interest

Jason Terry:  Coming off an MLE-sized contract he signed with the Boston Celtics in 2012, do not expect Terry to re-sign for anything close to that much this summer.  But the Rockets apparently love what Terry brings to the table, both on and off the court.  As has been mentioned on this site, look for the Rockets to offer Terry a deal similar to what they gave Francisco Garcia a couple of years back: either a two-year veteran’s minimum deal (with a player option on Year 2) or a one-year vet minimum deal (perhaps with a tacit understanding about an ongoing role with the team).

K.J. McDaniels:  The decision with McDaniels will likely be one of the hardest decisions of the offseason for Houston.  A young player with high upside, there will certainly be several teams that come calling for McDaniels’s services.  But the Rockets are limited to either their qualifying offer ($1.05 million) or tapping into the MLE (or cap room) to re-sign K.J.  (As an “Arenas Rule” free agent, no team can offer McDaniels a starting salary in excess of the full Non-Taxpayer MLE; but teams could still create the sort of “poison pill” offer sheets Houston utilized to sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.)  The Rockets traded for McDaniels in February largely to reserve another palatable alternative for themselves this summer should Brewer leave or should Ariza be traded.  But if Ariza and Brewer are both Rockets next season — and especially if Llull comes over as an MLE signing — it is likely that McDaniels moves on to another team.  If the Rockets can somehow convince McDaniels to accept the qualifying offer (with the hopes of signing a larger contract next summer), it would be quite the coup for Morey and his staff.

Conclusion

After a terrific playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets must now turn their attention to both retaining the talent that got them there as well as adding to that talent via trades and free agency.  Morey and company have enough assets to at least make legitimate trade offers this summer for a “third best player” or other key piece.  Even if no outside talent is added, bringing back this season’s entire (healthy) rotation, with the additions of Llull and a mid-first rounder, could possibly be enough to get Houston over the hump next season.  But if we’ve learned anything from the last several years, it’s that the Houston Rockets will explore every possible avenue to get better.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Salary Cap Update |
May 29, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Patrick Beverley hopes to return to Houston, but Chandler Parsons is calling

Patrick Beverley Chandler Parsons

The real unfortunate part of the Houston Rockets’ playoff run was that they didn’t have their full rotation of players.

Starting point guard Patrick Beverley, a hounding on-ball defender, is on the squad primarily to make life more difficult for the likes of stars Chris Paul and Stephen Curry — both point guards the Rockets had to face in the playoffs — but Beverley was forced to sit out the entire postseason after left wrist surgery ended his season.

“I love playing against Chris Paul and Steph, icing on the cake,” said Beverley in his exit interview on Friday. “The fire is definitely burning. I do have a list. The time I’ve been out, people will feel my wrath for sure.”

Beverley also is a restricted free agent.

One of the teams we suspect will pursue him is the Dallas Mavericks, given that they could re-sign Monta Ellis, a ball-dominant guard.

Beverley says former Rocket Chandler Parsons, someone who knows a little something about the Rockets and restricted free agency, has been in touch.

“I hear from Chandler every day,” said Beverley.

While Parsons is turning on the recruiting charm looking to poach his former employer, Beverley says he knows what he has with the Rockets.

“I’m fortunate to be in this situation, with a phenomenal team, phenomenal staff and phenomenal players,” said Beverley. “(To) not even play but start on a team like this, I have to take full advantage of that every year.”

Beverley shot a career-low 38.3% from the field, connecting on 35.6% from three and taking the most three-point attempts in his career at nearly six per contest. So the Rockets are in a strange situation — they want to keep Beverley, recognizing that as a starter or bench guy he’s a great fit, but they advanced as far as the Western Conference Finals without him and need to bolster the position regardless of how it turns out. This will truly be a situation where the Rockets will let the market decide.

