January 5, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update

Josh Smith Corey Brewer Houston Rockets

Back in October, I wrote that (a) the Houston Rockets had enough room to use the Jeremy Lin trade exception, possibly the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) and still use salary matching rules to take on additional salary and (b) the luxury tax would not be a significant deterrent for Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.

Well, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been busy following this very plan.
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Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Josh Smith agrees to sign with the Houston Rockets

Josh Smith Houston Rockets

It’s happening.

As first reported by Yahoo! Sports, Josh Smith will be a Houston Rocket. The 6-foot-9 forward was shockingly cut by the Detroit Pistons earlier this week and will clear waivers at 5:00pm Eastern Time today, paving the way for him to sign with the Rockets.

As discussed in the podcast on Monday, this seemed like it was going to happen based on the behind-the-scenes chatter at the Toyota Center. There were too many reasons for this marriage not to occur — Smith has history with the city of Houston and has wanted to be here in the past, he is close friends with Dwight Howard (his former AAU teammate) and the Rockets could extend to him their bi-annual exception (roughly $2.1 million), something other contenders could not offer.

There are several intriguing possibilities here with Smith. It’s a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for the team’s depth that could bolster the bigs rotation and put the Rockets in a better position to make another trade. As a result, it will be interesting to see how this impacts the future of either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas in Houston.

That’s not to say that Smith doesn’t have his flaws. Smith shot a career-low 39.1% from the field for the Pistons this season (just 24.3% from three-point range), and that’s on high volume (14.0 shots per game). His shot selection has been panned by fans and media for years. But the big hope is that he can make a real impact defensively and in transition — two of his strong suits historically. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, playing a lesser role next to the likes of James Harden and Howard could make the game easier for Smith.

But at this price, there’s not much to dislike here. If it doesn’t work out, Daryl Morey and company haven’t risked much at all in terms of cap or dollars.

Some highlights of Smith’s last season with the Pistons:

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

Podcast: On Corey Brewer’s Debut and the Looming Josh Smith Signing

Josh Smith Houston Rockets James Harden

MK Bower of CultureMap joins me on the podcast from the Toyota Center after Houston’s 110-95 win over the shorthanded Portland Blazers. We discuss the win, James Harden’s monster performance (44 points on 14-26 shooting), the Corey Brewer trade and his debut and the looming signing of free agent forward Josh Smith.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
December 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Rockets trade for Corey Brewer, Alexey Shved

corey-brewer-houston-rockets

The Rockets made good on their intention of pulling off a trade by December 19th, acquiring small forward Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves and guard Alexey Shved from the Philadelphia Sixers today. The deal was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

As part of the deal, the Rockets will send guard Troy Daniels along with a 2015 second round pick from Sacramento (via the Jason Terry trade), Houston’s 2016 second round pick (protected for picks 31-45) and cash. The Rockets also send their 2015 second round pick and the rights to Sergei Lishouk to Philly for absorbing Ronny Turiaf’s $1.5 million expiring deal. Houston uses part of the trade exception they created in the Jeremy Lin trade last summer to absorb Brewer’s contract.

To make room for Shved, the Rockets have released Francisco Garcia.

“A great situation, it’s going to be great,” Brewer told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “Playing with guys like Dwight Howard and James Harden, they’re in a playoff race. They have a good team. I think I can come in and help that. That they wanted to trade for me and think I can help, that means a lot.”

“I’ve got lots of room for more rings,” said Brewer, who won an NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. “Last time I went to Texas, it worked out. Make it 2-for-2 in Texas, the Texas Two-Step.”

At 6-foot-9, Brewer is a good defensive player that can cover both guards and small forwards. Despite playing only 28 minutes a game, Brewer is currently the league leader in steals at 2.3 a night. He can agitate and plays with a lot of energy, often gambling to steal passes in the lane.

So in Brewer, Houston adds a rotation piece at the wing spot. The Rockets (and their #2-ranked defense) needed to add some depth there as they have relied heavily on Trevor Ariza, who is playing a career-high 38.4 minutes a night — the second-most minutes of any player in the NBA this season, trailing only Jimmy Butler’s 39.8.

How Brewer will fit offensively, where his skills are a little more limited, is the better question. The ideal defensive role player for Houston would also have the ability to knock down the open three-point shot, but Brewer has no three-point range — he’s shooting 19% from distance this season and has hit just 29.1% from beyond the arc over his eight-year career. But he’s active on the offensive end. He is more of a slasher and often takes off in transition for easy layups. He is capable of a random big game, as we all remember his 51-point night against the Rockets last season.

The Rockets wanted to make a deal by December 19 so they could also be in a position to make a bigger deal down the line. By acquiring Brewer and Shved now, they will be eligible to be combined with other players in a trade in exactly 60 days — in other words, just before the NBA trade deadline in February.

Shved is not much of an offensive player, hitting just 36% from the field and 29% from three-point range for his career, but his $3.3 million expiring salary could later give the Rockets the flexibility to possibly keep a Jason Terry or Kostas Papanikolaou if a deal for a bigger contract does present itself at the deadline.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
November 25, 2014 at 10:49 am

Is James Harden leading the early MVP Race?

James Harden MVP

Despite being short-handed in nearly every game this year, the Houston Rockets are 11-3.

MK Bower of CultureMap joins me on the podcast from the Toyota Center after Houston’s 91-86 win over the New York Knicks. We discuss the win, the current state of the Rockets and how James Harden’s play is warranting serious MVP consideration.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
November 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Talking Rockets Depth Issues and Trade Possibilities with David Weiner

Houston Rockets podcast

The Rockets got off to blistering start but have cooled off considerably since returning from their game in Mexico, firing blanks from the outside and running into health issues with Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard missing games — and their schedule is about to get much tougher.

But the biggest thing that seems to be biting them right now is their lack of depth, particularly with their big man rotation.

David Weiner joins us on the podcast to discuss Houston’s bench depth issues, his recent article about the possible shift in cap strategy by the Rockets and potential trades to explore.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
November 21, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Shifting Perspectives on 2015-16 Salary Cap May Impact Rockets’ Immediate Plans

Houston Rockets Salary Cap Projections

Updated: November 24, 2014

Much has been made recently about the NBA’s new national television contracts and their massive impact on the NBA’s salary cap in future years.

This season’s maximum team salary cap is $63.065 million. Several months ago (before the new TV deal was signed), the league released a projected $66.5 million salary cap for the 2015-16 season. The new deal, which does not kick in until the 2016-17 season, could increase the salary cap that year to as high as $85-90 million!

In order to address what could be a problematic one-year spike in the salary cap, the league has proposed one or more proposals to the player’s union in order to “smooth” the salary cap increase over several seasons. This issue must be collectively bargained with the player’s union, so any failure to agree by those two sides would likely result in that one-year spike.

Changing Cap Projections

For several months (both before and after the size of the TV deals was known), many league executives have been preparing as if the 2015-16 salary cap would be artificially increased in order to reduce the year-to-year increase caused by the new TV revenues.

However, whether based on perceived resistance from the player’s union on the league’s “smoothing” proposals (one or more of which allegedly call for the salary cap to only increase at around the rate at which Basketball Related Income (BRI) has increased over the past several seasons) or on an inability for the league to come up with a “smoothing” proposal that objectively makes sense for all parties, things don’t seem to be looking very good for teams (like the Houston Rockets) hoping for a big jump in the salary cap for the 2015-16 season.

Zach Lowe, Grantland’s lead NBA writer (and, in my opinion, the best national NBA writer in the business), wrote in a November 5 article about the increasing likelihood that the new TV deal would not lead to an increase in the salary cap for next season:

“No one knows what will happen to the cap in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the first year of the league’s mammoth new national TV contract, but the league’s most recent projections for 2015-16 remain in the range of $66 million to $68 million, per several league sources. It appears unlikely the league bakes any of the anticipated TV money into the cap figure a year early, meaning the 2015-16 cap will sit right around where the NBA had projected it.”

In a subsequent piece from November 17, Lowe reiterated this assumption:

“There is some opportunity cost in forfeited cap space this summer, assuming that the 2015-16 cap sticks around the projected $66 million–to–$68 million range. That is what almost all team executives anticipate now.”

Potential Impact on Rockets’ Plans

The Rockets currently have about $55.9 million in guaranteed salary committed for next season (not including cap holds, incomplete roster charges and other cap considerations). However, with a beefed-up 2015-16 salary cap that includes some early incorporation of new TV money, Houston would be in position–with only a couple of minor trades–to create enough cap space to either offer a max (or at least near-max) contract to a major free agent or be able to trade for almost any player under contract (perhaps dangling that New Orleans pick on or after draft night as bait).

Unfortunately, if the cap stays at the currently-projected $66.5 million, things do not look nearly as rosy for the Rockets in 2015 free agency.

Assuming that the Rockets waive all non-guaranteed salary for next season (namely, Kostas Papanikolaou and Tarik Black), renounce their rights to Jason Terry and Francisco Garcia, keep Patrick Beverley‘s cap hold on the books (which cap hold assumes that Beverley meets the “starter criteria” enabling him to get a higher qualifying offer from Houston) and otherwise do not make any trades (I know, unlikely, but still), Houston would be in line to have less than $7.2 million in cap room next summer.

That’s a nice amount of cap room, but it’s not enough to add that third star that Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been after since landing Dwight Howard in July 2013. The Rockets would need to clear out Trevor Ariza‘s salary (taking little to no salary back) to even approach the type of room they could create if a “smoothing” proposal were adopted. While Ariza is by no means completely “off-limits” in trade, he is an integral part of the team Houston is trying to build and is an ideal fit starting next to James Harden.

