MK Bower joins Dave Hardisty at the Toyota Center after the Rockets beat the Sacramento Kings minor league squad 116-81, clinching the 8th seed and a first round date with the 73-win Golden State Warriors. The two debate the interesting dilemma created by the Ty Lawson trade — whether it was smarter for the Rockets to miss the playoffs to keep their draft pick — and talk about the rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals.
It’s been awhile since my last cap update, and the Houston Rockets find themselves in quite different territory than they did last July. Having put together what many thought to be a legitimate title contender, the Rockets viewed themselves as building upon a run to the Western Conference Finals last season.
Fast forward to now, and Houston is instead scrapping for the 6-seed in a Western Conference that features two teams — the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs — having among the greatest regular seasons ever. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Rockets has. Ty Lawson, their major off-season acquisition, was a disaster on the court. Their first round pick (Sam Dekker) missed most of the season with a back injury. Even their trade deadline deal of Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Pistons (for a mid-first round draft pick and millions in luxury tax savings) blew up in their faces when Detroit voided the trade due to concerns with Motiejunas’s back. Motiejunas — who the Rockets and most of their fanbase still really like — has played subpar basketball since returning from injury while trying to round himself back into form.
Since the Motiejunas trade was voided, the Rockets made a series of roster moves. The following is an explanation of each of those moves, from both a basketball and a salary cap standpoint.
Waiver of Marcus Thornton
Dumping a guy for nothing who was scoring ten points per game in limited action seemed like a fairly pointless act, but the situation between Thornton and the Rockets may have turned acrimonious following the voided trade. Also, Houston may have wanted to make better use of his roster spot. While Thornton probably could have helped the Rockets during the playoffs in spot minutes, he was unlikely to return next season.
Many (including me) believed Houston had a plan in place for a team like the Sixers to claim Thornton off waivers, which would have saved the Rockets around $1.7 million in salary and luxury tax while also helping the Sixers meet the salary floor before the end of the regular season. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), no team claimed Thornton’s one-year vet minimum contract off waivers, leaving the Rockets to foot the bill for the remainder of his salary and a heftier tax bill.
Buyout of Ty Lawson
Putting a thoroughly unsuccessful marriage out of its misery, Houston bought out Lawson, releasing the point guard to catch on with another playoff team in exchange for Lawson leaving another $225,000 on the table (in addition to his entire 2016-17 salary, which he previously made non-guaranteed in order to facilitate his trade to Houston).
While Lawson’s non-guaranteed contract still held some value as a pre-draft trade chip, it is unlikely that the Rockets would have actually used it in lieu of chasing the top free agents this summer with the additional cap room created by waiving Lawson this June.
The Lawson trade was still a move a team like the Rockets probably makes nine times out of ten, especially given all of the downside protection involved, as more particularly described in my last cap update. Sadly, like many things for the Rockets this season, it just didn’t work out.
Signing of Michael Beasley
With the Rockets in desperate need of bench scoring, they turned to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and signed its MVP, former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley to a two-year vet minimum deal. His salary for next season (approximately $1.4 million) is non-guaranteed if Beasley is waived by August 1.
Although Beasley has had a reputation as a knucklehead of sorts in the past, the Rockets (according to GM Daryl Morey) had solid intel that he now has his priorities in order and is ready to be a meaningful contributor to a good NBA team.
Thus far, Beasley is showing that he can score in bunches and, uh, . . . is not shy about taking shots. Through five games with the Rockets, he is averaging 10.8 points on 8.8 field goal attempts in just 14.2 minutes per game. Before last night’s extended playing time against the Grizzlies (and some purposely passive play in garbage time as the deep bench was able to get in on the scoring act), Beasley was averaging a whopping NINE field goal attempts in just 10.8 minutes per game!
With both Terrence Jones and Motiejunas heading towards restricted free agency, and with unrestricted free agent Josh Smith unlikely to return, the Rockets needed to add another power forward option to Montrezl Harrell. Getting Beasley on a cheap non-guaranteed deal represents good value for a Rockets team trying to maximize its cap space to make a run at adding up to two max free agents.
Signing of Andrew Goudelock
Following the losses of Lawson and Thornton, the Rockets bolstered their backcourt depth by signing another MVP, former D-League and Eurocup MVP Andrew Goudelock, to a two -year vet minimum deal, similar to the one signed by Beasley. Goudelock’s salary for next season (just over $1 million) is non-guaranteed if Goudelock is waived by August 1.
At 6-3, Goudelock is a combo guard with a knack for scoring. With 38-year-old Jason Terry currently filling that role in the Rockets’ rotation, the team needed another (younger) guard.
In his first extended action as a Rocket, last night against the Grizzlies, Goudelock displayed his scoring touch, putting up 11 points in 17 minutes, albeit at the end of a blowout win.
Neither Lawson (whose $13.2 million cap figure was far too rich) nor Thornton (whose relationship with the team had run its course) were going to be back next season. With James Harden and Patrick Beverley as the only true guards under contract for next season (and, no, I am not counting wing players like Corey Brewer or K.J. McDaniels as “guards” for this purpose), Houston wanted to add another cheap option.
The voided Motiejunas trade left the Houston Rockets hopelessly unable to drop below the luxury tax threshold. That, combined with the team’s largely ineffective bench corps, led Morey and his crew to adjust the roster in order both to boost bench scoring this season and to provide additional affordable players to fill its many open roster spots next season.
Here’s hoping these moves actually work out.
Andrew Goudelock was understandable. This one was a little more surprising.
The Rockets are set to sign former 2nd overall pick Michael Beasley, according to an ESPN report. Beasley will sign for the remainder of the season with the Rockets holding a team option for next year.
The 6-foot-9 power forward was recently named the MVP of the Chinese League, averaging 31.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 blocks a night.
The Rockets would not comment on the additions since they are not finalized, but coach J.B. Bickerstaff said what the team is looking for.
“We’re looking to improve the team,” said Bickerstaff. “We’re looking for guys who have talent. We’re looking for guys who can be versatile, can playmake, score, rebound… help us in those types of situations. Those are the types of guys we’re searching for.”
The Rockets desperately need help at the power forward spot, despite having plenty of guys on the roster at the position, but Beasley has struggled to find his niche in the NBA. An All-World scorer in college, Beasley went number two overall to the Miami Heat in the 2008 Draft after averaging 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and hitting 37.9% from three his one season at Kansas State.
Beasley is talented, but has run into trouble during his career. In 2013, he was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession. A sexual assault case against him in 2014 was eventually dropped.
Defense is not his strong suit at all, so he’ll fit right in. What is interesting about Beasley is he can score and has shown improved range, both qualities that the Rockets lack at the position right now. He shot just 34.3% from deep over his seven-year NBA career with Miami, Minnesota and Phoenix, but he has shown increased efficiency from three in China (as to be expected). Beasley scored 34 points in a game late last season while with the Heat.
Here’s a highlight video of a 48-point night in China, showing his play and the kind of competition he faced.
At this point, what can it hurt? The Rockets have had poor chemistry on the floor this season and it can’t get too much worse. In this move, they get a cheap look at whether or not Beasley can help them moving forward at a position that has killed them all season.
The Rockets didn’t waste much time using their roster spots, making an addition to their backcourt on Wednesday by signing guard Andrew Goudelock from the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
The Rockets are quite familiar with Goudelock as he played with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s D-League affiliate, in 2012-13, winning the NBDL MVP that season when he averaged 21.1 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Goudelock is a 27-year old 6’3″ shooting guard who can score and shoot from distance. He was drafted by the Lakers 46th overall in the 2011 draft, playing for Los Angeles that season and in one game the following year. He has bounced around overseas since then, playing in Russia, Turkey and most recently China.
The fact that Goudelock can connect from deep is a welcome addition to the Rockets. He shot over 41% for his career from three in college at Charleston and playing in one of the tougher leagues in Europe in 2014-15, he hit 46% from beyond the arc while averaging 17.1 points per game.
I can’t think of a trade that looked so incredibly lopsided for one team at the time that turned out this poorly for that same team.
The Rockets completed a buyout with Ty Lawson on Tuesday, waiving the guard less than a year after acquiring him in a trade with the Denver Nuggets.
Lawson never panned out for the Rockets. He looked like a poor fit as the season started, then his game just seemed to disappear altogether. He never showed the penetration ability and attack mentality that he did in Denver and was a defensive liability. The Rockets are 7-0 this season in games where Lawson did not play.
Despite Lawson’s poor play, there was no need to buy out Lawson until the failed deadline day trade with the Detroit Pistons, a move that had gotten the Rockets under the luxury tax. With that trade vetoed, the Rockets turned to discussing buyouts in order to save money. They also create a roster spot in the move.
While the Rockets did not lose any significant players from their roster in acquiring Lawson this past summer, they are still on the hook for a 2016 first round draft pick owed to Denver from the move. The pick is lottery-protected. If the Rockets don’t make the playoffs, they keep their pick and instead will send a second round pick to Denver, a fact that has some Rockets fans already preferring the team miss the postseason.
As for Lawson, it will be interesting to see where he ends up from here — and if he can recapture his game.
The Detroit Pistons, after getting an extra 24 hours on the trade window to approve physicals, are set to void their deadline day trade with the Rockets, according to Yahoo! Sports. They did not like the condition of Donatas Motiejunas’s back and won’t approve his physical.
I know many fans love D-Mo — myself included — but this is not good news for the Rockets.
They lose out on the first round pick from Detroit, a valuable asset in either a trade or for adding a young player. They are now over the luxury tax. And the worst news? A team that was in love with Motiejunas (Detroit) determines that they don’t want him based on the physical. That likely means they saw long-term back issues.
The Rockets are not in a good spot here. They now bring back two players in D-Mo and Marcus Thornton that they actually traded while still trying to make things work with a handful of others that they tried to trade. Yes, many will draw comparisons to the 1994 trade, also with the Pistons, of Robert Horry and Matt Bullard for Sean Elliott that the Rockets later vetoed based on a physical, but keep in mind — back then, the Rockets were getting back the healthy players.
As for D-Mo, he will be back for the final 26 games with the Rockets then enter restricted free agency this summer.
David Weiner, aka BimaThug, joins the podcast to discuss Houston’s trade with the Detroit Pistons that sent D-Mo and Marcus Thornton north in exchange for a top-8 protected draft pick. We also discuss the moves they didn’t make and what lies ahead for the Rockets the rest of this season and the now critical 2016 offseason.
We’ve grown used to this with the Rockets — hyped trade deadlines that result in little to no movement.
That was the case Thursday as the NBA trade deadline arrived. The Rockets did make a move to trade Donatas Motiejunas to the Pistons, but the big trade didn’t happen. They were said to be shopping Dwight Howard but no trade materialized and he will stay in Houston for the rest of the season.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Milwaukee Bucks showed late interest but no trade came together.
It creates an interesting situation now as it appears Howard is clearly in a lame duck spot. He can (and is expected to) opt out this summer. The word is since the Rockets have balked at giving him the full max, he wants to go elsewhere. Rocket brass hasn’t exactly had a great relationship with his agent, Dan Fegan, so they do run the risk of losing him for nothing this offseason.
But one thing this trade deadline taught us is Dwight may have a tough time finding another team willing to give him the max.
The Rockets are 27-28, just outside of the playoff picture in the West. With just 27 games left in the season, they don’t have a lot of time to change the direction of this team.