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Houston Rockets Salary Cap Update: The Impact of Harden’s Deal

Now that we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the 2012-13 NBA season, let’s take a look at the team’s current salary cap situation.

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Now that we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the 2012-13 NBA season, let’s take a look at the team’s current salary cap situation.

The Rockets’ Latest Moves
Since my last update, the Rockets have made the following roster moves:

  • The Rockets traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks (those owed from Toronto in the Kyle Lowry trade and from Dallas in the Jordan Hill trade) and a second rounder (owed from Charlotte in the Courtney Lee sign-and-trade) to Oklahoma City in exchange for James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward.
  • The team trimmed the regular season roster down to the maximum of 15 by waiving Shaun Livingston, Gary Forbes, Hayward, JaJuan Johnson, Jon Brockman, Demetri McCamey and Kyle Fogg.
  • The fourth-year option on the contract of Patrick Patterson was exercised.
  • The third-year option on the contract of Marcus Morris was exercised.
  • The Rockets signed Harden to a five-year, maximum salary extension. More on that below.

The Harden Contract

James Harden's contract includes incentives that could impact the team's salary cap situation

Harden's contract includes incentives that could impact the team's salary cap situation

While most reports of Harden’s extension pegged it at $80 million (actually, $78.6 million), the figure is merely an estimate based on the salary cap for the 2012-13 season. However, since the starting salary of the extension is based on salary cap figures for the 2013-14 season, the actual amount of Harden’s salary will not be known until around July 10, 2013, when such figures will be determined. The starting salary of Harden’s extension will be approximately 25% of the 2013-14 maximum team salary cap (although that figure could increase to 30% in the unlikely event that Harden wins the NBA MVP award this season).

The fifth year of Harden’s extension is actually only 50% guaranteed, but it becomes fully guaranteed if Harden meets any one of several incentives that should be fairly easily attainable for him. Such incentives include making at least one All-Star team starting next season (so this season doesn’t count), playing a key role in the Rockets advancing to the second round of the playoffs, or meeting certain statistical marks (which are geared to avoid a ball-hogging situation in order to meet them).

By being signed to a five-year extension (as opposed to only four years), Harden has become the Rockets’ “Designated Player,” meaning that the Rockets may not sign any other player to a five-year contract extension for the length of Harden’s extension (through 2018). The Rockets may, however, acquire another team’s Designated Player via trade during that time. For instance, if the Rockets somehow traded for someone like DeMarcus Cousins in the next few months, they would be unable to offer Cousins the same type of extension they gave Harden; however, if Cousin were made Sacramento’s Designated Player and then traded to Houston later down the road (say, 2-3 seasons later), it would be permitted for the Rockets to have both Harden’s and Cousins’s contracts on the books at the same time.

Salary Commitments and Available Cap Room
(All salaries courtesy of ShamSports.com)

Barring any further roster moves, the Houston Rockets now have approximately $50.2 million in team salary for the 2012-13 season: Jeremy Lin ($8.37 million), Omer Asik ($8.37 million), Harden ($5.82 million), Cook ($3.09 million), Carlos Delfino ($3 million), Aldrich ($2.45 million), Patterson ($2.10 million), Toney Douglas ($2.07 million), Morris ($1.91 million), Royce White ($1.65 million), Forbes* ($1.5 million), Terrence Jones ($1.49 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($1.36 million), Hayward* ($1.17 million), Johnson* ($1.09 million), Livingston* ($1 million), Brockman* ($1 million), Chandler Parsons ($888,250), Greg Smith ($762,195, of which 50% is guaranteed), Machado ($473,604, of which 50% is guaranteed), and the cap hit from the Derek Fisher* buyout ($644,005; more on that here).

[* – indicates players no longer on Rockets’ roster. Also, ShamSports.com shows that the Rockets also owe E’Twaun Moore $381,098 (50% of his 2012-13 salary), supposedly the product of a renegotiation of his contract with Boston prior to the Courtney Lee sign-and-trade deal in which the Rockets acquired him. However, according to a source familiar with the Rockets’ salary cap situation, the Rockets have not paid Moore; hence, I am disregarding this salary for purposes of my own cap calculations. However, even if ShamSports.com is correct about Moore, the acquisition of the Charlotte Bobcats’ 2013 second round pick from Boston was well worth the small incremental loss of cap space, as it contributed to the acquisition of Harden.]

Based on this season’s maximum salary cap of $58.044 million, the Rockets have approximately $7.84 million in salary cap room entering the season (or about $7.46 million if they do, in fact, take a cap hit on Moore). For the record, the Harden trade actually increased the Rockets’ available cap room this season.

