January 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Morey: Rockets lack third-best player on a championship team

Daryl Morey Houston Rockets

Finding a third star player is near the top of Daryl Morey’s agenda for the Rockets.

The Rockets are comfortable with James Harden and Dwight Howard leading the way, but appear not to see themselves as a true championship contender until a third star emerges.

In candid comments found near the bottom of a new Sports Illustrated feature story on Houston’s Chandler Parsons, general manager Daryl Morey makes his priorities clear and details three routes for the team to succeed in his quest.

“We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team,” said Morey, speaking to SI‘s Ian Thomsen. “And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don’t have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that — or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.”

Any major addition “this year” would involve the period from now until the February 20 trade deadline, with a package including disgruntled center Omer Asik seeming most likely. Though Thomsen reports that the Rockets insist Asik will no longer be traded, he adds that the “change in strategy” from December’s heavily-advertised Asik sale could eventually yield a larger market for Asik.

Morey’s reference to the 2014 offseason is also of note, because at the moment, the Rockets are not projected to have cap space. That could change, however, if the Rockets dealt the likes of Asik and Jeremy Lin for an expiring contract (Pau Gasol?), potentially freeing offseason room.

It may also be that Morey believes unhappy stars in the 2015 free agency class, such as Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, could be traded this summer when their teams believe they have the most leverage in trade talks — just as Orlando did with Howard in the summer of 2012.

The other method to finding a third wheel, of course, is development from within. And while Morey says Lin and Terrence Jones could become that “No. 3 star”, Parsons is firmly on that list as well.

“He’s definitely got the ability to be the third-best player on a championship team,” said Morey, speaking of Parsons. “He’s played like that many times. The tough transition is whether you bring that level every night.”

Thomsen compares the possible transition of Parsons into a starring role in Houston to ones being undertaken by Serge Ibaka in Oklahoma City and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. Thus far in 2013-14, Parsons is averaging a career high in points (17.1), field-goal percentage (51.3%), rebounds (5.4) and assists (3.6) — but lingering knee and back injuries continue to be a concern.

Nonetheless, Parsons has defied the odds throughout his career, which began with a slide into the second round of the 2011 draft. And if the Rockets are lucky enough to find that elusive third star from within, their starting small forward from Florida would seem to be the most likely candidate.

“He breaks the mold in a bunch of ways,” said Morey.

“[It's] because he wasn’t a top scorer in college. Generally, all of the players who make the league were big-time scorers who played at much higher level in college, and then have to dial it back in the pros to play a smaller role. Where Chandler played the same role for a very good Florida team. He’s playing a similar role, but he’s playing it now in the pros.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
January 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Frustrated Motiejunas just wants to play

Donatas Motiejunas

Donatas Motiejunas likes it in Houston, but his top priority is developing as an NBA player

Donatas Motiejunas just wants to play.

“I don’t like to sit on the bench,” said Motiejunas. “No one improves or gets better without playing time.”

The second-year forward out of Lithuania admitted to ClutchFans on Wednesday that his agent Arn Tellem is working with Rockets GM Daryl Morey to find a place where he can play. He called it a “natural thing” and that his agent is just looking out for him.

“It’s still one month or more until the deadline,” said Motiejunas. “Anything can happen. You never know. It’s not up to me.”
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Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged |
January 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

The Rockets, in need of roster spots, are on the clock with Ronnie Brewer

Ronnie Brewer Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have a decision to make today on Ronnie Brewer

The real shame of this Houston Rockets season is that we haven’t really seen them at full strength.

Since the Rockets scrapped the Twin Towers experiment and went with Terrence Jones as the starter on November 13th, there have only been two games where the team’s seven best players — Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Jones, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik — have all played.

As a result, the bench has suffered. It will improve once health is restored, but the Rockets are getting inconsistent contributions from others and need a roster spot or two for the flexibility to add players they think have a better chance of making the rotation.

The key may be Ronnie Brewer.
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Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 31, 2013 at 11:17 am

The Chandler Parsons Contract: Salary Cap Implications of Exercising or Declining the Team Option

Chandler Parsons Contract

The decision on whether to exercise their team option on Chandler Parsons’s contract is among the Rockets’ biggest quandaries heading into the summer of 2014

Back on April 8, 2013, I (re)wrote a piece explaining the intricacies of the NBA player contract of Chandler Parsons.  This article is not intended to supersede that prior piece but rather is meant to expand upon it in certain respects and to explore the salary cap mechanics of Parsons’s contract this summer and next, depending on what avenue the Houston Rockets elect to take regarding Parsons.  For those who have not yet read the prior piece, I encourage you to do so, as it will provide some background that will be helpful in understanding some of the concepts addressed here.

Also, back on September 10, 2013, Ben DuBose wrote an opinion piece about the Parsons contract situation.  It is a terrific read.

This article is intended solely as an analysis of the salary cap effects of certain decisions that the Rockets make with respect to Parsons’s contract and is not intended to express an opinion on such decisions.
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Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged , , |
December 26, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Gersson Rosas Returns To Rockets

The Rockets made it official today, announcing that they have re-hired Gersson Rosas to co-lead Houston’s Scouting & Player Personnel Department along with Gianluca Pascucci.

“This is home,” said Rosas. “There is some unfinished work to do. I’m excited to be back to do it.”

After nine season with the Rockets, Rosas left the Rockets this past summer to become the general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, but resigned his position just three months later.

“The Dallas Mavericks are a great organization. It just wasn’t the right fit,” said Rosas. “I’ve moved on and they’ve moved on. That’s life sometimes. It just doesn’t work out.”

This will be Gersson’s 10th season with the Houston Rockets, returning as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. The team says he will join Pascucci in assisting general manager Daryl Morey in domestic and international scouting, as well as the team’s player personnel matters.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm

What we learned from an Asik trade that wasn’t

Omer Asik

Omer Asik is remaining a member of the Houston Rockets… but for how long?

The self-imposed December 19 deadline has come and gone, and Omer Asik remains a Rocket.

Five months after the signing of Dwight Howard and Asik’s initial trade demand — one that has been repeated many times — the Rockets’ former starting center has still yet to get his wish.

Whether it was Asik’s $15 million balloon payment for 2014-15 (though it’s only $8.3 million for salary cap and luxury tax purposes, of course), the fact that his deal expires after next season or simply poor timing, general manager Daryl Morey couldn’t find an acceptable deal for the Rockets. Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans were reportedly unwilling to put their “stretch” power forwards, such as Paul Millsap and Ryan Anderson, on the block in a potential Asik exchange, and other offers likely were insufficient due to contractual issues.

According to reports, the Boston Celtics were the team that had the most serious discussions with the Rockets, offering power forward Brandon Bass, shooting guard Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick. But Lee’s contract, at over $5 million/year, is fully guaranteed until 2016 — and that length was likely a deal-breaker for Morey and the Rockets.

In the meantime, Asik continues to rehabilitate a minor leg injury and appears poised to rejoin the Rockets in the coming days, where he’ll reprise his role as a backup to Howard.

We know Asik isn’t happy with that role, so trade talk will linger around his situation all the way through the February 20 deadline. Additionally, the needs of other teams can certainly change over the next two months, as evidenced by recent injury situations with the Lakers and Nets. But this week’s saga made one fact clear: the Rockets won’t deal Asik simply for the sake of making a trade.

Here’s what we learned this week from their approach:

Morey not quite “all-in”

For a second, forget about contracts and just focus on basketball. The Rockets would probably be a better team today with Bass, an elite team and position defender with a solid mid-range game on offense, playing 20-to-25 minutes at power forward, where he would mostly reduce minutes from the on-again, off-again Omri Casspi. Likewise, Lee — who brings tenacity on defense, a quick slashing ability on offense and a 49% stroke from three-point range — would be an upgrade on Francisco Garcia (28% from three in December) at the backup wing spot. The inconsistent Houston bench, which has been a major issue in recent losses, would have been immediately improved.

