September 18, 2014 at 11:58 am

Rockets honored Dwight agreement with agent in letting Parsons out of his contract

Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard

The Houston Rockets made one — and only one — mistake this offseason, and it was a big one.

There’s no shame in coming up short on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. The Rockets should be praised for consistently aiming high. I also don’t think it was an error to decline to match the almost-max offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas. He’s simply not worth that money.

Their mistake was letting Chandler out of his contract in the first place.

That’s not hindsight talking. Remember, the Rockets could have simply picked up his 2014-15 option and had him on the roster at a mere $964,750. Knowing now what the Rockets knew then — that they had a significantly different value placed on Chandler than Chandler placed on himself — combined with the team’s need to add a significant player before committing long-term to him, it becomes pretty clear that letting Parsons out of his contract a year early was not a good idea.

There were benefits to going the restricted free agency route, but they were nullified if the Rockets didn’t make big salary moves before that. While the decision at the time seemed strange, we, as fans, were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that one (or both) of these things was true: 1) The Rockets had a comfort level for adding someone of significance this offseason before re-signing Chandler, and 2) Chandler was fully on board with the plan (possibly even having a verbal agreement in place), willing to wait since the Rockets were doing him a solid by letting him out early.

Neither was true and it blew up in their face.

The problem is this — the Rockets were well aware of everything I just outlined in making their choice. They just had no choice. By letting Parsons out of his contract, the Rockets were simply honoring an agreement they made with his agent in 2013 when they signed Dwight Howard.

As I’ve been told, Howard’s agent Dan Fegan did not want Dwight in Houston, preferring instead to steer him to another team. Reportedly, that team was Dallas as the agent has a relationship and comfort level with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Dwight preferred Houston. To seal the deal for the premier free agent, Fegan provided the Rockets a list of needs/demands to bring him here and one of them was to let Chandler Parsons, who also was represented by Fegan, out of his contract this summer rather than wait until 2015.

(It should be noted that though I have no idea what other items would be on that list, there were two “interesting” things that happened around that time — the Rockets hired Howard’s former trainer with the Orlando Magic and they later added Dwight’s brother to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, though it was largely believed that he wasn’t a good enough prospect to make that jump. See JR Smith-Chris Smith for how nepotism package deals can work.)

Parsons has since publicly denied that the decision by the Rockets had anything to do with Howard, but I’ve been told by multiple sources that it’s true.

All kinds of smoke

Let’s put the “sources” aside for a minute and just look at the circumstantial evidence.

  • It was well-known that the Rockets had a heavy interest in Dwight Howard and would be pursuing him as a free agent in the summer of 2013. The team tried to trade for him on multiple occasions over the previous 18 months. Just weeks before Howard became a free agent, Parsons fired his agent Mark Bartelstein to align himself with Fegan. That’s a pretty big coincidence. It’s a very good bet (if not outright safe to say) that Fegan leveraged that unique situation to land Parsons as a client, knowing he was likely the only agent in a position to get the Rockets to give up Chandler’s bargain option and get him a big haul one year earlier.

  • By not picking up the team option on Chandler, the Rockets lost about $2 million in cap room in a summer in which pursuing max free agents was their highest priority. Teams routinely unload valuable first round picks for less cap room than that, yet the Rockets willingly sacrificed a valuable chunk to make Chandler a restricted free agent. The Rockets had to be working with Chandler and/or supremely confident in their chances to land a top free agent to do that, or… something else. Looking back, this was extremely illogical.

  • In the summer of 2013, Chandler Parsons suddenly became the greatest star free agent recruiter of all-time. According to Forbes magazine citing a source, Chandler was “relentless” in pursuing Dwight as he “called and texted [Dwight] every day” despite barely knowing him at the beginning of the pursuit. Does it make more sense that Chandler was doing this for the team, city and championship pursuit or because his own big payday was on the line? When you consider that Chandler knew that an $8-$15 million bonus and increased long-term security sooner hung in the balance on whether Dwight said yes to Houston, the Herculean effort may not have been quite as altruistic as we all thought.

  • News that the Rockets would decline the team option and make Chandler a restricted free agent leaked nearly a month before the deadline the Rockets had to make that decision. This may not seem excessive, but when you consider that the NBA Draft — the hotbed time of player movement throughout the league — was still to occur and could impact the decision, it seemed silly that the front office would be able to say it with certainty at that point. I’ve since talked to people who were told by Chandler himself during the 2013-14 season that the plan was to make him a restricted free agent. No mention of why, but he apparently knew even then that the team option was not going to be picked up.