“It’s going to be a fun summer,” said Beverley. “I put myself in a position to be set financially for life, and that’s something I never thought was possible growing up.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 29, 2015 at 10:43 am

Dwight Howard will be suspended for one game after all

Dwight Howard Flagrant Foul Game 5 Warriors

The NBA got to suspend Dwight Howard after all.

After rescinding the silly technical foul that Howard was called for in Game 5, the NBA upgraded a common foul call later in the game to a Flagrant 1, which exceeded the limit for flagrant foul points in the playoffs for Howard. That carries with it a one-game suspension to start the 2015-16 season.

The foul was on a screen being set against Andre Iguodala where Howard raised his elbow above the shoulders, catching Iguodala in the chest/neck area.

Officials on the court reviewed video of the play and did not upgrade it, but the league office had a different opinion.

As a reminder, this is what Dwight’s first flagrant foul of the playoffs looked like.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 28, 2015 at 2:07 pm

The Rockets’ season was a big success — so too must be their offseason

Houston Rockets 2014-15 season James Harden

When this past summer’s grand plan to sign Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh fell apart and they opted to let Chandler Parsons walk away to Dallas, the Houston Rockets were universally mocked by NBA media and fans alike.

But on that day, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey calmly proclaimed something that very few could understand at the time.

“By this year’s playoffs,” said Morey. “We will be a better team than last year’s playoffs.”

He was right.

Despite dealing with significant injuries, the Rockets exceeded expectations by winning 56 games, landing the 2nd seed in a brutal conference and making it to the West Finals. They put the 2013-14 disappointment behind them and got back on track. They did this largely because of the greatness of James Harden.

Morey deserves a lot of credit as well. Replacing Parsons with Trevor Ariza was a boost to the defense. Unloading Jeremy Lin was both a plus on the court and on the cap, allowing the Rockets to later add Corey Brewer. The additions of Josh Smith and Jason Terry played major roles in how far the Rockets got in the playoffs.

The last time the Rockets were in the Conference Finals was the first year for ClutchFans — 1996-97 — so I know well how long it’s been since they advanced this far. This was a hell of a season. I am proud of what they accomplished.

With that said, it’s clear the Rockets have weaknesses and while the future is bright, the window to contend with Dwight Howard can’t be too big. If the Rockets are to win a title with Dwight in his prime, they must fill holes and take a step forward in 2015-16.

Team Needs

Above all else, the Rockets need a point guard.

Yes, this series might have been different with a healthy Patrick Beverley defending Stephen Curry, but if Harden’s turnover-fest in Game 5 taught us anything, it’s that the Rockets desperately need a second playmaker — even when Beverley was healthy, that need was still glaring. A point guard that can shoot, defend and attack the basket should be a top priority, but those are not easy to come by. Goran Dragic represented the ideal, but that ship sailed once he made it clear he didn’t want to return. Kyle Lowry or, to a lesser extent, Ty Lawson may be targets.

They also could use a power forward upgrade. The Donatas Motiejunas back injury really hurt as the trio of D-Mo, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith looked strong heading towards the postseason, but defensive rotations and shots around the basket were a problem for both Smith and Jones at times — particularly Jones, who may have played his last game as a Rocket.

The Rockets have two amazing superstars as their core, but they do have flaws to their games. Rocket brass has to cover those up with the right complements in their role players, with three-point shooting and defensive versatility being absolute musts for the rotation on this team.

Free Agents

The Rockets have plenty of their own free agents to worry about.

Brewer will be an unrestricted free agent, though the Rockets have Early Bird rights on Brewer and can offer him up to $8-9 million. I would be a little shocked if he gets more than that on the market. Josh Smith is also a free agent and while they would like to bring him back, what they can offer him will be tricky. Both Brewer and Smith were big parts of Houston’s success this season.

Beverley will be a restricted free agent, giving the Rockets the right to match any offer sheet he signs. Don’t be surprised if the Dallas Mavericks rear their head again here. Rookie K.J. McDaniels will also be a restricted free agent.