It will be very interesting to see what GM Daryl Morey does with that cap room, which allows him to take on that much more incoming salary in trades without regard for salary-matching rules. With only Cleveland, Houston and Phoenix possessing cap room of any significance, the Rockets may be a popular team this coming trade deadline as a landing spot for other teams’ bloated (but likely expiring) contracts, with Houston receiving some form of compensation (draft picks, cash, etc.) for its troubles. That will probably be only a backup plan for Morey, who more likely will attempt to use that cap room to acquire a star-level player via trade. With the Rockets slated to have even more significant cap room next summer (see below), don’t expect the Rockets to take on salary beyond this season unless it involves the Rockets acquiring a star-level talent in the process.

Interesting (Well, Not That Interesting) Fact
With the contracts of Lin and Asik structured so that they are only actually paid $5 million each this season despite their cap figures, the Rockets’ highest-salaried player this season is Harden at a relatively paltry $5.82 million. That appears to be the league’s lowest “team-high salary.”

The player being paid the second most money this season by the Rockets?

That’s Luis Scola, who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns but is still being paid approximately $5.26 million this season by the Rockets.

Summer of 2013
Based on the salary cap remaining at $58.044 million, barring any trades happening this season (yeah, fat chance) and assuming that Harden does not win the league MVP this season, the Houston Rockets will have approximately $45.8 million in team salary for the 2013-14 season: Harden ($13.67 million), Lin ($8.37 million), Asik ($8.37 million), Delfino ($3 million, non-guaranteed if waived by June 30, 2013), Patterson ($3.11 million), Morris ($1.99 million), White ($1.72 million), Jones ($1.55 million), Motiejunas ($1.42 million), Parsons ($926,500), Smith ($884,293, non-guaranteed) and Machado ($788,872, non-guaranteed). That amount could increase if the Rockets miss the playoffs and, thus, retain their first round pick.

If the Rockets make the playoffs this season, and if they simply waive Delfino, Smith and Machado, they could open up as much as $15.44 million in cap room without having to make any trades (although the team could still have as much as $14.75 million in cap room and still keep Smith and Machado). That would be nearly enough to offer most players a maximum salary contract. While not quite enough to offer the “super-max” to guys like Dwight Howard (eligible for a starting salary of $20.51 million) or Chris Paul (eligible for a starting salary of $18.69 million), other moves could be made to create the additional cap room if absolutely necessary.

Conclusion
The Houston Rockets finally have themselves a franchise player in Harden around whom to rebuild, but most true title contenders have more than one star player so there is still much work to be done by Morey and the Rockets’ front office. That said, with a roster filled with young talent (the youngest in the league) and plenty of cap flexibility, the Rockets are still well-positioned to make a move if/when another star becomes available, either prior to this February’s trade deadline, next summer or beyond.

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Houston Rockets

How a potential return of high schoolers to the NBA Draft impacts the Rockets

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2024 NBA Draft

So the opportunity for high school players to jump straight to the NBA is set to return.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA and Players Association are “expected to agree on moving the age eligibility for the NBA Draft from 19 years old to 18, clearing the way for the return of high school players who want to make the leap to the NBA.”

According to the report, the new age limit “would go into effect as early as the 2024 NBA Draft.”

How does this impact the Houston Rockets?

It’s tough to say right now, but looking strictly at Houston’s own picks, it doesn’t help. Granted it’s a sunk cost, but the Rockets still owe first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the ill-fated Chris Paul-for-Russell Westbrook trade in 2019. Houston owes picks in 2024 and 2026 to OKC — both are top-four protected. They also owe a top-10-protected first-round pick swap in 2025.

The first draft that sees these new rule changes — often referred to as the “double draft” — will be loaded as both the top high schoolers and top one-and-dones will likely make themselves eligible, theoretically creating an abnormally deep and stacked draft.

The Rockets, for their part, plan to make several changes in the summer of 2023 after (hopefully) adding another top pick in the Draft and leveraging their massive cap room. That’s when they will flip the switch and making winning the top priority. They do not want to send OKC a top draft pick in 2024, but if they fall just short of the play-in or playoffs, they will still send the Thunder a very good pick if it’s the double draft.

The good news: Brooklyn. The Nets owe first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and swaps in 2023, 2025 and 20276 to Houston — all unprotected. So for the Rockets to really benefit from the double draft, they need Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets to implode sooner rather than later.

A look at the picks the Rockets have over the next five years and ones they owe:

Houston Rockets Draft Picks Chart

Even though the year for the double draft is not set, the fact that it could be as soon as 2024 could make it tougher for the Rockets to acquire a 2024 pick for Eric Gordon, even if lottery-protected. Forced to guess, I think the best the Rockets will be able to do is net a 2023 lottery-protected pick from a strong team needing a boost at the deadline. Rockets GM Rafael Stone has held out for more so we will see what happens here.