  • In an interview with local sports radio 610am after deciding not to match Parsons’ offer sheet with the Mavericks, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was asked if he had to do it all over again if he would let Chandler out of his deal. He closed his answer with something fairly cryptic, saying, “A lot goes into those decisions, way more than people might realize.”

  • Just plain common sense. If the Rockets and Parsons weren’t aligned on a figure and the team didn’t view him as the third-best player on a championship team, it made no sense to sign him long-term until they had the core of their team set. Many say, “But it almost worked and they nearly had both Bosh and Parsons!” But play it all the way out. Had the Rockets not done this and signed Bosh with cap room, they’d still have Bosh and Parsons. Houston would have had their superstar trio and Parsons, as an unrestricted free agent in 2015, would have had to make a tough choice to walk away from that championship core. But more importantly, the Rockets could have traded him. Both the situations with Kevin Love (a lame duck contract that still fetched a big haul on the trade market) and Klay Thompson (young player who could have reeled in Love in return) are strong indicators that the 25-year old small forward’s trade value, on a one-year, $1 million deal, would have been good.

    Having said all this, no party involved thought Chandler was going to be leaving Houston. The Rockets wanted him back. Chandler wanted to be here and the Rockets consistently told him they would match any offer. That might explain some of why he was “offended” after the process. He expected to remain in Houston.

    Will the Rockets be better off?

    Overall, the Rockets lost a valuable trade asset at a minimum, but they could be better off with Trevor Ariza. As much as I liked Parsons, he was playing a position where you would traditionally like to have a good (if not lockdown) defender. That becomes even more of a need for this team given how the other position where you would generally see a wing stopper (shooting guard) is a major defensive concern for the Rockets. I think this will depend on who the Rockets are able to eventually acquire as their “third” guy. As a #3, I’d give the edge to Parsons. As a #4, I prefer Ariza.

    While time will tell if they are better off on the court, the reasoning behind the offseason’s biggest “blunder” is at least now explained. The Rockets weren’t a team that made a late decision to take an ill-advised and costly risk. They were a team desperate to contend and land the big fish a year ago, and they did what it took to make that happen — even if they knew they might have to fall on their sword a year later.

  • Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged , , |
    September 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    TMZ doesn’t get a critical fact straight on Dwight Howard story

    Dwight Howard Houston Rockets

    TMZ reported on Tuesday that Dwight Howard’s driver’s license has been suspended after he was caught running a red light for the 10th time in the last two and a half years and didn’t resolve it.

    Dwight Howard might be color blind — ’cause officials in Florida say he ran 10 RED LIGHTS in 2-and-a-half years — and now his license has been suspended … TMZ Sports has learned.

    According to official records, the NBA superstar was captured by those red light cameras in Orange County, FL over and over again … starting in 2012, when he was busted 9 times in 10 months.

    Then, after a year-and-a-half without a violation, Howard struck again in 2014 — blowing through another red light on July 1st … his 10th overall infraction.

    There’s only one problem — Dwight Howard wasn’t driving the car.

    TMZ said the 10th infraction, which went unresolved and caused his license to be suspended, occurred on July 1st, but they read the court record incorrectly. The infraction was filed on July 1st but actually happened on April 14th at 9:17pm via red light camera in Winter Park, Florida.

    I’m pretty sure Dwight has an airtight alibi on this one. The superstar center was oh, about 1000 miles away at the Toyota Center at the time, scoring 20 points on 9-11 shooting and grabbing 17 rebounds in helping the Rockets finish off a regular season sweep of the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.

    So how did this happen? According to a source, the vehicle is registered to Howard but was given to his brother to drive. The other nine tickets from the past (all of which were resolved previously) were also the same kind of ticket (caught by a red light camera).

    It looks like the big guy may need to get some affairs in order, but it doesn’t look like Dwight himself was the reckless driver.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    September 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Get Ready: Rockets Media Day set for September 29th

    Houston Rockets Media Day

    The Houston Rockets have a lot to prove this season and it all begins in just over two weeks.

    The Rockets will hold Media Day on Monday, September 29th at the Toyota Center to kick off the 2014-15 season.

    The team will open Training Camp the next day here in Houston. We originally reported the Rockets would hold camp in the Valley this year, later confirmed by a Vipers press release, but they will only hold camp practices from October 16-19 in Edinburg in advance of their preseason game with the Golden State Warriors there on the 19th.

    We’ll be getting back into the swing of things with a series of articles next week discussing the offseason, but there will be plenty of storylines this year as the Rockets lost Chandler Parsons and dealt away backups Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin while bringing in new starting small forward Trevor Ariza as well as a handful of players they hope can play roles off the bench.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    September 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Will Carroll Q&A: Beverley’s knee remains a “fairly major concern” for Rockets

    Patrick Beverley

    Patrick Beverley may not be out of the woods yet when it comes to his troublesome right knee. After tearing the meniscus in late March and briefly reaggravating it in Game 1 of the playoffs vs. Portland, it remains a concern for both he and the Rockets as they map out his usage for the 2014-15 season.

    With training camp approaching, the Rockets and Beverley are working together on a plan to manage and stabilize the knee and particularly the muscles surrounding it. Beverley, of course, opted against having any surgical procedure to correct the injury, instead returning to the court after just two weeks and playing an integral role in the team’s playoff run.

    Beverley’s ability to avoid surgery was in contrast to many other high-profile athletes with meniscus tears, including Houston Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who underwent surgery just this week and is expected to be out at least 4-to-6 weeks.

    Will Carroll, lead writer of sports medicine at Bleacher Report and a long-established expert in the field of sports injuries, spoke to us and also joined the Red & Orange Report podcast to discuss how the Rockets may manage Beverley going forward. A transcript of our conversations is below:

    Q: Ultimately, Pat ended up not choosing to go through with a surgical procedure. How much of a concern is this for Pat Beverley going forward?

    A: It’s a fairly major concern. I know Daryl Morey and the staff there have calculated the odds, and they’ve gone with a very aggressive rehab protocol. They think they can stabilize that knee otherwise.

    In pulling part of the meniscus or even in a repair, it’s not going to be exactly as it was. It’s going to change the internal structure of the knee. So what you have to do, if you can’t stabilize that portion, if you’re not putting it back as close to 100% as you can, you have to stabilize around it. In any sort of situation with that, that’s where you want to focus.

    In early rehab, you want to work on those secondary stabilizers. If the muscles surrounding the knee are not only intact but strong, they can get that sense of where things are in space and when things are getting too taxed. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you felt it. You couldn’t do much. Athletes tend to have a much better proprioceptive and spatial sense about them. It’s part of their gift. So Beverley’s going to have to work really hard, and I’m sure he has, all the way up to and through training camp to get those stabilizers. He’s also going to have to not overtax himself to where his muscles are tired and cease to be the strong stabilizers that he’s going to need to protect that knee.

    So the medical staff is going to have to work with the analytics staff, which is going to have to work with their sport science staff, to put everything together. This is going to be an amazing puzzle of human performance to keep him as healthy as they possibly can.

    If you think about it, he’s going to have to do all the things he has to do athletically and within a team context on top of try to manage his own fatigue and manage his recovery and continue to do a rehab/prehab protocol throughout the entire season. In other words, Patrick Beverley’s going to be spending a whole lot of time with the medical staff. We don’t see that outside. That’s one of those things. It’s that invisible game of sports medicine and sports science and human performance that some people are putting hours and hours of their lives into. We don’t reward them. Most people don’t know who the athletic trainers and physical therapists are that get these athletes back on the field, but they’re an incredibly important part of any team.

    Q: In general, what is the risk profile of someone with an untreated meniscus tear? Without accounting for the specifics of a team or player’s rehab plans, what are the general future problems that an NBA player playing with this injury might have?

    A: It’s certainly risky, but the doctors feel it’s manageable, so I have to go with that. Mostly you see arthritis. It can get more serious where there’s grinding and has to be cleaned out or even microfracture. Down the line, knee replacement is possible, but that’s in the general population.

    Q: Are the Rockets, as an organization, prepared for this?

    A: I think where the Rockets might have an advantage is that they are a very data-driven team. They’ve been using the Skyview cameras, they’ve been using a lot of analytics, things like the Catapult system which tracks the players and their statistics such as heart rate and respiration, and I think with all that data, that’s going to give them an advantage in figuring out what Beverley can and cannot do and how to manage that properly.

    Q: I know both the team and Pat himself are going to be on top of this. One of our good sources at ClutchFans said earlier this summer that Pat was contemplating going to Germany and trying some of those treatments. I don’t know that he actually did it — if he did, we never heard about it — but I know that he and the team are looking at contingencies. Would a minutes restriction help? If you play him 30-to-32 minutes per night instead of 38 minutes, is that something that may help him last longer?

    A: Yeah, but that’s oversimplifying it a little bit. I don’t think that you’re wrong. If this were two years ago, my answer would’ve been ‘Yes, absolutely’. But again, with the amount of data that we have, the new data from the cameras, the sensors and the performance data we can get, things are changing. If you run him on an AlterG treadmill, which is one of those anti-gravity, air-pressure treadmills — I know Houston is one of the teams that has one — you’re going to be able to figure out what he can do. What kind of sprints can he run? Because basketball isn’t like running a 5K. You can go through a lot of information and work on a lot of things, and you can have him on court in practices and scrimmages and then figure this out.

    So it would be simplistic, but not incorrect, to say that a minutes restriction could do that. But I think it’s going to be more than a minutes restriction. How is he going to be out there? Is it better for him to be out there for 4 minutes and then a rest, or is it better for 10 minutes and then come back? How does his knee react to that?

    There are so many factors that just a few years ago, we wouldn’t have had access to. And now, because we have this emerging data, we’re going to have a better sense for it. You’re not wrong about a minutes restriction, but I think they’re going to be able to come up with an exceptionally-individualized program that’s going to make it better for him. Sensors and sensor data is one of the most exciting parts of sport science right now. And I think it’s absolutely amazing how fast it’s moving.

    Q: Beverley is a free agent in July 2015. With the medical knowledge that teams have today, is there a chance that this lingering issue could impact his market value going forward?

    A: Absolutely, but it should be a known quantity by then. It depends on where he goes. Some teams are better at managing things like this, and Houston’s one of them.

    Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged |
    August 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Rockets acquire Jason Terry from Kings

    Jason Terry

    The Rockets have acquired a longtime nemesis.

    Jason Terry is your newest Houston Rocket after Daryl Morey and company struck a deal with the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets will send non-guaranteed contracts, including Alonzo Gee, to Sacramento in the deal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

    The Rockets also net two second round picks in the deal for taking on Terry’s contract ($5.8 million salary), which will expire in 2015. They will receive Sacramento’s 2015 second round pick and the New York Knicks’ 2016 second round pick. The Rockets now own/owned New York’s 2014 (Nick Johnson), 2015 and 2016 second round picks.

    The Rockets needed some scoring, specifically long-range shooting, and they may get that here in Terry, a career 38% three-point shooter. The knock here is that Terry will be 37 years old when the season starts. After he was traded to Sacramento at last year’s deadline, he sat out the remainder of the season to rehab his left knee. It’s not clear if he has little in the tank or just didn’t want to play for the Kings, but the Rockets are willing to find out.

    So now the Rockets add a second point guard to their history with the nickname “The Jet”, though I certainly don’t recall anyone calling Kenny Smith that during his playing days. Terry also has a long history of being a Rocket killer. Interestingly, I spoke to him about this a couple of years ago.

    However, after a disappointing offseason, acquiring a significant player via trade still remains Houston’s primary goal. In this move, regardless of how Terry impacts (or doesn’t impact) the team’s play this season, the Rockets improved their trade position moving forward by adding two additional picks and an expiring contract that can be combined with other contracts 60 days after this deal is done.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    August 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Rockets finalize deal to bring Kostas Papanikolaou to Houston

    Kostas Papanikolaou Houston Rockets

    Kostas Papanikolaou is headed to Houston.

    Nearly a month after a round of intense negotiations seemed to fall apart, forward Kostas Papanikolaou will indeed become a member of the Houston Rockets for the 2014-15 season.

    Papanikolaou, whose rights were acquired in the 2013 trade of Thomas Robinson to Portland, heads to Houston on a two-year contract that guarantees him $4.8 million for next season. It was first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

    The second year ($4.6 million) is a team option, which allows the Rockets to maintain the salary cap flexibility they have touted as paramount since allowing Chandler Parsons to head to Dallas.

    Papanikolaou is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound, left-handed forward with the versatility to play small forward behind Trevor Ariza and power forward behind Terrence Jones. Scouting reports compliment his defense, energy, spot-up shooting and fundamentals. It was previously said Papanikolaou needed assurances of a spot in Houston’s rotation in order to leave Spanish League club FC Barcelona.

    Papanikolaou is actually the second member of FC Barcelona to commit to Houston this offseason, joining fellow big man Joey Dorsey. Papanikolaou also has history with Houston’s starting point guard Pat Beverley, whom he played with in 2012 at Olmypiacos in his native Greece.

    With Papanikolaou in the fold, the Rockets have now used their full mid-level exception (MLE) this offseason, splitting it between Papanikolaou and second-round rookie guard Nick Johnson.

