Kevin McHale made it clear this week that the Rockets want to sign draft-and-stash point guard Sergio Llull this summer, as the coach expressed to host Charlie Pallilo in an appearance on SportsTalk 790 in Houston (audio link), and as Max Croes of SB Nation’s The Dream Shake blog transcribes. McHale said that the Rockets “would love to bring over” the point guard who plays for Real Madrid of Spain, adding that “signing a Sergio Llull would be huge.”
Rockets GM Daryl Morey denied a report that the team was willing to give Llull a deal worth at least $17MM over three years, terms similar to what fellow draft-and-stash prospect Nikola Mirotic received from the Bulls last summer. Such a deal would be difficult for the Rockets to pull off if they elect to remain over the cap and retain Patrick Beverley and Josh Smith. Houston would like to keep both, but while the Rockets have full Bird Rights with Beverley, they only have Non-Bird rights with Smith, so it’s quite possible they’ll have to use the mid-level exception to keep him. That would remove any opportunity for the Rockets to sign Llull for more than the minimum if Houston indeed elects to operate above the cap,
Of course, it’s not a given that the Rockets won’t clear cap room, with about $55MM in guaranteed salary against a projected $67.1MM cap and Morey’s history of salary-clearing deals, as I wrote in my look at the offseason ahead for Houston. Croes suggests that Houston’s apparent desire for Llull is an ominous sign for Kostas Papanikolaou, on whom the Rockets have a team option worth nearly $4.8MM for next season. Still, even if Houston picks up that option, his salary wouldn’t be guaranteed until October 4th.
It’s unclear exactly what it would take for Houston to convince Llull to come stateside, though Llull didn’t seem too excited about the NBA when he said recently that the best place for him to win titles was with Real Madrid. David Pick of Eurobasket.com cast doubt a month ago on the idea of Llull leaving Europe, believing that the 27-year-old, who’ll turn 28 in November, wouldn’t be enthusiastic about coming over in a backup role. Llull is averaging 10.7 points, 4.3 assists and 0.9 turnovers in 25.8 minutes per game this season.