August 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Bill Worrell planning retirement, Craig Ackerman to take over road TV duties

Bill Worrell Houston Rockets

Longtime Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell is planning his retirement, a source informed ClutchFans today.

Worrell plans to retire after this coming season, though there is a slim possibility that he will remain for two more years. However, the transition is underway. The Rockets are currently planning some broadcast changes as a result, with Worrell doing the play-by-play for Root Sports on just the home games this season.

The current plan is for Rockets radio voice Craig Ackerman to take over Worrell’s television broadcaster role for road games. Ackerman should do a terrific job as he’s passionate about the team and his playcalling. You can see his voice/calls synced to video here from the Rockets Game 6 comeback against the Clippers in the 2015 West semifinals.

As for who will do the radio call, SportsTalk 790’s Matt Thomas will fill in for Ackerman on the radio play-by-play for road games.

That’s not the only role Thomas will play this season. ClutchFans has learned that Thomas will take over the public address announcer duties at Toyota Center, replacing John Paul Stevenson, who has been in that role since 2006. Stevenson will remain with the organization.

Thomas was the PA announcer at The Summit for the Rockets during the championship seasons of 1994 and 1995. The Rockets are preparing for their 50th anniversary season so the move coincides with that direction. Thomas does a great job and should bring back some nostalgia as well, but it’s a shock they would replace Stevenson, who has been very strong for 10 seasons.

As for Worrell, he is a Houston treasure, having been a fixture in our city for over 30 years. He has been broadcasting Houston Rockets games since 1983, then with Home Sports Entertainment (HSE). He also covered the Houston Astros from 1985 to 2004.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
August 11, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Houston Rockets release 2016-17 schedule

Houston Rockets 2016-17 Schedule

We’re smack dab in the middle of the NBA’s dead period, but we got a little tease on Thursday as the league released their 2016-17 game schedule.

The Houston Rockets, armed with new shooters in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to play alongside James Harden, will open the season on the road as they face the team Mike D’Antoni’s previously coached, taking on the Lakers in Los Angeles on October 26th. The Rockets follow that up with an away-home doubleheader against the Dallas Mavericks.

It’s a fairly tough start for the Rockets as seven of their first eight games are on the road, including road matchups with the Cavaliers and Spurs.

Dwight Howard makes his return to Houston on February 2nd when the Atlanta Hawks come to town, though it won’t be the first time he faces his former team. The Rockets-Hawks square off in Atlanta on November 5th.

The Golden State Warriors were already a hot ticket but it’s clearly the show to see now with Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors will play at Toyota Center on January 20th and March 28th.

Anderson and Gordon will make their return to New Orleans on February 23rd when the Rockets take on the Pelicans.

Holiday game dates? The Rockets had played on Christmas Day in three of the previous four seasons but it will not happen this season. They will play on New Year’s Eve at home however, taking on the Knicks.

You can see the full Houston Rockets 2016-17 schedule at Rockets.com here.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

Rockets are looking for a new Clutch the Bear

Clutch the Bear Houston Rockets mascot

The Houston Rockets will be looking for a new person to play their mascot, Clutch the Bear, a source within the organization confirmed to ClutchFans.

Robert Boudwin, who has played “Clutch” for 21 seasons, will not be back with the team.

The team’s mascot is a member of the Mascot Hall of Fame and has nearly 150,000 followers on Facebook. The Rockets will be holding open auditions looking for a new person to play their mascot, possibly in August.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 13, 2016 at 9:47 pm

Pablo Prigioni returns to Rockets, signing a two-year deal

Pablo Prigioni Houston Rockets

Pablo Prigioni is coming back to Houston.

The 39-year old point guard has agreed to sign a two-year deal with the Rockets, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. The second year of the deal is a team option. With Houston being capped out, this has to be a veteran minimum salary.

In February of 2015, the Rockets acquired Prigioni in a mid-season trade with New York. With Patrick Beverley out, Prigioni ended up being a rotation piece for Houston’s postseason run when he logged over 17 a minutes a night in 17 playoff games. He was especially important late in the West semis against the Clippers.

The Rockets dealt Prigioni this past summer to Denver as part of the Ty Lawson deal. After being waived by the Nuggets shortly after, Prigioni signed a deal with the Clippers, playing in 13.9 minutes a game over 59 games, averaging 2.5 points and 2.2 assists.

Prigioni was a strong three-point shooter in New York, but he has struggled from deep in both Houston and Los Angeles. His strength is in the pick-and-roll, as we saw several times with Pablo and Capela running it nicely.

Though he’s not likely to make a major impact, the Rockets do add an experienced backup here.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 12, 2016 at 11:10 am

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: 2016 Offseason Edition

Ryan Anderson Eric Gordon Houston Rockets

Well, that was an eventful Saturday afternoon press conference!