    The team retains its bi-annual exception (BAE), worth about $2.1 million per year. They could use that this offseason for further depth (Houston has been linked to PG Ramon Sessions) or hold onto it for potential use during the regular season on veterans who are bought out by losing clubs.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    August 6, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Bargain-bin shopping: Where Rockets may fit with remaining free agents

    Ray Allen may hold the cards for upcoming player movement in free agency.

    Ray Allen may hold the key for the Rockets and any upcoming roster moves in 2014 free agency.

    Welcome to the annual NBA dead period.

    The last free agent of significance to swap teams was Mo Williams, who joined Minnesota on a one-year, $3.75-million deal way back on July 28. Since then, the market has largely dried up as ring-chasing veterans appear to be taking their time in deciding if (and where) they’ll play.

    The good news is that the market may soon pick up. Shawn Marion visited Cleveland on Monday and looks to have more visits on the near-term horizon. Ray Allen gave multiple interviews to reporters this week outlining his process and priorities in making a decision.

    If the Rockets want to get involved with either, they have a compelling case. Besides offering a ready-made team with two superstars and visions of contending, they also have more money for spending than most other contenders. The Rockets have most of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE), which should amount to near $4.8 million after spending a small portion to lock up second-round pick Nick Johnson for three years.

    They also have the biannual exception (BAE), which allows them to sign a players at a salary starting near $2.1 million for up to two years. That was what they appeared to offer to Kostas Papanikolaou last month, before backing away when the Greek forward asked for more money, which would’ve significantly cut into the team’s MLE.

    So while the Rockets do have nearly all of both exceptions, there is a catch. The controversial decision to let Chandler Parsons walk to Dallas was made in large part due to a desire to maintain ample flexibility for the summer of 2015, which means the Rockets are unlikely to hand out a contract of more than one year (unless there’s a team option). That insistence on a one-year deal appeared to play a big role in Jameer Nelson‘s choice to head to Dallas on a two-year contract, despite recruiting pitches from Houston and former teammate Dwight Howard.

    The Rockets could also choose to hold over a small portion of exception money for the regular season, potentially giving them a leg up on veterans who are bought out by losing clubs. However, even if that’s a consideration, there should still remain ample funds to use this summer. The team also has a $8.4 million traded-player exception (TPE) from the Jeremy Lin deal that could theoretically be used in a sign-and-trade, but there doesn’t seem to be a remaining free agent in that price tier and it appears GM Daryl Morey will likely hold onto the TPE for future trade proposals.

    Here’s a look at where the club may stand with some of the marquee remaining free agents:

    Ray Allen

    Bradley Beal, Ray AllenWhy he fits: Despite leading the league in three-point attempts, the Rockets ranked only 15th in three-point accuracy. Other than newcomer Trevor Ariza, who shot a career-high 40.7% from behind the arc, no presumed Houston rotation player shot better than 36% from deep. Enter Allen, perhaps the most feared long-distance shooter in NBA history (40% career). He’s already used to playing a smaller bench role on a contender, and at 39 years old with four NBA Finals trips under his belt, he brings a level of championship experience that the current Rockets lack.

    Why he may not: Well, he’s 39 and his game is clearly in some decline. He can still shoot well, but is it worth taking away minutes from the likes of Troy Daniels?

    Verdict: This appears to be Houston’s primary target. We know from the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen that the Rockets and Allen have talked. We know from Allen’s interview earlier this week that he wants to play for a contender and is seeking more than a minimum contract. The only other contender to have comparable money to Houston is San Antonio, but the Spurs would have to boot Marco Belinelli from the rotation, and that seems unlikely. The bigger stumbling blocks would be the potential for Allen to retire and spend more time with his family, and whether he considers Kevin McHale the “great, veteran coach” he’s said to be looking for. If Allen decides to play in 2014-15, the Rockets would seem to have a real chance.

    Shawn Marion

    1155px Shawn MARION 300x265 Bargain bin shopping: Where Rockets may fit with remaining free agentsWhy he fits: There’s only one remaining free agent who played at least 2,000 minutes for a playoff team last season. That’s Shawn Marion, who remained a full-time starter in Dallas until Parsons’ arrival pushed him out the door. At 36, he’s still a good defender at both small forward and power forward, rebounds relatively well and manages to score in double figures on offense without demanding the ball. The Rockets had depth issues last year, and Marion would seem to be a reliable candidate for at least average production. Marion lives in Dallas with a family and presumably would like to be close to home.

    Why he may not: At this stage of his career, Marion is losing a step and still isn’t a good shooter from distance. That makes him more of a small-ball power forward than a small forward, especially in a system like the one in Houston that thrives on shooting and spacing the floor. And at the PF spot, the Rockets already have returning starter Terrence Jones, breakout candidate Jeff Adrien and high hopes for summer-league sensation Donatas Motiejunas. Marion could still play spot minutes at SF, of course, but the addition of Ariza should already go a long way toward shoring up last season’s defensive deficiencies.

    Verdict: How long will Marion wait? Specifically, will he wait longer than Allen? That’s the real question. Marion’s market doesn’t appear to be strong at all. Last week, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he had had no contact with teams, and his free agency “tour” began this week with a visit to Cleveland, a team that can only offer him the league minimum. There haven’t been any reported leaks of dialogue between Marion and the Rockets, which makes it appear that the Rockets have other priorities. Marion could be a fit if the Rockets miss on other targets, but it would depend on how long he’s willing to let the process drag out. His plan this week to schedule visits could indicate that he’s getting a bit antsy, which may not bode well for Marion in Houston.

    Ramon Sessions

    220px Ramon Sessions Bobcats Bargain bin shopping: Where Rockets may fit with remaining free agentsWhy he fits: After trading Lin, the Rockets don’t have an offensive anchor to their bench unit. Despite his faults, Lin was quite useful because of his ability to play the role of catalyst when James Harden was off the floor, and his penetration skills were crucial in sparking the ball movement that McHale craves. Perhaps second-year guard Isaiah Canaan and/or rookie Nick Johnson can develop into a scoring point guard of that caliber in time, but it’s certainly not ideal for a title contender to rely on completely unproven talent in their rotation. It would appear that Sessions could be the perfect bridge. Long an analytics darling (PERs of 16.0, 17.7, 16.7 and 19.0 the last four seasons), Sessions is a foul-drawing machine and thrives on penetration opportunities. The Rockets have already reached out to Sessions in recent weeks.

    Why he may not: Sessions isn’t a good defensive player, and if the Rockets are sold on either Canaan or Johnson, they may choose to prioritize other positions.

    Verdict: It may hinge on whether Sessions will take a cheaper short-term deal for the upside of added exposure from playing on a playoff team. Historically, Sessions has chosen the opposite. He’s played on one playoff team in seven years, and in his last stint as a free agent, turned down better teams for a richer contract on the then-laughably-awful Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). Additionally, the lack of buzz around Sessions this summer would seem to indicate he’s stalling in hopes of finding a better offer. Sessions would seem to fit well in Houston, but it will likely come down to whether he’s willing to take the sort of one-year contract that Nelson would not. The answer to that is probably out of Houston’s hands and depends on how the rest of the market values Sessions.

    Eric Bledsoe

    Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11Why he fits: The young combo guard has been described by many as a potential superstar, and his negotiations with the Suns in restricted free agency have turned sour. It’s bad enough now that Bledsoe appears to be threatening to take Phoenix’s qualifying offer, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015 and leave the Suns for no compensation. The real logic behind such a move would seem to be leverage to get Phoenix to either raise its current offer (4 years, $48 million) or sign-and-trade Bledsoe to a team willing to meet his price tag. While the Rockets don’t have the cap room to meet his demands outright, they could eventually become a viable trading partner. When the non-guaranteed salaries of Alonzo Gee ($3 million) and Scotty Hopson ($1.45 million) become eligible to be traded in larger packages come September, the Rockets could theoretically offer Phoenix a sign-and-trade package focused around young pieces and draft picks and use a combination of non-guaranteed deals to approach a first-year salary figure that Bledsoe may consider (though not the max he’s said to be looking for). And after losing Channing Frye in free agency and adding Isaiah Thomas, the Suns appear to be one man deep in the backcourt and one man short in the front court. A trade to balance that disparity could make some sense.

    Why he may not: Because Bledsoe wants a big contract and would require a sign-and-trade to acquire, it would essentially be a similar “all-in” move to the one the Rockets declined to make with Parsons. Is Morey that sold on him? Bledsoe has had a history of injuries, and while he’s shown flashes of being an elite player, he certainly hasn’t proven it on any sort of consistent basis.

    Verdict: Too many ifs. For Bledsoe and the Rockets to have any shot, his situation would have to drag out into September. The Suns would have to be amenable to trading him to a conference rival. Bledsoe wouldn’t be able to get the max deal he craves in Houston, either, even with a combination of non-guaranteed deals. The math isn’t there. The only hope would be that Bledsoe would prefer a shorter-term, non-max deal to establish his value, much like Lance Stephenson opted for in Charlotte over a longer-term deal in Indiana. But even in that scenario, it would compromise much of Houston’s flexibility, so it would depend on whether Morey sees Bledsoe as the type of cornerstone “Big 3″ piece that he did not with Parsons. It’s not impossible, but with many questions, it’s unlikely.

    Emeka Okafor

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy he fits: After trading Omer Asik, the Rockets don’t have a proven rim protector behind Howard. At one time, Emeka Okafor was just that. In his most recent season as an NBA player (2012-13 season), Okafor averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1 block in 26 minutes per game in Phoenix. He missed the entire 2013-14 season with a herniated disc in his neck, but is said to be recovered and is still only 30 years old. Okafor isn’t historically an injury-prone player, having played in at least 67 games in seven of nine seasons. A Houston native, he would likely jump at the opportunity to play for his hometown team.

    Why he may not: Morey has sung the praises of recently-signed Joey Dorsey, who he labelled as one of the best defensive bigs in Europe. The team has also had fairly decent results playing Motiejunas at center, a position he largely played with success during the offseason NBA Summer League. In short, we don’t know if Morey still considers backup center a position of concern.

    Verdict: Will someone gamble on Okafor at more than the minimum? If so, the Rockets will probably be out of the race and focus on other positions. But if Okafor’s situation lingers and accepting the minimum becomes a reality, he could become a worthwhile gamble before training camp.

    Francisco Garcia

    garcia rockets 300x192 Bargain bin shopping: Where Rockets may fit with remaining free agentsWhy he fits: Experience with the system. Garcia has played a part in the last two Houston playoff teams, and at 33, he was the team’s elder statesman. Garcia was in and out of the team’s rotation, depending on if his shot was in rhythm, but he certainly had his moments — especially against Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City, a team that always stands in Houston’s way. At 6-foot-7, he has the versatility on defense to guard multiple positions.

    Why he may not: The backup wing situation was bad enough in Houston that McHale turned to Troy Daniels in the playoffs despite getting almost zero experience in the regular season. And that came after the team traded for Jordan Hamilton at the trade deadline and briefly experimented with him in Garcia’s role. In short, the Rockets were clearly not satisfied with Garcia in a prominent rotation role and were actively searching for upgrades.

    Verdict: It seems unlikely. Garcia is a liked guy in the Houston locker room, and by all accounts Garcia enjoyed his time in Houston. But even if the pursuits of Allen and Marion fail, there’s still Daniels, who the Rockets clearly hope is ready to take on a larger role this season. I’m sure Garcia would be welcomed back at the league minimum and as one of the team’s final bench players, but it seems more likely that he’d head elsewhere in search of a defined role.

    Posted in Houston Rockets |
    July 21, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

    Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey

    What a difference a week makes.

    After being within hours of acquiring Chris Bosh and creating a top-flight title contender for the next few seasons, the Houston Rockets lost Bosh to a five-year, full max deal to stay in Miami, then elected not to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks.

    While it is obvious why Bosh elected to stay in Miami (he and his family love it there, and it was a LOT more money), it is less obvious to many why the Rockets allowed Parsons to take his Buffalo Jeans up I-45 to shop for tight-fitting T-shirts with Mark Cuban for the next two to three years.

    The tough choice on Parsons made by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and GM Daryl Morey was rooted in the belief that a team with Dwight Howard, James Harden and Parsons (on his new deal) — without the benefit of another star-caliber player on the roster — was less likely to win an NBA championship than a team with Howard, Harden and the flexibility to add another star and/or to fill out the roster with a superior supporting cast.

    So, 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 guessing.)

    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), Alonzo Gee ($3 million, non-guaranteed), Terrence Jones ($1.62 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($1.48 million), Scotty Hopson ($1.45 million, non-guaranteed), Josh Powell ($1,310,286, non-guaranteed), Joey Dorsey ($948,163), Patrick Beverley ($915,243, non-guaranteed), Jeff Adrien ($915,243), Ish Smith ($915,243), Isaiah Canaan ($816,482), Robert Covington ($816,482, partially guaranteed for $150,000), and Troy Daniels ($816,482).  Second round pick Nick Johnson does not count against the cap until he actually signs a contract.

    Cap holds:

    Jordan Hamilton ($2.1 million), recent first round pick Clint Capela ($991,000), and Francisco Garcia ($915,243).

    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);

    (2) the Non-Taxpayer Mid-level Exception (MLE), which allows them to sign one or more players to contracts with starting salaries totaling $5.305 million for up to four years in length; and

    (3) 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.