The value that brings to the table, in all likelihood, is worth more to winning (over the near-term) than the 12-to-15 minutes that Asik will play behind Howard. If Morey was completely sold on this group of Rockets, as currently constructed, as a championship favorite — that’s a trade he probably makes. He didn’t. It’s not that the current Rockets can’t win a title, but they’re not yet at a point where Morey feels secure in surrendering significant flexibility for any short-term upgrade.

Elite talent still sought, 2015 a fallback option

The ideal scenario would be for the Rockets to trade Asik in a package for a borderline All-Star talent, sooner rather than later. But they’ve yet to be able to find such a deal. They’ll keep trying, certainly. But trades that involve significant contracts for non-stars that go beyond 2015 — such as Lee with Boston, or Thaddeus Young with Philadelphia — are likely deal-breakers.

Right now, even with Howard and James Harden under contract, the Rockets could have significant cap room in July 2015 simply by letting the deals of Asik and Jeremy Lin expire. As we saw this week, whatever short-term upgrade the likes of Bass/Lee would’ve given the Houston rotation was not important enough to Morey to override the long-term potential of cap space in 2015.

Parsons’ contract tied to Asik?

Three months ago, I made the case for Houston to decline the final-year option in Chandler Parsons’ contract and allow him to hit restricted free agency in July 2014, which would likely result in a more team-friendly deal. While that is still true, that opinion was based on my then-stated expectation that “Asik will ultimately be moved in a package for a power forward”.

If Asik isn’t ultimately moved, or gets traded for non-star players (the Bass/Lee tier) that presumably also expire in 2015, the Rockets’ need to acquire a third “big fish” beyond Harden and Howard is clearly a larger priority than saving a couple million per year on Parsons. In that case, the likely Morey move would be for Parsons to play out his current cheap deal through 2015, which would include a tiny cap hold of approximately $1 million for July 2015, and attempt to re-sign Parsons after a potential pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love or others in that free agent class.

The ideal scenario for most involved, of course, would not involve waiting until July 2015. If the Rockets can trade Asik for an impact player in the next few months, it accomplishes several goals:

  • It gives the team a better shot at a title, starting this season.
  • It makes Asik happy by giving him a starting job again.
  • It gets Parsons a richer contract a year earlier, and probably at a cheaper long-term amount for the Rockets.
  • It allows the team to spend its full mid-level exception (MLE) in July 2014 without worrying over the contract length.
  • It would let the Rockets consider a long-term future with Lin, who they’d undoubtedly have to cut ties with in the July 2015 scenario.

Value of Asik’s upcoming play

But for those things to happen, Asik must play and play hard over the coming weeks. Even if Bass and Lee would have upgraded the near-term prospects of these Rockets, the offer from the Celtics was the NBA equivalent of quarters for a dollar. While the Rockets can’t fully utilize Asik’s talent themselves due to the presence of Howard, Asik remains an elite defensive big man and rim protector at only 27-years-old, the likes of which are very rare in the modern NBA.

Indeed, Asik can be a game changer for many teams. But this season, his numbers and efficiency (even adjusted for minutes) have slipped across the board, leading many around the league to question Asik’s attitude and health. If he returns to the team, stays healthy and competes with the intensity he did a year ago, the outcome for both Asik and the Rockets is much more likely to reach a positive conclusion in the coming weeks and months.

Otherwise, a resolution on Asik and many other fronts for the Rockets could be years away.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 20, 2013 at 11:39 am

Morey: Asik trade fell apart at high level

Rockets general manager Daryl MoreyWednesday night at the Toyota Center, the question wasn’t “if” the Rockets would trade Omer Asik or what day they would do it, but rather what time of the day on Thursday the trade would go down.

The Rockets had a fallback deal in place to trade Asik, waiting until Thursday to see if better offers came in, but news came out in the early afternoon that the Rockets had abruptly taken the seven-footer off the block.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, speaking on radio station SportsTalk 790 Friday morning with hosts Adam Clanton and Lance Zierlein, said the deal they had in place fell apart.

