The Rockets will exercise their team option to keep Kostas Papanikolaou under contract for next season, sources tell Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia. Still, Papanikolaou’s salary of nearly $4.798MM wouldn’t become guaranteed until October 4th, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders first revealed, even if Houston indeed picks up its team option by the deadline to do so later this month. That deadline is June 29th, unless the sides negotiated an earlier date.
Thus, the move to keep him under contract for now comes as no surprise, as declining the option wouldn’t give the Rockets much more benefit than they could otherwise reap. The Rockets would have Non-Bird rights to re-sign him if they declined the option and could make him a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of close to $6MM, but that qualifying offer would entail guaranteed salary. Even if the Rockets didn’t extend a qualifying offer, his cap hold would be more than $5.757MM unless they renounced his rights. In short, picking up the option would give the Rockets the most flexibility possible while still allowing them to have the final say on whether Papanikolaou plays for them next season.
Carchia suggests a trade is a possibility, and indeed, a non-guaranteed salary as large as Papanikolaou’s represents a useful trade chip for salary matching purposes, particularly if Rockets GM Daryl Morey does business with a team that wants to clear cap room. Houston made a lucrative bet on the Greek forward last summer, and while he cracked the rotation in the first half of the season, the acquisition of Josh Smith cut off most of his playing time, as Carchia points out. Papanikolaou averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game before Smith joined the team and 2.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG and just 12.1 MPG in 21 appearances afterward.