Jason Terry will be an unrestricted free agent and, according to a report, the Rockets want Terry back. I would not be surprised if this is a Francisco Garcia-style situation where the Rockets would like to keep Terry at veteran minimum prices.

Draft and Assets

The Rockets hold picks 18 and 32 in the 2015 NBA Draft. They simply can’t afford a pair of misses here. Their needs are clear, but need has never trumped Houston’s desire for value — they’ll take the best player available.

Both picks are trade assets. My feeling is that Jones will be on the trade block, given that he and Motiejunas are both a year away from restricted free agency and D-Mo has shown more development, particularly as a scorer around the basket and long-range shooter. If the Rockets feel confident in Josh Smith’s willingness to re-sign, that may also make Jones more expendable. Clint Capela could be a strong backup center for the Rockets next season, but he also has to have enormous trade value right now given the potential he has shown. For a team in win-now mode, that raises an interesting dilemma.

Still Hunting Big Game

Everything the Rockets do is about value, as illustrated by letting Parsons walk and signing Ariza. They have always believed that the best value contracts are rookies and max superstars, so you can expect the Rockets to exhaust all options pursuing the top free agents and trying to move up in the draft.

I’ve been told they will definitely go after free agent power forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, but as crazy as it sounds, I’ve also been told they will reach out to Memphis center Marc Gasol, also a free agent.

The most cap room the Rockets can get to by waiving everyone eligible is around $9-$10 million, not enough to chase a top free agent. However, as they proved last summer in shipping out Omer Asik and Lin — you don’t need cap room to pursue a max contract, you just need the ability to unload contracts to get there. In this case, that’s Trevor Ariza, but that’s not a bridge the Rockets want to cross unless they have to. What they need is a top talent to want to join Harden and Howard in Houston — the Rockets will do the rest.

If they are to be this fortunate, the more likely route would be a sign-and-trade here as the Rockets have some attractive trade pieces — namely Capela — that could appeal to teams if their free agent opts to leave.

MLE Conundrum

The Rockets are likely to operate above the cap, giving them their mid-level exception ($5.3M) to work with. The problem is they have three players they could use it on — Josh Smith, European point guard Sergio Llull and restricted free agent K.J. McDaniels.

The hope would be that Smith is willing to take less again (a non-Bird contract of $2.5 million) and that the Rockets can finally lure Llull, who could be a very good complement to Beverley. That may leave McDaniels out in the cold, though we will see what type of contract he receives.

Kostas Papanikolaou, who the Rockets used their MLE on last season, is a very good bet to be traded as his contract counts for $4.8M in trades but is not guaranteed for next season. The same applies to Pablo Prigioni and his $1.7M partially-guaranteed salary for next season. The two combined could bring back almost $9.8M in a trade.

Conclusion

The Rockets proved that they are among the best teams in the NBA, but it was also clear that there is a gap between them and the very best. The Golden State Warriors, who won 67 games (11 more than the Rockets), present a good model to follow as they made one significant change to their starting lineup — removing David Lee for the versatile and defensive-minded Draymond Green — and it filled a hole to complete their team, turning them from a poor defensive squad into the very best in the league.

The Rockets have the ability to make that same kind of leap with an addition or two to their roster, and this is the offseason where it needs to happen.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 26, 2015 at 9:39 am

Game 4 Podcast: Rockets finally beat Warriors, but will Dwight be around for Game 5?

James Harden Golden State Warriors Game 4

Eight was just enough. After seven losses in seven games, the Rockets finally beat the Golden State Warriors in a contest this season, taking Game 4 at home 128-115 behind James Harden’s 45-point gem.

With torrential raining and flooding going on outside the Toyota Center late into the night, MK Bower and Clutch discuss Game 4, Harden’s big night and alleged partying with Drake before Game 3, the Stephen Curry fall and Dwight Howard’s potential Game 5 suspension.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |