June 24, 2016 at 9:22 am

Daryl Morey excited about upside of Chinanu Onuaku, Zhou Qi

Daryl Morey 2016 NBA Draft

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey came down to talk to us late Thursday night after the 2016 NBA Draft. The Rockets drafted Louisville big man Chinanu Onuaku with the 37th overall pick and Chinese prospect Zhou Qi, who Morey said has “as high an upside as anyone in the draft”, with the 43rd selection.

The Rockets also signed undrafted free agents 6’2 point guard Gary Payton II out of Oregon State, sharpshooter big Kyle Wiltjer out of Gonzaga and 6’3 guard Isaiah Taylor out of Texas, but Morey could not discuss those players just yet.

Here’s the video of Daryl’s full Q&A after the draft discussing the picks.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 23, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Rockets draft Louisville big man Chinanu Onuaku

Chinanu Onuaku

The Rockets talked about making trades in this Draft, but they did not happen.

Instead, the Rockets stayed pat in the second round, taking Louisville big man Chinanu Onuaku with the 37th overall selection. This is the second straight season that the Rockets have taken a Louisville big in the second round after selecting Montrezl Harrell last season.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Onuaku after being drafted by the Rockets. “It was unbelievable. I’ve been working for this all my life. Just to finally hear my name called… I didn’t know what to do. I just praised God and I cried.”

I like this pick. Onuaku is just 19 years old, standing 6-foot-10 with a nearly 7-foot-3 wingspan and coming in at 245 pounds. Hes got good potential as an interior defender, averaging 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just 24.6 minutes as a sophomore. The Rockets will need some help inside with only Clint Capela currently under contract at the five.

In talking with Rockets staff at Toyota Center, they love how he boxes out and carves out space. He’s a good rebounder — strong and not easily moved.

The newest Rocket considers himself “coachable” and loves the idea of coming to Houston.

“I know they’re a playoff team,” said Onuaku of the Rockets. “I know that Dwight Howard just opted out so I have a chance to take that position. I know they have James Harden. I’m coming into a great situation.”

He was direct and to the point when asked about his strengths.

“Right now, I’m more of a defensive player,” said Onuaku. “Post defense, pick-and-roll defense, blocking shots and offensive and defensive rebounding.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 22, 2016 at 10:17 am

Film Study: The Alessandro Gentile Scouting Report

Alessandro Gentile Houston Rockets

Teams have long been stashing international prospects. The idea is to draft them in their late teens or early twenties, but leave them in Europe to develop with their specific team or country. This allows the player to continue developing and honing their craft in a comfortable environment where they have the support system to help develop consistency in their skill set.

That’s exactly what’s happened with the Rockets and Alessandro Gentile, who is rumored to be potentially joining the Rockets this season. Gentile, who was selected with the 53rd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is a 23-year-old small forward and shooting guard who has averaged double figures in Euroleague competition for Italy and in the Italian league Serie A. As such, a case can certainly be made that Gentile is ready for a higher level of competition.

In Houston, fans are hoping to see the team bounce back from the disappointing 2015-2016 campaign. But after the mildly surprising hire of Mike D’Antoni as head coach, some are skeptical on whether steep improvement can be made. No matter what, in order to be successful, a team needs to surround its head coach with players that can star in their role. The Rockets have numerous complementary pieces that need to integrate, not assimilate, in order to create true chemistry on both ends of the floor.

Enter Gentile.

This 6-7, 230 pound Italian has a specific skill set that can infuse the Rockets second unit with scoring, shooting, and playmaking. The Rockets need players who can facilitate the offense and play a certain role in the read-and-react and spacing system that Coach D’Antoni will implement. Gentile is a physical player, using his footwork and length to create scoring opportunities. He’s able to score and facilitate movement with and without the basketball. That last point is important, especially with a Rockets team that will attack defenses after forcing miscommunication and mistakes.

Gentile prefers to attack off the dribble and has the ability to use both his hands when finishing around the basket. With the Rockets, he won’t likely be the primary ball handler whenever on the floor, but don’t discount his ability to attack closeouts and beat bigger defenders off the dribble. Here’s an example of Gentile attacking Jae Crowder of the Boston Celtics during a 2015 NBA Global Game.

gentile1

In D’Antoni’s offense, there are two shooters camped in the corner, one shooter in the slot and the ball handler and screener on the angle. The slot is theoretically the opposite wing of the pick-and-roll ball handler. The angle is defined not as the middle of the floor, but slightly adjacent to the wing. With three shooters on the floor, including the power forward as a stretch forward, there’s enough spacing to run a spread pick-and-roll and attack inside. Notice Gentile is in the slot position. Once the ball-handler makes the pass to Gentile’s side, the team clears the left side to let him operate. Crowder allows the baseline, not willing to give up the inside elbow and middle of the floor. Gentile immediately attacks Crowder and begins his drive towards the lane.

Gentile2

Gentile3

Gentile, as many savvy European players do, uses his inside shoulder to create space and contact. He has great body control, attacking closeouts and using both of his hands to produce variety of finishes around the basket. With his physicality, Gentile seldom resists contact and often uses space well to finish past defenders who rotate over to protect the paint.

Gentile4

Gentile5

David Lee rotates over to help, but Gentile plants his left foot and uses his right foot to balance himself in the air, ultimately finishing around Lee and the outstretched arms of Crowder. Gentile has a stronger upper body compared to most European wings, however he’s very slow and methodical in how he attacks off the pick-and-roll, off screens, and most close outs.

His 6-7 size will allow him to play the shooting guard or small forward position off the bench for the Rockets. There will be opportunities for him to attack mismatches against smaller guards from opposing teams. A strength of Gentile’s is his ability to get the ball in the post and either score/facilitate off face-up or post-up possessions. He’s a master at manipulating his pivot foot and body to contort in ways to bypass his defender and score inside. He can also utilize his underrated passing ability to create scoring opportunities on the opposite side of the floor. This past season (2015-2016) for EA7 Emporio Armani Milano, Gentile had an AST% of 24.08 (AST% is the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted on while he was on the floor). Therefore, Gentile assisted on almost 25% of his team’s field goals. Incredible numbers that indicate that he has the ability to facilitate the basketball and create opportunities in a spread pick-and-roll offense.

Here’s an example of his post game against smaller players. Notice how he uses the drop step as a counter to the smaller guard who aggressively attacks Gentile’s right hand. The drop step allows Gentile to maintain positional and size advantage over smaller defenders, and his leg, hip, and waist ultimately mitigate the defender’s capability to alter or block the shot. In this play, Gentile uses his drop step to pivot around towards the baseline and release a hook shot with his left hand (he was also fouled). As was mentioned before, he is ambidextrous with the basketball when around the basket and will use it to his advantage. Coach D’Antoni will look to utilize Gentile’s post-up play in pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll situations where Gentile can play the screener or ball handler.

As for Gentile’s passing, here’s an example where hedging is used on the screen and Gentile must recover and make the correct decision. After Gentile is contained by the defense hedging the screen, he’s still able to make an accurate bounce pass to his Big inside for the slam dunk. This skill will surely be utilized in D’Antoni’s offense, which relies heavily on players’ abilities to read-and-react and make passes to keep the offense moving and the defense from attacking passing lanes. The spacing created from shooting and proper lineups will allow Gentile’s strength to shine. Perimeter passing and cross-court passes to the corners are where Gentile excelled with his Italian team, opening up three-point high percentage opportunities.

His lack of athleticism and explosiveness off the dribble will create problems for him offensively, but his high basketball IQ and ability to attack closeouts will provide fresh scoring to this Rockets team. Offensively, he struggles shooting the basketball at a consistent rate. He was a 24.3% three-point shooter this past season, struggling at finding rhythm from the perimeter. He needs to improve the mechanics of his release, giving his shot more arc and better accuracy. Defensively, he struggles against stronger and faster players due to his limited lateral quickness. When placed in isolation situations, Gentile struggles to stay with his assignment and will likely be picked on in pick-and-roll defense situations. He’ll likely play the passing lanes when/if the Rockets trap pick-and-rolls and try to force offenses into rushed turnovers. Gentile will also need to learn how to defend without using hands and reaching. He does have quick instincts and creates steals, but the NBA level will punish him and yield a high foul rate.

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Look at Gentile using his arms and trying to reach into David Lee’s body to force a turnover. Luckily for him, a foul was not called, but Lee was able to get past Gentile and pass to Bradley in the corner. This will be an area of emphasis for Gentile and the Rockets coaching staff this upcoming season. As an offensive weapon and scorer, Gentile will surely be utilized by Coach D’Antoni and the Rockets coaching staff. What will determine his playing time and impact on the team will be his ability to improve defensively and provide enough offensive spark as a rotation player to offset his weaknesses. His passing, shooting, and craftiness as a facilitator will provide another component of the spread pick-and-roll attack.

