Offseason Outlook: Houston Rockets

Guaranteed Contracts


Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Draft Picks

  • 2nd Round (34th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $39,338,5221
  • Options: $6,400,000
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $9,180,830
  • Cap Holds: $884,293
  • Total: $55,803,6451

Before the Rockets pulled off the most shocking move of the 2012 offseason, acquiring James Harden from the Thunder just a few nights before the regular season got underway, many pundits were picking them to be among the league's worst teams, down there with the Bobcats and Magic. Even after the trade, it was expected to be a transition year in Houston, with another big move still needed to make the team a real contender.

The Rockets came together much quicker than expected, however, and that was in large part due to the moves made by GM Daryl Morey last summer. In addition to landing Harden, who blossomed into one of the league's elite scorers, Morey signed Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to big-money offer sheets. Both signings were at least questioned, if not outright panned, at the time, but Lin and Asik didn't disappoint. And at about $8.37MM each per year, both players are affordable core pieces or trade chips, as Morey enters this offseason in search of that second star to pair with Harden.

Looking at the Rockets' current cap situation, a couple items of note immediately jump off the page. First, the team somehow heads into this summer with technically no expiring contracts on its books. Sure, Francisco Garcia's contract is essentially expiring, since his $6.4MM option won't be exercised, and not all of the team's non-guaranteed players will be retained. But with no player options or unrestricted free agents to be found, Morey has given the club the opportunity to bring back any and/or all of its players next season, which is extraordinary in today's NBA. Houston's tendency to sign contracts that included a season or two of non-guaranteed control is what allows the team to retain hidden gems like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley at bargain-basement prices.

The second item of note relating to the Rockets' cap? They should be able to afford a maximum-salary player this summer. Depending on where next year's salary cap settles, the team may need to make an extra move or two to clear the necessary space to make a max offer to, for instance, Dwight Howard. But Houston has virtually no toxic assets, meaning small moves like that should be simple. If the club needed to move, say, Donatas Motiejunas' modest salary to clear space for a max offer for Howard, teams would be lining up to acquire a young player like Motiejunas, who is on an inexpensive contract for the next three seasons.

In the past, we've seen the Rockets take advantage of their room under the cap to facilitate trades. Their cap flexibility allowed them to bail the Thunder out of long-term tax issues in the Harden deal, and Houston's ability to take on salary made the team an ideal trading partner for Sacramento when the Kings moved Thomas Robinson this past season. Robinson was the prize in the deal for the Rockets, but they wouldn't have been able to land him had they not been willing to take on Garcia's contract as well.

So based on their history, we shouldn't rule out the possibility that the Rockets elect to use their 2013 cap space to make another trade or two. But if the team is going to land a star, free agency looks like its best bet. Although the Rockets still have plenty of young talent on the roster that could be expendable in the right deal, most of the draft assets the team had acculumated have been used in other deals. For example, Houston essentially sent Oklahoma City four draft picks in the Harden deal — 2012's 12th overall pick (Jeremy Lamb), Toronto's 2013 first-rounder, a future Mavericks' first-rounder, and Charlotte's 2013 second-rounder. Now that they're no longer holding all those picks, the Rockets only have a couple extra second-rounders in hand, and don't have their first-rounder in 2013, making it more difficult to pull off a blockbuster.

Still, having fewer trade chips shouldn't be a problem if Houston can land the right player in free agency. Howard obviously represents the top priority, but I wonder if the Rockets would be happy to land someone in the second tier — perhaps a player like Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, or Al Jefferson. Those players will be expensive and they don't exactly qualify as superstars, so maybe Morey would be reluctant to settle for one of them rather than landing a bigger fish.

After turning what initially looked like a lottery team into a playoff club that nearly took the Thunder to seven games, Morey is facing the next step of the rebuilding process this offseason. By essentially giving himself 2013/14 options on half the roster, he could go in any number of directions, whether or not the Rockets are able to land a second star. At this point, the GM has earned the benefit of the doubt in Houston, and it will be fascinating to see what he has up his sleeve to keep improving his team this summer.

Additional notes:

  • Before next season begins, the Rockets will have to decide whether or not to exercise Royce White's third-year option, worth $1,793,520. That's a small price to pay if they feel like White can still reach his potential, but after a lost rookie season, it certainly isn't a given.
  • Many of the Rockets' non-guaranteed players' futures will likely depend on whether or not the team needs that space to pursue a max contract. Carlos Delfino is a nice value at $3MM, but if he gets in the way of that max space, he could be cut loose.
  • A decision on Delfino is due by June 30th, but the team won't have to decide on many of its other non-guaranteed players until a little later.

Cap footnotes:

  1. The exact figure of Harden's maximum salary has yet to be determined, so these amounts will likely be a little higher than listed.
  2. Honeycutt was waived this past season, but his contract included a $100K guarantee for 2013/14.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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