All in all, the news today is mixed for the Rockets. It likely increases the value of a pick the Rockets already gave up to OKC, but it could make a pick they own from Brooklyn more valuable to use or trade. Look for the 2023 offseason to be when the Rockets really show their hand as they hope to make enough significant changes that they are catapulted into playoff contention.

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Houston Rockets Prospects Power Rankings – Volume 1

The Rockets are loaded with young prospects so let’s take a look at how they rank in order of importance to this team’s future

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Houston Rockets prospects

It’s hard to believe, but Houston Rockets training camp opens later this month and the 2022-23 NBA season is right around the corner. Like a highly-anticipated second season of a popular show, the Rockets present a surprisingly-large amount of storylines that could go in a number of directions.

The reason for that is simple: Houston, after using seven first-round picks in the last two drafts, is stocked with young talent. The upside, however, varies for each one. Here’s how I currently rank the Rocketss most valuable prospects for the future heading into camp.

12. Bruno Fernando

We don’t talk about Bruno.

11. Daishen Nix Daishen Nix Houston Rockets

I like Nix. I love what he’s doing in the G-League. I think he’s a solid point guard who is built like a tank. He has reshaped his body and clearly he’s putting in the work. He hit 30-76 (39.5%) from three in the G-League last year, which is a big improvement over his G-League Ignite season before the draft. But hitting less than 60% from the stripe for a guy who makes a living off of creating contact and getting to the line is a big issue. He’s got to make the leap from G-League dominator to Big-League contributor.

10. Usman Garuba

Garuba is capable of moving up the rankings quickly — if he’s healthy. The problem is he rarely was his rookie season, even missing Summer League in July. He’s representing Spain in EuroBasket, coming off the bench in a limited but important role. Garuba is smart and energetic, but I need his defense to shine, not just be solid. He will have every opportunity in camp to earn the backup center role. I admit I’m a little lower on him now than I was after the 2021 draft (where he was likely my favorite of the four picks, relative to position) but I still hold out hope he can be a valuable role player.

9. KJ Martin

We really don’t know what KJ Martin thinks, but we do know his father, former NBA star Kenyon Martin, wants his son out of Houston. In a way, I don’t blame him. Since the 2022 Draft, the writing is on the wall that his role could be reduced as the season goes on. Martin is a great cutter, unbelievable athlete and an improving shooter. His game is limited, however, and he will need to be playing off of great players to carve out a role as an energy athlete. Does that make him a trade candidate? Let’s see what the future holds here but my feeling is he won’t be a Rocket beyond this coming season.

8. TyTy Washington TyTy Washington Rockets

My hunch is that Washington ends up playing heavy minutes in the G-League. With KPJ starting and Nix in line ahead of TyTy for the backup role, meaningful minutes early in his rookie season are likely only to be found in the Valley. But I love what TyTy brings to the table — outside of consistent rim pressure, he can do a little bit of everything and has a good feel for the game. I expect him to be the backup, if not higher, by 2023-24. If he does go to RGV, we’ll be watching those games.

7. Josh Christopher

I try not to ever let Summer League performance impact my outlook on a prospect too much, but I confess I did just that with Jaygup. I thought he played very selfishly in Vegas when focusing on setting up his teammates would have gone a long way. He’s a tough dude with a legit NBA body for his position and has a scoring mentality. However, for a guy who drew Jrue Holiday projections from Rockets GM Rafael Stone, Christopher’s defense was fairly terrible in his rookie season. He’s got to get a better understanding of how to defend in schemes off the ball. He’s young and that part is fairly normal — that should come with time.

6. Jae’Sean Tate

I’m not sure the 26-year old Tate falls under the “prospect” category, but this is only his third season in the NBA and both the front office and coaching staff love him. Tate brings intangibles and is a valuable role player on just about any team. Can he develop a consistent three-point shot? He’s 31% from distance and that’s not going to consistently draw a defense and create space out there on the floor. This is a big thing holding him back. Given that he’s undersized, he has to improve there to unlock the next step.

5. Kevin Porter Jr.

This is the single most important season of KPJ’s career. I know it’s cliché but it’s very true in this case. We already know Porter Jr. is one of the better isolation scorers in the league and is tough for any one player to stop. We also know he showed improvement off the ball last season, hitting over 48% of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts. But for me, success for Scoot this season in Houston won’t hinge on his scoring ability but rather how he, as the starting point, gets the Jalens and the Jabaris and the Senguns involved and puts them in positions to succeed. With a contract extension (if not signed before the season) hanging in the balance, I can’t overstate how important this season is for him.

4. Alperen Sengun Alperen Sengun Turkey

Sengun’s so happy and so are we watching him play. The man is an old-school human highlight reel. He might be the funnest player to watch on this team and his passing just wows you on a consistent basis. With Christian Wood gone, the starting center position is all Alperen’s. It’s up to Stephen Silas to leverage his unique skills on offense and allow him to conduct the show in a secondary role at times. My big concern with Sengun — and it’s admittedly large — continues to be his defense. It’s not a lack of will but simply a lack of athleticism and measurables that really hold him back. He needs to improve there to separate himself as a true starting center rather than an offensive spark off the bench, but the offensive upside here is really high.

3. Tari Eason

Eason checks nearly every single box for me. He’s built like Kawhi with a strong frame, huge hands and a long wingspan. There’s tremendous potential here as a defender, but he’s also a two-way player: He can create, he has shown improvement shooting the ball and he gets to the line. There’s no liability on either end of the floor, which is why I rank him this high. The only real question is his understanding of the game. If he takes to learning schemes, understanding sets on both ends and playing within the structure of an offense, the ceiling is much higher than just a role player here.

2. Jabari Smith Jr. Jabari Smith Jr. Houston Rockets

Jabari struggled making shots in Summer League and, surprise, surprise — that’s all some needed to project him as a disappointment. Let them run with that. This is a 19-year old who might end up being 6-foot-11, can shoot lights out and plays the game with a rare passion on both ends of the floor. While “The Locksmith” is earning that nickname, his defensive impact seems to be felt way beyond just a single assignment. Finding his way offensively will take time, however. I could go on and on about how high I am on Jabari — give me every share you’re selling. In my book, he and Jalen Green are the only locked-in core pieces in Houston at the present moment.

1. Jalen Green

Green already has an elite skill. His first step and electrifying athleticism will make it almost impossible for defenders to hang with him. In theory, he can get his shot off anytime he wants. If it becomes truly efficient? Look out. We could seriously be talking about a generational scorer here. Where he has to improve is, however, is everywhere else: Defense (both on and off the ball), handles, strength, physicality, playmaking. If his work ethic is the real deal, and it appeared to be in his rookie season, he will improve in those areas. Franchise cornerstone potential.

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Rockets to add Willie Cauley-Stein

Rockets bring backup center into a crowded Houston roster to compete for minutes at the five

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Willie Cauley-Stein Houston Rockets

The Rockets are set to sign center Willie Cauley-Stein, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Cauley-Stein is expected to compete for the backup center minutes against the likes of Usman Garuba, Boban Marjanović and Bruno Fernando in training camp. Alperen Şengün all but has the starting center spot locked up.

A former high-lottery pick, Cauley-Stein was taken 6th overall by the perenially-dreadful Sacramento Kings in the 2015 NBA Draft. However, the seven-footer never met expectations placed on him after a strong freshman season at Kentucky. In 422 games over seven seasons, WCS is averaging 8.7 points, 5.9 boards and 0.8 blocks in 22 minutes a night.

It’s definitely not an earth-shattering move. Cauley-Stein was released by the Sixers last season in a move to create space to sign DeAndre Jordan, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But the Rockets need options that differ from the strengths/weaknesses of Sengun and WCS has potential as a rim-running big.

There is a current issue, however: The Rockets are already at the offseason maximum number of 20 players, so they will have to release someone before making the signing official. Marquese Chriss, Trey Burke and Sterling Brown all seem like potential candidates.

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Interviewing Rockets legend Mario Elie

ClutchFans interviews the Rockets great as he tells stories from behind the scenes of Houston’s 1994 and 1995 championship runs

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Mario Elie Houston Rockets

When I started ClutchFans in 1996, Mario Elie was a big reason why. His toughness and grit was a big attraction and I even wrote a regular piece called “Super Mario’s World” that jokingly pretended to be from The Junkyard Dawg’s point of view.

So it was pretty crazy to me to get the chance to be part of an interview of the Rockets legend on Thursday.

Mario joined Lachard Binkley, host of the ClutchFans Rocket Fuel podcast, and I to discuss his career, how he worked on his game overseas, his championship runs with the Rockets, where Hakeem Olajuwon stands among NBA greats, the matchup with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls as well as his thoughts on the current Rockets — as well as several other topics.

Mario didn’t pull any punches so it was a dream to get his insight on the championship Rockets. You can subscribe to Rocket Fuel on Apple and Spotify.

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ClutchFans Shop

New ClutchFans T-Shirt: “WE GOT NEXT”

Houston has paired Jalen and Jabari together and the future of basketball in Clutch City is bright

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Houston Rockets T-Shirt

We launched shop.clutchfans.net over a month ago and the response has been overwhelming. I want to say thank you to everyone who ordered a shirt and shows it off on social media. It’s been a lot of fun to see.

We want to continue to bring fun ideas from the Houston sports fan community to life on wearable gear and swag. On Wednesday, we dropped our first new shirt since the launch, dedicated to Houston’s new dynamic duo.

WE GOT NEXT:

Houston Rockets Shirt Houston Rockets Shirt Houston Rockets Shirt Houston Rockets Shirt

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