Lastly, I would like to introduce myself to Rockets fans here on ClutchFans. My name is Alykhan Bijani, you probably recognize me as @Rockets_Insider on Twitter. I cover and write about the Rockets for ESPN975.com. I also write about the NBA for Hardwood Paroxysm. I’ll be contributing to ClutchFans throughout the offseason and into the 2016-2017 NBA season. Looking forward to sharing my thoughts and film analysis on all things Houston Rockets. Look out for a Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets playbook in the coming weeks that will detail multiple sets and plays the team will utilize with Harden and the rest of the roster.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 21, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Dwight Howard declines player option with Rockets, will become a free agent

Dwight Howard leaving Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard has declined the $23+ million player option on his Rockets contract for the 2016-17 season, paving the way to become a free agent on July 1, according to Yahoo! Sports.

The news is good for the Rockets, who are counting on having millions in cap room this summer to pursue free agents and are not expected to make a huge offer to Howard. Howard notifying the team early was a little bit of a surprise given that he had until the end of the month to decline the option.

The Rockets also hired Mike D’Antoni in the offseason, a coach that Howard struggled with in Los Angeles. From everything I’ve been told, the Rockets would like to have Howard back, but not at the salary he is expected to pursue (and I’m told it would be a good-sized gap), which makes it a good bet that this is the first step to the end of his Houston Rockets career.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 2, 2016 at 10:18 am

Corey Brewer likes Mike D’Antoni’s energy, but wants a strong defensive assistant

Corey Brewer on Mike D'Antoni

Corey Brewer was on ESPN Face to Face with Hannah Storm on Thursday, and he spoke about the Rockets hiring of Mike D’Antoni.

“He’s going to bring a lot of energy,” said Brewer of Houston’s new coach. “That’s what we need. We need some energy back here in Houston. It was a bad year this year. Expectations were high and we ended up playing really bad but I think Coach D’Antoni is going to come in and change all that.”

However, the Rockets small forward was quick to comment on where the Rockets really need to improve.

“But we’ve got to play some defense,” added Brewer. “So hopefully we get a good assistant to help Coach D’Antoni and we’ll be OK.”

Of course, the Rockets have added a strong defensive assistant to D’Antoni’s staff in Jeff Bzdelik, so we’ll see where this goes. As for D’Antoni, he mentioned on 790’s The Bottom Line with Adam Clanton and Sean Jones on Wednesday that he hopes to figure out how to get Brewer back to playing the way he played the year before last season.

Brewer does think the addition of D’Antoni will be big for James Harden.

“I think this is really good for James,” said Brewer. “The way he plays, with Coach D’Antoni’s offense, he’s going to have an amazing year. He’s going to make the game a lot easier for the rest of us. We’re playing high pace. There’s going to be a lot of open shots.”

Brewer also was asked about the relationship between Harden and Dwight Howard.

“It wasn’t as bad as people say it was,” said Brewer. “Superstars are going to have their disagreements and different things, but it was just a bad year. I’m not going to say it was either one of their faults. It wasn’t those guys not getting along. It was all of us. None of us played our best basketball and we got knocked out of the first round.”

Does he think Dwight will opt out and leave Houston?

“Probably only Dwight knows,” said Brewer. “For us, if he comes back, we’re going to be happy to have him come back. If not, good luck to him and we’ve got to do what we got to do to try to win basketball games next year.”

You can watch the full interview here:

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Video: Rockets introduce Mike D’Antoni as their head coach

Houston Rockets introduce Mike D'Antoni

The Houston Rockets introduced Mike D’Antoni today as the 13th head coach in the history of the franchise and Rockets owner Les Alexander didn’t waste any time addressing the fans and naysayers that have been critical of the hiring (it’s well known by now that roughly 13% of Houston fans polled approve of it).

We’ll have more up discussing the events today soon, but here’s the entire press conference.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 26, 2016 at 3:21 pm

Rockets to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach

Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets coach

It’s only fitting that the Houston Rockets, led by a player who doesn’t play any defense, are hiring a coach that doesn’t coach any.

The Rockets have made their choice, working to finalize a deal with Mike D’Antoni to be their new head coach, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.

D’Antoni was an innovator with the Phoenix Suns from 2003-2008, setting trends that are clearly visible in today’s NBA. He ran a fast-pace, high-octane offense centered around fast breaks, quick shots, pick-and-rolls and three-pointers. He averaged 53 wins a year in Phoenix, going to the Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006. But two failed stints in New York and Los Angeles since then have taken the shine off as he’s been unable to duplicate the success he had with Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and those Suns teams.

D’Antoni comes to the Rockets after nearly a full season as an assistant with the Sixers.

From a team needs standpoint, this is a shocking move. At his season-ending press conference (see video), Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was asked what the team was looking for in a coach.

“I think it’s going to be someone who embodies what we need which is we need to get our defense stronger,” said Morey.

In his 11-12 seasons as a head coach in the NBA, D’Antoni has never had a Top 10 defense.

On the other hand, is it really that surprising? Rockets owner Les Alexander makes these coaching hire decisions and has long been in love with those Phoenix teams. Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, after being let go by the team in 2007, famously said that Alexander wanted to model the Rockets after D’Antoni’s Suns.

“My owner had issues with my style of play,” said Van Gundy then. “He wanted to be faster, Phoenix-like.”

The problem is the Rockets, nearly a decade later, already implement many of these offensive philosphies. The team was 8th in offensive efficiency in 2015-16, shooting the second-most three-point attempts in the league per game. The problem was they didn’t have the shooters/scorers. The key to improvement on offense, with or without D’Antoni, will be on roster upgrades — primarily adding shooters.

But upgrading their defense, which the team was expected to do by hiring a strong defensive coach, will now be more of a challenge. The Rockets were 20th in defensive efficiency last season.

D’Antoni has experience with both James Harden and Dwight Howard. He was an assistant coach with the 2012 USA Olympics team that Harden was a part of. He also coached Howard in 2012-13 with the Lakers, though it was not a great experience for either coach or player. It is largely expected that Howard, who holds a player option on his contract, won’t be back with the Rockets.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 10, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: 2016 Offseason Pre-Draft Edition

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander

One year ago at this time, the Houston Rockets were battling through the Western Conference on their way to a conference finals series against Golden State.

Man, how things can change in one year.

Last summer, the Rockets had grand designs of building a championship-contending roster much better than the team that had just lost to the Warriors, who were clearly better than Houston. They were going to get back a (presumably) healthy Donatas Motiejunas. They re-signed both Patrick Beverley (a key piece missing from their playoff run) and Corey Brewer (an integral part of that playoff run). The Rockets even had a potential sign-and-trade deal lined up to acquire free agent LaMarcus Aldridge from Portland, but Aldridge ultimately chose to sign with San Antonio.

Fast forward about a year, and the Rockets look like a team in turmoil. Head coach Kevin McHale was fired just eleven games into his three-year contract extension. His replacement, interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, did not fare much better, “leading” the team to a mediocre 37-34 record. James Harden and Dwight Howard could not get along and never truly meshed on the court. Brewer and Terrence Jones had utterly disappointing seasons. Motiejunas’s back injury lingered longer than expected, hampering his development. Even a February trade deadline deal of Motiejunas for a first round pick was voided after Motiejunas “failed” his physical in Detroit. As for the Rockets’ own first round pick, … more on that below.

The 2015-16 Houston Rockets season may go down as among the most disappointing, aggravating and just plain awful seasons in Houston sports history. For us diehard Rockets fans, this season felt like a long series of gut-punches. While getting a lone playoff victory over Golden State was nice and all, many felt that Houston’s elimination from the playoffs (4-1) was like a mercy killing.

With the season now ended, it’s time to once again take a look at the team’s salary cap situation and where the Rockets can go from here.

Player Salary, Exceptions and Available Cap Room

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: Howard ($23.28 million – player option), Harden ($16.78 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), Clint Capela ($1.30 million), Montrezl Harrell ($1.05 million), Michael Beasley ($1.40 million – non-guaranteed), and Andrew Goudelock ($1.02 million, non-guaranteed).

Cap holds: Jones ($6.22 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights), Motiejunas ($5.72 million – Rockets hold full Bird rights), Jason Terry ($980,431 – Rockets hold full Bird rights), and Josh Smith ($980,431 – Rockets have only Non-Bird rights).