At that press conference, the Houston Rockets introduced their two key free agent acquisitions, sharpshooting power forward Ryan Anderson (“4 years, nearly $80 million) and dynamic scoring guard Eric Gordon (4 years, nearly $53 million). Both players are expected to add much-needed shooting, floor-spacing and shot creation to an offense that relied far too heavily on James Harden last season.

Then, in a surprise move, the Rockets also announced that they had renegotiated and extended Harden’s deal so that he will get paid the maximum salary through 2020 (the last season being a player option). I wrote more about that extension here

This seemed like as good a time as any to examine these moves (and others) and their salary cap implications for the Rockets.

Since My Last Update…

Here are some Rockets-related moves that happened since my last salary cap update:

  • In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Rockets selected Chinanu Onuaku (6-10 C out of Louisville) with the 37th pick and Zhou Qi (7-1 C out of China) with the 43rd pick
    Immediately following the draft, Houston agreed in principle to multi-year partially-guaranteed deals with undrafted free agents Gary Payton II (6-3 PG out of Oregon State), Isaiah Taylor (6-3 PG out of Texas) and Kyle Wiltjer (6-10 PF out of Gonzaga)
  • Dwight Howard opted out of his contract for 2016-17 and later agreed to a new 3-year, $70 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks
  • The Rockets extended a qualifying offer to Donatas Motiejunas, making him a restricted free agent (no qualifying offer was made to Terrence Jones, who became unrestricted)
  • The salary cap for the 2016-17 season was set at $94.143 million (with a luxury tax threshold of $113.287 million)
  • On the second day of free agency, the Rockets agreed to deals with Anderson and Gordon
  • The Rockets agreed in principle to a one-year, $2.9 million deal with Nene (Hilario)
  • In order to clear cap room for the Anderson and Gordon deals and the Harden extension, Houston renounced its rights to free agents Howard, Jones, Josh Smith and Jason Terry and also waived Andrew Goudelock

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 2016-17 season:

Player salary commitments: Harden ($26.54 million), Anderson ($18.7 million), Gordon ($12.4 million), Trevor Ariza ($7.81 million), Brewer ($7.61 million), Beverley ($6.0 million), K.J. McDaniels ($3.33 million), Sam Dekker ($1.72 million), Michael Beasley ($1.40 million – non-guaranteed until August 1), Clint Capela ($1.30 million), and Montrezl Harrell ($1.05 million).

Cap holds: Motiejunas ($5.72 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights). Second round picks (like Onuaku or Zhou Qi) do not count against the cap until they are signed. Since none of Payton, Taylor or Wiltjer have actually signed, none of them count against the cap.

Other Salary Cap Exceptions: Because the Rockets opted to drop below the salary cap in order to use their available cap room on Anderson, Gordon and Harden, they have lost the use of the “full” Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception. Instead, they are limited to using the Room Exception ($2.898 million), which can be utilized once they use all of their cap space. Presumably, this Room Exception has been dedicated to Nene.

Given these salary commitments, cap hold and exceptions, and based on a 2016-17 salary cap of $94.143 million, the Rockets have only a little more than the rookie minimum salary’s worth of cap room remaining. If Motiejunas leaves in free agency, Houston’s available cap room could increase to nearly $6.3 million, but for reasons described below, that probably won’t happen. As with all of these updates, these figures assume the Rockets do not make any trades; but as we all know, GM Daryl Morey is always looking for trades that can help his team.

So… What Happens Next?

Houston Rockets Donatas Motiejunas against Draymond Green

The Rockets can go over the cap to re-sign restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas

Bring Back D-Mo: It’s no coincidence that Houston waived its rights to all of its free agents except for Motiejunas. As one of the league’s top remaining free agents on the market, D-Mo will very likely receive an offer sheet (or perhaps even an offer from the Rockets) well in excess of his $5.72 million cap hold. Since the Rockets hold Motiejunas’s Bird rights, they can exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign him or to match any offer sheet. With precious few impact players willing to take $6 million or less in this market – I’m still surprised Houston got Nene for just $2.9 million – odds are that the Rockets follow through with their threats to match any offer sheet for D-Mo, even if it is somewhat excessive. In the alternative, the Rockets could conceivably sign and trade Motiejunas as part of a package for another key contributor, although (what used to be known as) “Base Year Compensation” issues with D-Mo might complicate some trade scenarios.