This relatively recent shift in perspective by many league executives on the projected 2015-16 salary cap may be a large factor in the Rockets’ apparent willingness to trade for Corey Brewer, whose contract includes a $4.9 million player option for next season. It could also be a reason why Houston might be trying to exert additional pressure on other teams to cough up a star (or near-star) player sooner rather than later (see Dragic, Goran).

Conclusion

Whether Morey is among those league executives starting to lose hope that a “smoothing” proposal can be swept through league and player’s union approval in time for next summer’s free agency/trade season is anyone’s guess. But if he is, then this shift could ultimately be the deciding factor in whether the Rockets choose to bite the bullet and make potentially cap-clogging moves in the next few months.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
November 20, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Terrence Jones appears unlikely to be ready anytime soon

Terrence Jones

The initially not-serious leg injury to Terrence Jones continues to grow more mysterious by the day, with the forward’s absence now at eight games — over two weeks of real time — and counting.

Consider the timeline:

Nov. 3: Jones plays 30 minutes in a 104-93 win in Philadelphia but at much below his usual efficiency, scoring 6 points (3-of-11 FG) and grabbing 4 rebounds. Two nights earlier, Jones led the Rockets with 25 points (10-of-16 FG) and 10 rebounds in a home win over Boston.

Nov. 4: An hour before the Rockets play in Miami, the team lists Jones as out with a “bruised right leg”. Houston Chronicle beat writer Jonathan Feigen hears the injury “does not seem serious”.

Nov. 7: The Rockets update the official listing of the injury to a “Peroneal nerve contusion”, saying Jones will be out one week (same as Patrick Beverley, who was nursing a hamstring strain) and then reevaluated. This remains the last official Jones medical update from the team with a timetable.

Nov. 14: After said week, Kevin McHale says Beverley will be back “much sooner” than Jones. Beverley did, in fact, return for the next game (Nov. 16).

Nov. 17: Play-by-play announcer Bill Worrell says on the Rockets-Grizzlies telecast that the Rockets are “maybe a month or so away” from getting Jones back. If that timeline ends up accurate, meaning Jones returns Dec. 17 — his absence would be 19 games, or nearly 25% of the season.

Nov. 19: Houston’s PR team says a timetable on Jones hasn’t been set and that’s he’s being monitored regularly.

Nov. 20: In an interview with SportsTalk 790, GM Daryl Morey is asked for an update on Jones. His response, transcribed by ClutchFans user J.R.:

It’s a tough one. It came on quick, unexpected. They don’t know what triggered it. The nerve is not signaling his foot well but it’s coming back. It could come back as quick as it went. It’s longer rather than shorter. It’s gonna be awhile is what their best guess is. … They thought it could be caused by getting hit in the leg in a certain spot. The doctors are confident he’ll have a full recovery but don’t know when. If he was you or I, this would not be a big deal. He has full movement but just weaker now. Getting back to being a NBA player, that’s a much bigger difference.”

So in two-and-a-half weeks, this has progressed from “does not seem serious” to still “gonna be awhile”. Considering they’re also challenged up front by a minor knee injury to Dwight Howard and sub-standard play from Jones’ replacement Donatas Motiejunas (5.4 points on 36.7% FG, 5.1 rebounds, PER of 8.1), it’s certainly not welcome news for an already thin group of Rockets’ bigs.

From what I can tell, Morey’s comments look on point. Jones has been seen walking around Toyota Center without a noticeable limp. The issue, of course, is that he’s been in suits rather than basketball gear. His routine walking movement seems fine, but the nerve injury appears to have shut Jones down from any sort of strenuous physical activity.

As a result, the longer this goes on, the trickier it gets. Not only will Jones have to rehabilitate the leg, but he’ll also face a major challenge in regaining the peak conditioning that it typically takes players an entire training camp and preseason to attain. There’s also the issue of Jones’ game being extremely dependent on his speed and athleticism. Naturally, because of all the variables in play, a precise timetable for his return to play is becoming rather difficult.

I reached out to Will Carroll, lead writer for sports medicine at Bleacher Report, to see if he could recall any comparable injuries whose recoveries could serve as a template. Carroll referenced Carson Palmer, the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals (though he’s now out for the season with a torn ACL, a different injury), as a possible analog. Though the nerve injury to Palmer was to his arm rather than his leg, the functionality of the throwing arm for an NFL quarterback would carry similar importance. Palmer, who suffered the injury on Sept. 8, was able to return on Oct. 12.

Summary: The reason no one knows a timetable is because even the Rockets themselves don’t know. The situation remainds fluid. What is clear, though, is this: the longer we go without hearing word of Jones resuming physical activity, the more concerning the situation becomes. It’s a real shame for Jones, who in his third year was off to a very encouraging start (14 points on 52% FG, 7.5 rebounds, 19.4 PER in 29 minutes) as the Rockets’ starter on the front line next to Howard.

In the meantime, starting Saturday, the 9-3 Rockets play five games in eight nights. With some luck, it seems Howard could help out that difficult stretch by returning early next week.

Jones, however, appears much further away, with no resolution on the horizon.

Posted in Houston Rockets |