Other Salary Cap Exceptions: If Houston operates over the salary cap this summer (an unlikely scenario but at least possible if Howard opts in to his contract), the Rockets will have access to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), either the Non-Taxpayer variety ($5.628 million, the use of which would impose a hard cap at the “apron” level – currently projected at $112 million) or the Taxpayer variety ($3.477 million), as well as to the Bi-Annual Exception ($2.203 million). In the much more likely event that the Rockets use their available cap room this summer, they could instead have the Room Exception of $2.898 million at their disposal.

Given these salary commitments and exceptions, and based on the currently projected 2016-17 salary cap of $92.0 million, the most cap room the Rockets could create (barring trades … yeah, I know) is about $44.22 million. This assumes that Howard opts out of his contract and would involve renouncing rights to all free agents and waiving Beasley and Goudelock. If Howard opts in, that figure drops precipitously to $21.49 million. However, expect Howard to opt out and for the Rockets to hold onto Beasley and at least attempt to hold onto Motiejunas. So, adding their salaries/cap holds, that cap room figure comes out to about $38.19 million. Regardless, expect the Rockets to explore trades that could open up additional room.

So… What Happens Next?

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

Most immediately, the Rockets need to hire a new head coach. With several prominent names still in contention (among them, Jeff Van Gundy, Frank Vogel and David Blatt), Houston is casting a wide net in their coaching search. This approach should benefit the franchise in gaining as much outside knowledge as it can while also establishing favorable long-term relationships around the basketball world. There is some thought that the Rockets might hold off signing a new head coach until after free agency begins, in order to allow a marquee free agent like Kevin Durant to join with Harden in hand-picking his own coach. But the likelier scenario is that the Rockets – perhaps with some input from Harden – hire “their guy” without putting that decision squarely in the hands of its prospective star players.

Kevin Durant Houston Rockets

Houston’s Plan A is to pursue Kevin Durant

Houston will need to decide whether to extend qualifying offers to Motiejunas ($4.43 million, more than he’d otherwise receive based on his prior salary due to meeting the “starter criteria” of starting 82 games over the course of the past two seasons) and to Jones ($3.53 million) in order to make them both restricted free agents and to give the Rockets the ability to match any offers from other teams. More on those decisions below.

In preparation for the eventuality that their pursuit of big name free agents to fill all of their cap room doesn’t play out as hoped for, the Rockets may also once again explore the possibility of bringing over one or more of its “draft rights held” players from overseas, led by everyone’s favorite tease, 2009 second round pick Sergio Llull. Houston’s courtship of the now 28-year old Llull (a 6-3 combo guard who has developed into one of the top guards in Europe) fell apart last summer, and Llull ended up signing a long-term contract extension with Real Madrid. However, reports are that the extension actually lowered Llull’s NBA buyout, thus far one of the biggest impediments to his NBA debut. After years of flirtation, most Rockets fans won’t be holding their breath for a Llull signing. But in a summer where free agent deals will hit astounding levels, having exclusive NBA rights to a player of Llull’s caliber may be helpful, either to sign him outright or as a trade asset.

Another international prospect who might help next season is Alessandro Gentile, a 6-7 scoring wing taken with a 2014 second rounder purchased by Houston. But with Ariza, Brewer, McDaniels and Dekker all under contract for next season, it is hard to see a role for Gentile without one or more trades clearing the Rockets’ glut at small forward.

Draft Day Maneuvering

The Rockets will enter the 2016 NBA Draft armed with the 37th and 43rd picks, about $2.96 million in remaining cash to spend before July 1, as well as an assortment of young players, draft rights and future picks to trade. However, unlike in years past, the prospects for a significant draft night trade – something that the Rockets are known to actively seek – will be fairly low.

Because Houston remains subject to a hard cap through June 30, the Rockets cannot exceed the 2015-16 “apron” level as a result of any draft night trade. With the Rockets a mere $242,000 or so shy of the apron, unless a trade involves Houston dumping salary, most trades will be prohibited. Of course, a trade could be agreed to in principle, with the actual consummation of that trade not going through until following the July Moratorium.

Houston will be without its own first round pick (15th overall), which was sent to Denver in the Ty Lawson trade. The protections on that pick were unique in that the top-14 protected first rounder in 2016 immediately converted to a 2017 second round pick if the Rockets missed the playoffs, rather than the more common carryover of owing a future first round pick (a restriction that often has lingering negative effects on a team’s ability to trade future draft picks). So while the Rockets could have kept a pick in the 12-14 range had they missed the playoffs in the last week of the season (owing only Portland’s second rounder next season), they instead convey their pick and move on.

As for the draft slots Houston currently holds, the Rockets could go in a number of directions. They could elect to use both picks on players to add to their roster for next season, as second round picks count $0 against the cap until signed, and there is expected to be a lot of roster turnover this summer anyway. They could instead use one (or both) of those picks on an international draft prospect, as this year’s draft is expected to have one of the deepest international crops in recent memory. The Rockets could also look to move up in the draft – something they often try to do – although don’t expect a package of #37 and #43 to move them too far up the draft board (last year, Minnesota traded the 31st and 36th picks to move up to pick #24).

Also, don’t be surprised to see Rockets owner Leslie Alexander once again allow Morey to spend his remaining cash allotment this season on an additional second round pick to stash overseas (as the team has done in recent years with Furkan Aldemir and Gentile). With several teams holding multiple picks in this year’s draft (led by Boston, with an astounding eight picks), the odds of multiple second round picks switching hands on draft night is fairly high.

Internal Free Agent Decisions

The Rockets have several key decisions to make regarding their own free agents that could impact what they do in free agency.

Dwight Howard: The first domino that must fall for the Rockets to execute any big summer plans is Dwight’s decision of whether or not to opt out of his contract. His $23.28 million player option year is likely more than he will get on an annual basis as a free agent. But Howard will turn 31 years old in December and will likely want to lock in a longer-term deal before his skills decline much further. There is also the possibility that at least one team (among the many expected to be flush with cap room and have no one else to spend it on) will offer Howard a huge contract paying him as much as $25-30 million per season. However, don’t expect the Rockets to be one of those teams. While the door cannot be completely closed to the possibility of Howard’s return to Houston on a more reasonable multi-year deal, it is becoming increasingly more evident that if (or when) Dwight opts out of his contract, he will be moving on to another team.

Terrence Jones Houston Rockets Free Agent

Terrence Jones likely lost millions after a disappointing 2015-16 season

Terrence Jones: Few players did more to hurt their free agent stock than Jones this past season. Once thought by many to be lining up for a huge contract (Zach Lowe wondered whether Jones could possibly get offers in the $15 million per year range!), Jones suffered through a disappointing season filled with poor defensive focus and more strange injuries. He ended the season as the fifth power forward on the depth chart. Although Jones will have a cap hold this summer of $6.22 million, the Rockets will need to extend him a one-year, $3.53 million qualifying offer in order to make him a restricted free agent. The extension of such a qualifying offer once looked like a no-brainer but is now seriously in question. It will be a surprise at this point if Jones is a Rocket next season.

Donatas Motiejunas: Motiejunas represents a very interesting case for the Rockets. At 7-0 with both post skills and three-point range (a combination held by only a handful of NBA players), D-Mo will undoubtedly have his share of suitors in free agency. But his back injury has turned out to be a more serious red flag than many anticipated. Detroit – once thought to be the Rockets’ biggest competitor for Motiejunas this summer – voided its trade for D-Mo after its doctors expressed reservations about the long-term prognosis for that back. Motiejunas came away from that experience with a resentment for Detroit, so there may not be a future for that relationship. Although D-Mo will have a cap hold this summer of $5.72 million, the Rockets will need to extend him a one-year, $4.43 million qualifying offer in order to make him a restricted free agent. Expect the Rockets to extend that qualifying offer and to hope they can execute other moves in free agency before having to worry about matching an offer sheet for him.

Jason Terry: Despite some purported interest in a coaching gig, Terry recently expressed a desire to play another year or two before retiring. As one of the few stable veteran voices for the Rockets last season, it is scary to consider how awful Houston’s locker room would have been without him. And while his production on the court wasn’t too far from that of the prior season (his shooting percentages dipped a little and his defense was once again atrocious), it may be time for the Rockets to part ways with the venerable Terry.

Josh Smith: After spurning the Rockets (and their larger contract offer) for a veteran’s minimum deal with the Clippers, it was all downhill for Smith. The Clippers ended up paying Houston to take Smith off their hands. A solid defender and gifted passer, Smith still showed enough to get a couple of chances in the Rockets’ lackluster power forward rotation. But with several power forwards under contract for next season, don’t expect to see Smith back.

Michael Beasley: Beasley was one of the few pleasant surprises for the Rockets this past season. After an MVP season in China, Beasley came in and immediately became Houston’s second-best offensive weapon. He fulfilled his role as a bench chucker, pouring in several long two-point shots that only Harden seemed permitted to take, as those two were likely the only two players on the roster capable of shooting a high enough percentage of them to make that shot worthwhile. Beasley has a non-guaranteed salary of $1.40 million for next year (which becomes guaranteed if he is not waived by August 1). Especially since Beasley could easily get an MLE-sized deal (or more) in free agency, expect Houston to hold on to him, either as an offensive weapon off the bench next season or as a trade chip this summer.

Andrew Goudelock: Goudelock was brought in to replace Ty Lawson and Marcus Thornton as a backcourt scorer off the bench. However, as a late-season addition, Bickerstaff never showed enough trust in Goudelock to play him over Terry. His situation became even more odd during the playoffs, when Bickerstaff elected to make Jones (a fifth power forward) active over Goudelock (a third point guard and just the fourth “true” guard on the Rockets’ roster) for Games 2, 3 and 4 against a Golden State team with plenty of backcourt depth. With Bickerstaff out, it is possible that Morey likes Goudelock enough to keep him around for next season on a $1.02 million non-guaranteed deal (which becomes guaranteed if he is not waived by August 1). But if the Rockets need the extra $472,000 or so in additional cap room that can be created by waiving Goudelock, they probably won’t lose too much sleep over waiving him. If no one claims him off waivers, the Rockets can still re-sign him to a vet minimum deal.

#Pursuit of Outside Free Agents

At the center of the Rockets’ plans to return to NBA prominence is the pursuit of one or (more likely) two star free agents.

The headliner of the 2016 crop of free agents is Durant. (With Lebron James most likely staying put in Cleveland, we’ll exclude him from this group for all intents and purposes.) Durant’s free agency has been talked about for years, with rumors of his possible interest in playing with Harden in Houston circulating as long ago as 2013. While it is a long shot that Durant will actually elect to sign with the Rockets, his talent is prodigious enough that pursuing him as Plan A is still worth it.

Hassan Whiteside Houston Rockets

Hassan Whiteside could be a free agent that the Rockets pursue

Another free agent who could be high on the Rockets’ wish list is Al Horford. Capable of playing power forward or center, Horford would be a suitable replacement for Howard. Horford’s combination of long-range shooting (he can hit long two-point shots at a clip high enough to get them in the Rockets’ offense) and all-around good defense make him an intriguing possibility.

As nine-year veterans, Durant and Horford will each be eligible for a max starting salary worth a little over $25 million (with an actual max figure to be determined during the July Moratorium). One complication to signing either to a long-term contract is that each becomes entitled to a much higher starting salary in 2017, when they become ten-year veterans assigned a larger percentage of the salary cap as their max salary. While Horford may take the long-term security of a deal this summer, many believe Durant will seek a two-year deal (with a player option on Year 2) similar to the deals Lebron has signed with Cleveland each of the last two summers in order to cash in next summer.

A slightly more “affordable” Howard replacement (as in a starting salary of closer to $20 million) could be Hassan Whiteside. A talented center who squandered the first several years of his professional career underachieving compared to his tremendous natural talent, there is some concern that Whiteside will revert to his old ways once he secures a lucrative long-term deal. But as a premier rim protector, Whiteside could be worth the gamble.

Paying Kevin Durant

Most expect Durant to re-sign with Oklahoma City this summer. With Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder provide Durant with a competitive enough roster to justify his staying put. But re-signing with Oklahoma City does not necessarily guarantee Durant the most long-term salary.

The jump in the salary cap (and, by extension, the max salary) this summer means that any team with enough cap room can offer Durant a starting salary equal to what the Thunder can offer. And with another huge jump in the cap expected next summer, a team like the Rockets could conceivably use newly available cap room to re-sign Durant next summer to a long-term deal as lucrative as anything Oklahoma City could give him.

Conclusion

After a miserable season, the Rockets must now turn their attention to repairing their roster – as well as their basketball culture – via the draft, trades and free agency. Morey and [whoever the next head coach is] will need to come up with a variety of alternative plans to return the Rockets to respectability, let alone title contention. It remains to be seen whether Plan A (where Durant comes to save the franchise), Plan [X] (another rebuild) or any plan in between ends up being the path they take.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Salary Cap Update |