Save a Little Something for Nanu: Expect the Rockets to use their remaining salary cap room to make Onuaku part of a Rockets tradition that has spanned from Chase Budinger to Chandler Parsons to Isaiah Canaan to Nick Johnson to Harrell. Each of those players were early to mid-second round picks who received a multi-year (three or four seasons) deal from the Rockets with a starting salary above the rookie minimum. (Johnson’s salary was right at the rookie minimum, but he got three years, fully guaranteed.) Morey and company have always tried to lock in these second round picks to longer-term deals in order to secure talent on the cheap. They will likely try to sign Onuaku before signing or matching an offer sheet for Motiejunas. However, given the increased salaries being handed out to other early second rounders this summer (such as Deyonta Davis and Ivica Zubac), there is some risk that Onuaku might take the “K.J. McDaniels Route” and instead accept a one-year rookie minimum deal in order to hit restricted free agency next summer. The Rockets will try to resolve any such issues with Onuaku sooner rather than later.

The Undrafted Guys: While it was reported on draft night that the deals agreed to in principle with Payton, Taylor and Wiltjer were for three years each, the Rockets’ lack of cap room may necessitate that those deals become two-year contracts instead. The third year of each player’s deal was likely non-guaranteed, and each deal was likely negotiated to include a third season to the extent the Rockets had cap room available for that purpose. If there is any additional cap room that opens up, some of it may be used to sign Payton for a third year, then maybe Taylor and/or Wiltjer, too.

Gentile Will Have to Wait: Despite registering interest in playing for coach Mike D’Antoni, it appears 2014 second round pick Alessandro Gentile will have to wait at least another year to play for the Rockets. Reportedly, Gentile recently committed to stay one more year with Olimpia Milano after failing to reach agreement with Houston. With a glut at the wing positions and with little to no cap room to spare (Gentile would have probably required more than the rookie minimum to make the jump to the NBA), a fit could not be found at this time. With several other NBA teams reportedly expressing interest in Gentile, don’t be surprised if Houston trades his draft rights, whether for a future pick or as a sweetener in a larger trade.

Looking Ahead to 2017

The Houston Rockets currently have the following player salary commitments, cap holds and other salary variables for the 2017-18 season:

Player salary commitments: Harden ($28.53 million), Anderson ($19.54 million), Gordon ($12.96 million), Brewer ($7.58 million), Ariza ($7.42 million), Beverley ($5.51 million), McDaniels ($3.48 million – team option), Capela ($2.33 million – team option), Dekker ($1.79 million – team option), and Harrell ($1.09 million)

Cap holds: Nene ($3.48 million – Rockets hold Non-Bird rights), Beasley ($1.01 million – Rockets have Early Bird rights)

Other Variables: Motiejunas (if retained – 2017-18 salary unknown), Onuaku ($905,249 one-year vet minimum, fully guaranteed?), Payton ($905,249 – partially guaranteed?), Houston’s 2017 first round pick ($1.1 million to $2 million cap hold?)

With a projected salary cap of $102 million (recently revised downward from prior estimates as high as $110 million), the Rockets were not expected to have max cap room, even before the Harden extension. Add to that any salary paid to Motiejunas, and that cap room becomes relatively minimal in the grand scheme of attracting star free agents. Even if Motiejunas is allowed to walk this summer, all team options (except for Capela’s) are declined and Brewer is jettisoned for no salary in return, the Rockets wouldn’t have more than about $21 million in cap room in a summer when the lowest max salary is expected to exceed $24 million (subject to further increase in the upcoming CBA negotiations).

If the Rockets are going to add another star in 2017, it will probably need to be either via trade or with cap room created by trading pieces out. But if Houston can get back to its winning ways, there is a decent chance that teams swimming in cash again next summer would be willing to take on some of the Rockets’ role players. (For instance, a trade for Brewer with only one year left on his contract – or after a bounce-back season – would be much more palatable to other teams than dealing for him now and would require less pick compensation from the Rockets in order to move him.)

Also, if the Rockets remain above the cap next summer, they could use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (currently scheduled to be $5.8 million but subject to likely increase in the 2017 CBA) to add another contributor, perhaps including the long-pursued Sergio Llull.

Conclusion

The Houston Rockets have added some significant future pieces and locked up their franchise star longer-term, sending a statement to the league that they will not be in the same boat as teams like the Thunder and Kings, whose stars are (or will be) the subject to constant trade rumors. While cap flexibility may be more limited going forward, as Kevin McHale used to say, “Cap Flexibility” never scored a point or grabbed a rebound. Here’s hoping for many more points, rebounds and wins from Harden and his new crop of Rockets teammates.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Salary Cap Update |
July 10, 2016 at 10:24 am

The James Harden Extension: A Salary Cap Perspective

James Harden signs Rockets extension

While the media was gathered at a Saturday afternoon press conference to introduce the Houston Rockets’ newest free agent acquisitions, the team made “a second announcement”: it had signed James Harden to an extension that will pay him the maximum salary through 2020 (the last season being a player option), locking up its franchise player for the long(er) term.