    To Be or Not To Be (Over the Cap)

    By not matching the offer sheet on Parsons, Houston has the flexibility either to create some cap room or to operate above the cap.

    To create cap room, the Rockets would need to waive the above-mentioned exceptions and some of the non-guaranteed player salaries and also to renounce some of its cap holds (or, in the case of Capela, to get an agreement in writing from him that he will not play in the NBA next season).  If the Rockets waived/renounced to the maximum extent possible (while still keeping Beverley) without making any trades, they could create up to around $9.23 million in cap room.

    However, given the dearth of remaining free agents worthy of such a salary (Phoenix PG Eric Bledsoe and Detroit PF Greg Monroe — both restricted free agents — either would not take such a low salary or would have such an offer quickly matched by their incumbent teams) and the ability to exceed the cap with the exceptions and cap holds, it is much more favorable to the Rockets at this point to operate over the cap.

    The recently announced signing of Dorsey, Adrien and Smith is an indication that Houston does not intend to use its cap room any time soon.  As veteran’s minimum signings, the Rockets could have used all of their available cap room and then exceeded the cap to sign each of them.  Instead, they signed all three, cutting the team’s maximum available cap room by $1.26 million.

    Therefore, expect to the see Houston operating over the cap . . . unless the right trade or free agent opportunity presents itself that can only be accomplished by using the cap room the Rockets could create.

    Trade Tools

    Because the Rockets do not have quite enough cap room available to simply trade for most star players, look for Houston to take advantage of its other tools to make trades while operating over the cap, taking advantage of the league’s salary-matching rules.

    Non-Guaranteed Salaries:

    Between Gee, Hopson, Powell and Covington, the Rockets have enough non-guaranteed salaries to take back nearly $10 million in incoming salary.  That is before even factoring in additional (guaranteed) salaries, such as those of Jones, Motiejunas or Canaan.

    However, because they were acquired in trade while Houston was over the cap, the Rockets are unable to aggregate the salaries of Gee or Hopson with other player salaries for two months, essentially until mid-September.  It is quite possible that trades could be lined up between now and September using Gee and Hopson; but they could not be consummated until September.  (Also, as recent free agent signings, none of Ariza, Dorsey, Adrien, Smith or Daniels can be traded until December 15.)

    As the Rockets hunt for more salary to match for a star player in trade, they could even make trades in multiple stages, where a first trade is made in September using Gee and Hopson, with the resulting larger salary received in that trade later aggregated with still more salary in November or December for an even larger contract.

    The Lin Trade Exception:

    The Lin trade exception not only allows the Rockets to acquire their primary target — with players such as Goran Dragic ($7.5 million) and Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9 million) fitting perfectly into it –it could also be used as a supplemental piece to a larger trade.  A team that otherwise might not trade its player for the draft picks, players and non-guaranteed salary that Houston was otherwise offering might be more willing to make a trade if they could also unload an additional contract or two into the Lin trade exception.  Expect the Rockets to use that trade exception as a selling point in their search for a star player.

    Bird Rights:

    Another overlooked trade tool for the Rockets:  the Bird rights of Hamilton and Garcia.

    Because the Nuggets declined their team option on Hamilton prior to trading him to Houston, the Rockets are limited to offering Hamilton the same $2.1 million starting salary he would have been eligible for had that option been picked up.  (The Lakers re-signed Jordan Hill a couple of years ago under similar circumstances after the Rockets declined to pick up his option.)

    Garcia, however, is not bound by such restrictions.  Hypothetically, the Rockets could pay Garcia a max salary in a sign-and-trade arrangement.  Such a sign-and-trade is further complicated by Garcia’s (what used to be called) Base Year Compensation (BYC) status, which basically means that Garcia is getting more than a 20% raise without his team using cap room to sign him.  Due to Garcia’s BYC status, only 50% of his new salary would count as outgoing salary for salary-matching purposes.  Still, if the Rockets come up shy by a few million dollars in matching salaries in a huge trade, Garcia could be lined up for a Keith Bogans-style huge payday for the courtesy of facilitating a match.

    Conclusion

    Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you.  Missing out on a Bosh-Parsons combination to add to the Harden-Howard core was a big hit to the Rockets’ title hopes.  But they are not damaged nearly as badly as most believe.

    Morey has gone on record as saying that the Rockets would be a better team by the start of the 2015 NBA Playoffs than they were in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.  With the numerous salary cap tools at his disposal, it is entirely possible — if not outright probable — that Morey’s prediction can become a reality.

    Posted in Houston Rockets, Salary Cap Update |