“We were definitely trying to move (Asik),” said Morey. “It was trending towards something happening, but sometimes when you get to those last approvals and the owner, I think as Houston fans know from past deals that didn’t come off that looked like they were done, they don’t happen.”

The better offers? Those never arrived.

“You’re obviously never going to do a deal that doesn’t help the team or keep you at least even,” said Morey. “And those didn’t present themselves.”

Morey said he spoke to Asik personally on Thursday.

“It’s pretty likely that Omer is here for quite a long time,” said Morey. “A lot of the dynamics that went into things not working out don’t change, in terms of the contract and things like that. We did feel like we owed it to Omer to give a strong look at it, but nothing ended up materializing.”

The full interview is here:

Few Thoughts

  • I’m more convinced that the Rockets will trade Asik. One of the reasons I felt Asik’s trade demand made it more troublesome for the Rockets was that his market value would take a ding by not playing. That looks to be the case. The Rockets needed to be in a position where they don’t have to trade Omer… and that’s when you trade him. Convince Asik to play hard in the minutes given, that this will be the best thing towards finding a new home for him, and continue to pursue a deal. It appears to me that’s the place they’re attempting to return to.

  • With regards to the Courtney Lee-Brandon Bass brown bag special, my guess is the Rockets were only considering such a deal if it included a similar pick to the one they received from the Toronto Raptors in the Kyle Lowry trade. They need to stockpile picks to be in a position to pull off the next big trade, as they did with James Harden. Lee and Bass could have helped the Rockets a little bit, but there’s no way they deal Asik for those guys, especially given that Lee is owed almost $6 million in 2015-16. It would have been about the pick.

  • If Asik’s value is not good on the market, what does that say about Jeremy Lin’s market value given that he is signed to an identical contract? Point guards are in high supply and are nowhere near as rare a commodity right now as a defensive anchor like Asik. His marketing value is one unknown variable, but as far as basketball value at the moment, it’s likely that the Rockets are underwater on that deal.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Identifying Houston’s Priorities in an Omer Asik Trade

Omer Asik

Omer Asik will get his wish and be playing on a new team by the end of the week

Welcome to Omer Asik Trade Week.

We are down to the final few days of Asik’s Houston Rocket career and soon he’ll be joyfully playing on a new team that starts him. But while many reports are surfacing about teams that do and don’t have interest, I don’t know if enough has been made about what Houston’s priorities are in this trade.

Here are some notes and thoughts on where I think the Rockets are headed with this.

  • In much the same way that the Rockets on the court focus on three-pointers and points in the paint because they are the most efficient, highest-producing shots, the Rockets off the court focus on obtaining the most efficient contracts, and the highest values are max-deal superstars and rookie-scale contracts. In my opinion, from everything I’ve heard, they are not going to lose sight of the 2015 free agency date in which Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be free agents, so I would be a bit shocked if they took back a Jeff Green or Thad Young given that both have player options for the 2015-16 season worth between $9 and $10 million each. Now the Rockets may see good value for some reason in the annual salary (though I don’t), but the price they would pay would be higher than just Asik — they would also be sacrificing future flexibility. If they acquire either player, I would expect them to be compensated in some other form as well (picks).

  • The ideal trade for the Rockets would be to:

    1. Take back no contracts beyond 2015.
    2. Acquire a big that fits Houston’s system and can give you quality backup center minutes.
    3. Net draft picks that can bring in rookie-scale contracts or (more likely) be used in a future trade.

    Paul Millsap would be plug-and-play here at the four and is signed to a nice contract that ends in 2015, but a deal involving Spencer Hawes may hit all three points for the Rockets. Over seven feet tall, Hawes can rebound (9.0 boards) and has range, though his incredible 44.6% three-point shooting this season is a bit misleading (he’s a career 34% from distance). He can adequately fill the backup center minutes behind Dwight Howard, something they have struggled to do. Hawes’ $6.6 million salary comes off the books this season, making him valuable as an expiring contract if a new, more-interesting deal were to surface between now and February. If Philly is involved in this trade and any Sixer ends up in Houston, I feel like it will be Hawes.