This announcement came as a huge surprise… to most.

“But how was that even possible?” you ask? Here’s how:

Players with deals of four years or longer who have been under their current contract for at least three years (like Harden) are eligible for a contract extension. An extension can prolong the player’s contract for up to four seasons (including seasons remaining on the player’s current contract). However, an extension alone cannot increase the player’s salary during the remaining year(s) on his deal, nor can it increase his salary in the extended years by more than 7.5% from the player’s previous salary.

But a renegotiation-and-extension of a player’s contract can increase a player’s existing salary up to the max, so long as the team has enough available cap room to provide such a raise. The Rockets had just enough space to do so. The Rockets used about $9.8 million in cap room to increase Harden’s previous salary of $16.8 million.

Harden’s extension will pay him $26.54 million this season, $28.53 million in 2017-18 and $30.52 million in 2018-19, with a player option for $32.51 million in 2019-2020.

Unless Harden dramatically underperforms his contract, expect him to opt out in 2019, at which time he will be a 10-year veteran and eligible (at least under the current CBA) for an even higher maximum salary. But with a boatload of goodwill in the bank (literally!), an opt-out by Harden would most likely be in order to secure another long-term deal with the Rockets rather than to bolt for another franchise.

This extension also provides the Rockets with a little more cost certainty for their star player prior to a 2017 CBA negotiation that could see a dramatic increase (quite possible) or even an elimination (less likely but still on the table) of the max salary. Note that, unlike in 2011, the players union’s leadership is comprised of superstars (including president Chris Paul and vice president LeBron James) who may be motivated to better compensate the league’s marquee players.

As I’ll touch on in further detail in my next salary cap update, this extension largely eliminates the Rockets’ remaining cap flexibility this summer and significantly hampers it next summer. However, avoiding the impending free agency limbo that the Thunder will undoubtedly face with Russell Westbrook this season may outweigh whatever that flexibility (which was not going to be sizeable, anyway) would have provided Houston.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Sergio Llull to Houston? Not this year.

Sergio Llull Houston Rockets

With the Houston Rockets still having roughly $9-10 million in cap room and a need for some help at point guard, many have speculated that this may finally be the time that Spanish league star Sergio Llull comes to Clutch City.

Not this year. The Rockets will not be signing him this offseason, a source confirmed to ClutchFans.

It remains unclear how much interest Llull has in coming over to the NBA. The Rockets felt very good about their chances of bringing him over last season but he declined their deal at a late hour, opting instead to sign an extension with Real Madrid through the 2020-21 season. It was reported that the NBA buyout clause in his new extension was friendlier to him than it was in his previous deal.

The 6-foot-3 combo guard was drafted by Denver with the 34th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft. His draft rights were sold to Houston that night for $2.25 million in cash, a record at the time for a second round pick.

As far as identifying talent, the Rockets did well as Llull has thrived overseas. He is a strong pick-and-roll guard who loves to play in the open court, which would make one think that a Mike D’Antoni system would be a draw. He’s a career 38-39% three-point shooter, though he has been less effective from distance the past two seasons. He’s passionate about the game, having a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for game-winning shots.

It will now be a minimum of eight years from the time Houston drafted him to the next shot they have at getting him over, and even Arvydas Sabonis thinks that’s a bit long. That raises the question about whether the Rockets will ever bring over the 28-year old guard.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 6, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Rockets land center, sign Nenê for just $2.9 million

Nene Houston Rockets

It’s the Summer of Overspending, but the Rockets may have just found their value.

The Rockets have agreed to a one-year, $2.9 million deal with Wizards free agent center Nenê Hilario. The 33-year old big man confirmed the deal via Twitter, with newest Rocket Eric Gordon replying to the tweet with his approval as well.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Nenê was a target of the Rockets in 2011, having agreed to sign with Houston contingent on the Pau Gasol trade. That deal was later vetoed by the league and Nenê re-signed with Denver, traded to Washington a year later.

For the Rockets, this is sorely needed. Clint Capela, while progressing, is not quite ready for the bulk of the minutes and Nenê, who was an effective backup last season for the Wizards, fills this gap.

Nenê is a good defensive player, though not the rim protector that a Dwight Howard is. He’s a smart, strong defender that is difficult for opponents to move. Like a Chuck Hayes, he doesn’t fill up the box score but he has a major impact in plus-minus.

The problem, as it is with other Rocket additions this offseason, is health. Nenê played in just 57 games this past season and has averaged playing just under 60 games a season the past four years.

The Rockets now have some depth at center, though they are likely to start out rookie Chinanu Onuaku at Rio Grande Valley. As Deuce of the BBS points out, the Rockets now have a Nanu and a Nene at center.

Posted in Houston Rockets |