  • Don’t be surprised if the Rockets move Greg Smith and/or Donatas Motiejunas, especially if a big comes back.

  • I have no doubts that Boston would be very interested in Omer Asik. A lineup featuring Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Asik gives new coach Brad Stevens some fantastic defensive potential in the paltry Eastern Conference, but when I scan that lineup, there isn’t much that interests me outside of Rondo, rookie Kelly Olynyk and draft picks. And while Rondo would certainly be interesting to Houston, trading him would seem to put Boston on a full rebuild path, which might not include Asik, a player best suited to help teams “win now”. Green could help the Rockets, but again that contract is a heavy price to pay.

  • Boston isn’t the only team that I think would love to have Asik right now — in fact, I would rank them second behind the Charlotte Bobcats.

    It has been implied several times that the Bobcats are tired of the lottery game and are ready to start heading up. After going 21-61 last season, they’re already 10-14 this year, currently 6th (believe it or not) in the East. Bobcats coach Steve Clifford is a former Rockets assistant and a disciple of Jeff Van Gundy. Like Tom Thibodeau with the Bulls, his philosophy considers a defensive anchor to be a must. They owe their 2014 first round pick (protected 1-10 in 2014) to Chicago, so they have limited incentive to be “just mediocre” this year. They own Portland’s 2014 first rounder (protected 1-12) and Detroit’s 2014 first rounder (protected 1-8). They also have a young player in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that the Rockets loved on draft day. MKG hasn’t been the ideal fit in Charlotte, is out until at least January with a broken hand, and may not be tailor-made for Houston’s system as far as shooting the ball. However, he’s only 20 years old and already seems to have good attack skills and defensive potential. Similar to the Thomas Robinson trade, the Rockets could see him as a good young player with upside and/or a valuable trade asset.

    There’s a lot of smoke here, which is why I rank Charlotte as my top pick for a likely Asik destination.

  • I always felt Cleveland was a very good possibility, but not because of Anderson Varejao. The Cavs were disappointing and needed to win. They have assets that would be attractive to young, rebuilding teams — namely Dion Waiters, #1 pick Anthony Bennett and a future first round pick from Sacramento. That would seem to make them an ideal third team in a three-team trade, but that was before Andrew Bynum started to round into form. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reports that the Cavs have no interest in trading for Asik.

  • I’m confident that Asik will go East, but two sleepers you have to throw out there in the West would be the surprising Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz. Utah is interesting since their new assistant general manager, Justin Zanik, is Asik’s former agent.

  • The December 19th date, the deadline for teams to acquire a player and still be able to combine them in a second trade before the February trade deadline, isn’t just important for Houston. Asik could get traded to a team that also hopes to flip him. Philly, which should be focused on the 2014 Draft, comes to mind here.

  • ClutchFans user linwantsout created a bit of an Internet firestorm this weekend when he recorded and posted on the board audio of Alan Hahn stating on 98.7FM in New York that after talking to some general managers, “there is a strong feeling that if the Rockets can find a taker, they will definitely move Jeremy Lin.” Blogs scraped the story and now there is speculation that Lin is on the block. It didn’t help the conspiracy theorists that Lin sat out Sunday’s game (with a legit injury, by the way) and coach Kelvin Sampson hinted he would sit out on Wednesday against the Bulls as well — the last game the Rockets will play before this self-imposed trade deadline.

    If the Rockets do move Asik for a player that expires in 2014 (such as Hawes), the Lin trade speculation will only increase since the Rockets could gain significant cap room one year early (this summer) by trading Jeremy for an expiring deal. That’s easier said than done since Lin is owed roughly $18 million more for a season and a half, though his cap number for any trade is ~$8.4M.

  • Trying to peg a Daryl Morey trade is like throwing darts blindfolded. He always seems to find a player, overseas prospect or pick that no one (or very few) considered to be possible. Having said that, my hunch (and purely opinion) is that Asik will end up in Charlotte or Boston, and if Philly is involved as a third team, it will be for Hawes to join Houston and for Sam Hinkie to net picks or young players.

Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged |