Eric Gordon

Rockets Expected To Pursue Jimmy Butler

The Rockets came up short in their pursuit of Jimmy Butler during the 2018/19 season when the standout forward was on the trade block, despite reportedly offering a package that featured four first-round picks. With Butler on track to reach free agency this summer, the Rockets are expected to once again aggressively go after the 29-year-old, according to Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter links), who reports that Butler’s name will be atop Houston’s offseason wish list.

As Smith explains, the Rockets consider Butler an ideal fit on both ends of the court, viewing him as a piece that could push the team over the hump in the Western Conference. Per Smith, Houston’s ideal scenario would be to add Butler to its James Harden/Chris Paul pairing, despite rumors of significant discord between the two guards.

Smith’s report lines up with recent comments made by general manager Daryl Morey, who talked about the possibility of adding a third star to the Rockets’ roster this offseason.

Although the Rockets would love to add Butler and the Houston native may have interest in joining his hometown team, the club’s salary cap situation will make it difficult — especially since Butler has talked about expecting to sign a maximum-salary contract, which would start at about $32.7MM.

There’s no realistic way for the Rockets to create the cap room necessary to sign Butler to anything close to the max, so that’s likely not an option. That leaves two other potential pathways — a sign-and-trade or an opt-in-and-trade.

A sign-and-trade would require the Sixers to be on board, which means the Rockets would have to send some appealing assets Philadelphia’s way, including perhaps shooting guard Eric Gordon. Even then, salary-matching would be difficult and might require a third team. Houston would also be hard-capped in that scenario, significantly limiting the club’s flexibility.

[RELATED: Why NBA Sign-And-Trades Are Rare]

If Butler were to exercise his $19.84MM player option for 2019/20 instead of opting out as planned, it’d create a much cleaner path to a deal. The two teams could then negotiate a straight trade, like the Rockets and Clippers did two years ago when Paul wanted to play in Houston, though as with a sign-and-trade, the Sixers would have to sign off.

Additionally, Butler would presumably be reluctant to give up a longer-term, maximum-salary deal this summer unless he has assurances that such a deal would be waiting for him from the Rockets in 2020. That’s essentially what happened with Paul in 2017 — his payday was delayed until 2018, but there was never any doubt Houston would give it to him.

Of course, owner Tilman Fertitta has reportedly complained since day one about the team’s long-term investment in CP3, so it’s not clear if the club would be willing to make a similar wink-and-nod commitment to Butler.

The idea of the Rockets acquiring Butler still looks like a long shot at this point, but Morey has creatively completed deals in the past, and will certainly explore every avenue he can to do so again this time around.

Rockets Plan To Keep Spending, Add Another Top Player

The Rockets are planning to keep their starting five intact and will attempt to “add a third star or a top mid-level player to our core,” GM Daryl Morey said in an ESPN Radio interview on Monday.

Reports surfaced late last month after the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors during the conference semifinals that Morey had made available everyone on his roster with the possible exception of James Harden. Morey declared on the Golic & Wingo show that he plans to keep the core group of Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon intact while adding another impact player to the mix.

Morey says he’s been given the green light from owner Tilman Fertitta to upgrade the roster, despite major luxury tax issues. The salaries next season for the above five players alone add up to approximately $115MM.

He also believes that with significant injuries to Warriors’ stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and despite the pending trade of Anthony Davis to the Lakers, the Rockets should be considered the Western Conference’s premier team.

“We feel like we should be the favorite in the West, and we’re going to do moves to show people that we should be the favorite in the West, and that’s going to create a little tension when we do that,” Morey said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to have at least our starting five back, which again most teams are scrambling to keep it together and we’re going to spend mid-level, we’re going to spend into the tax. We’re going to be one of the most expensive rosters, like we were last year and this year, and we’re going to be right there.”

Morey also addressed a few other issues:

  • He downplayed any disconnect between his superstar guards. An in-depth story from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon detailed the turmoil within the organization, including the tension between their two best players due to the differences in their preferred playing styles and personalities. “Two competitive superstars at that level, there’s going to be times when they are extremely competitive, extremely focused on how do we get to that next level, and when we don’t there’s going to be frustration,” Morey said.
  • He expressed optimism that the organization will reach a contract extension agreement with coach Mike D’Antoni, who is entering the final year of his deal. D’Antoni’s agent indicated a week ago that there was a lack of progress. “He’s going to be our coach next year. We’re hoping to work things out for the future right now; if we don’t, we’re going to work it out after next season,” Morey said.
  • He insisted that Paul had not asked for a trade, though his contract would be tough to move anyway. Paul has three years and approximately $124MM remaining on his deal, which includes a player option in the final season.

Team USA Announces 20-Player Camp Roster For World Cup

USA Basketball has officially announced the group of 20 players that will participate in training camp this summer in advance of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. The camp will take place from August 5-9, and will be used to select the 12-man roster for this year’s World Cup in China.

The 20-man training camp roster is as follows:

  1. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  2. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  3. Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
  4. Andre Drummond (Pistons)
  5. Eric Gordon (Rockets)
  6. James Harden (Rockets)
  7. Tobias Harris (Sixers / FA)
  8. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  9. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
  10. Brook Lopez (Bucks / FA)
  11. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  12. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  13. CJ McCollum (Trail Blazers)
  14. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  15. Paul Millsap (Nuggets)
  16. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  17. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  18. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  19. P.J. Tucker (Rockets)
  20. Kemba Walker (Hornets / FA)

“I am excited about getting to training camp in August and working with all of the players that have been selected to attend the USA National Team training camp in Las Vegas,” Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement. “We’ve got an excellent cross-section of veteran USA Basketball and NBA players, as well as some exciting younger players who possess amazing versatility.

“I’m appreciative of commitment that our National Team players continue to make, and the eagerness of the new players to become involved,” Popovich continued. “Selecting a 12-man team will be extremely difficult.”

It will be an eventful summer for many of the players on the 20-man Team USA training camp roster. Besides Harris, Lopez, and Walker, who are all headed for unrestricted free agency and could be on new teams by August, players like Barnes, Middleton, and Millsap could reach the open market if their player or team options are declined. Others – including Davis, Gordon, Kuzma, Tatum, and Tucker – have been mentioned in trade rumors.

Kuzma and Mitchell are the only players on the roster who haven’t played internationally for Team USA in the past. Five player on the roster (Barnes, Davis, Harden, Love, and Lowry) have won gold medals for USA Basketball at the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, while two others (Drummond and Gordon) have taken home gold at previous World Cups.

Previous reports indicated that Zion Williamson, John Collins, and Marvin Bagley are expected to be among the players named to a 10-man select team that will scrimmage with Team USA’s 20-man roster at the training camp in August.

More Names Revealed For Team USA World Cup Tryouts

Team USA’s training camp roster for the FIBA World Cup will be announced next week, but four players have already been confirmed, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Anthony Davis, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker will definitely be part of the team, while the other 14 slots are still being worked out. The roster will be trimmed to 12 when the players gather in Las Vegas in early August to prepare for the tournament, which takes place from August 31 to September 15 in China.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski drops a few more names in a full story on the World Cup tryouts, which sources tell him are also expected to include Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love. Others planning to be part of the camp include Eric Gordon, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond and Kyle Kuzma.

P.J. Tucker will attend training camp as well, tweets ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, and league sources tell Woj that Paul Millsap also plans to be there. Other names leaked for the camp are Tobias Harris (Twitter link from Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer) and Myles Turner (Twitter link from Scott Agness of the Athletic).

Zion Williamson, expected to be the first pick in the draft later this month, has been invited to camp as part of the 10-man select team that will scrimmage against the 18-man roster, Stein tweets. Williamson will be given a chance to play his way onto the final roster if he has a standout performance in that role, according to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo (Twitter link).

The select team will also include John Collins and Marvin Bagley, tweets Tim Bomtemps of ESPN.

The camp will be held from August 5-8, with exhibition games to follow before the start of World Cup play. Gregg Popovich will serve as head coach.

P.J. Tucker Interested In Contract Extension

P.J. Tucker would “love” to discuss a contract extension with the Rockets this offseason, two people close to the veteran forward tell Kelly Iko of The Athletic. While it’s not clear if the Rockets are ready to get something done with two years still remaining on Tucker’s deal, both sides have talked about his long-term future, Iko writes.

As we detailed earlier today, Tucker appears to be very much available in trade talks, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll even be in Houston by the time the 2019/20 season gets underway. However, Iko says the Rockets would like to have Tucker retire with the team and perhaps even take on a role with the franchise after his playing days are over. A Tucker trade would elicit “strong disapproval” from James Harden and head coach Mike D’Antoni, Iko adds.

Although Tucker turned 34 years old last month, he continued to play a crucial role for the Rockets in 2018/19, starting all 82 games for the club and averaging 38.7 MPG in 11 playoff contests. His ability to knock down threes on offense (.377 3PT%), along with his versatility on the defensive end, makes him one of the club’s most valuable players.

He’s also on a team-friendly contract that runs through the 2020/21 season. That deal will pay him $8.35MM in 2019/20 before dipping to $7.97MM in its final year. That ’20/21 salary is also only partially guaranteed for about $2.57MM, per Basketball Insiders’ data.

While it’s hard to imagine the Rockets tacking too many more years onto Tucker’s contract (assuming they retain him), extending his deal by one or two seasons and guaranteeing his ’20/21 salary could make sense. The over-38 rule would complicate an extension longer than two years.

Eric Gordon will be another candidate for an extension if he remains on the Rockets’ roster, Iko notes. Gordon and Tucker will both become extension-eligible in July.

Stein’s Latest: Capela, Gordon, Tucker, Lakers, Wolves, Grizzlies

When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Rockets were making virtually everyone on their roster besides James Harden available in trade talks, it was presented as general manager Daryl Morey doing his due diligence and being open to all options. Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta later praised Houston’s starting five and predicted it would return intact next season.

In his latest newsletter, however, Marc Stein of The New York Times paints a different picture. According to Stein, the Rockets are “actively” exploring the trade market for possible deals involving Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and/or P.J. Tucker. One source with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Stein that Houston is operating as if at least one of those three players won’t be on the roster next season.

Gordon, who has one year and $14MM left on his contract, and Tucker, who has about $16MM+ left over two years, may be easier for the Rockets to move than Capela, since they’re veterans capable of fitting in anywhere and wouldn’t require a long-term salary commitment. However, Capela’s four years of team control may appeal to a club that’s looking for an answer at center and hoping to avoid overpaying a free agent.

As we wait to see what Morey has up his sleeve, here are a few more minor items from Stein:

  • While the amount of years and money the Lakers were willing to offer Tyronn Lue contributed to negotiations breaking down, a disagreement over his staff was also a factor. According to Stein, general manager Rob Pelinka and advisor Kurt Rambis wanted to be able to select Lue’s assistants.
  • The Timberwolves are taking a similar approach under new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, according to Stein, who notes that Rosas brought back Ryan Saunders but dismissed his entire staff. Stein writes that Saunders wanted to hire Sidney Lowe as his lead assistant, but was rebuffed by management.
  • The Grizzlies, the only team still seeking a new head coach, are believed to be considering a new bench model. Memphis wants to have at least one of its assistant coaches hold a dual title that includes some personnel responsibilities, says Stein.

Rockets Notes: Gordon, Lue, MLE, Offseason

A pair of reports on Wednesday indicated that the Rockets are open to the idea of shaking up their roster this summer. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that general manager Daryl Morey is aggressively scouring the market for potential upgrades and is open to trading just about any draft pick or any player not named James Harden, including Chris Paul. Marc Stein of The New York Times followed up on that story by adding that Houston has specifically gauged Clint Capela‘s trade value.

Today, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders continues to flesh out the story, tweeting that Eric Gordon is also among the players being made available by the Rockets in trade talks. According to Kyler, Houston is looking to “change up the locker room” and may be looking to add a lottery pick. Kyler has heard teams like the Celtics, Hornets, Magic, and Mavericks linked to the Rockets as potential trade partners.

Assuming the Warriors win another title, the Rockets could convince themselves for the second straight year that they were the NBA’s second-best team, and there’s no telling whether Golden State will bring back the same roster next year. That’s an argument in favor of not doing anything too drastic this offseason. Still, Morey has long been one of the NBA’s most aggressive executives when it comes to finding upgrades and avoiding complacency, so if he can find a way to extend the Rockets’ window of contention, the team has to seriously consider it.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • In his latest mailbag, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle takes an extended look at the shakeup on the Rockets’ coaching staff, writing that the changes stemmed from the fact that Morey “decided the Rockets could do better.” Within that same article, Feigen pushes back on a report linking Tyronn Lue to Houston. According to Feigen, the Rockets had interest in Lue last October, but didn’t make him an offer then and haven’t shown any interest in him since the season ended.
  • According to Feigen, the Rockets are preparing as if they’ll have the taxpayer mid-level exception available, rather than the full mid-level exception. Unlike last season, when Houston spread its MLE around among multiple players, the club would rather try to use its 2019/20 MLE on a player who could be considered a “significant addition,” filling out the rest of the roster with minimum-salary players or trade acquisitions, Feigen writes.
  • In case it wasn’t clear from Wednesday’s reports – or from owner Tilman Fertitta‘s previous comments about doing anything possible to improve the team – Feigen cites a source with knowledge of the Rockets’ plans who suggested this week that the club is open to making major changes to upgrade its roster. “‘Run it back’ is not what (the Rockets) do,” that source said.
  • Fertitta reiterated that message this week as well, per Feigen: “Wherever we can improve coaching or players, let’s do it. But let’s not change to change. We have to know we can improve in that position whether it’s a coach, film guy or a trainer.”

Rockets Gauge Market For Capela; CP3 Also Potentially Available

After a disappointing second-round exit to the Warriors in this year’s playoffs, general manager Daryl Morey and the Rockets are showing an aggressive desire to upgrade their roster in calls to front offices, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

According to Wojnarowski, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where James Harden gets traded, but the Rockets are making virtually all of their players and picks available in discussions. Even someone like Chris Paul could be moved in the right deal, Woj adds.

Meanwhile, Marc Stein of The New York Times reports (via Twitter) that Clint Capela is among the players whose market value the Rockets have been gauging in recent days.

While the Rockets would be reluctant to move someone like Paul, who has been a key contributor to their success over the last two years, it’s not clear how much value he’d even have on the trade market. The veteran point guard’s numbers slipped a little in 2018/19 (his 15.6 PPG and .419 FG% were career lows), he’s entering his age-34 season, and he’s owed $124MM over the next three years.

Capela’s career résumé isn’t as decorated as Paul’s, but he may be the more valuable asset at this point due to a more team-friendly contract. Having missed out on some incentives that were considered likely this season, Capela has a cap hit below $15MM in 2019/20, and is under contract through 2022/23, his age-28 season.

Outside of Harden, Paul, and Capela, the only two Rockets players with guaranteed contracts for 2019/20 are Eric Gordon ($14MM) and P.J. Tucker ($8.35MM), both of whom are good values. Nene may also pick up his $3.8MM player option, while Isaiah Hartenstein, Gary Clark, Chris Chiozza, and Michael Frazier all have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed minimum-salary deals.

Of course, the Rockets have never been shy about making their draft picks available in trade talks. The club reportedly offered the Timberwolves four future first-rounders last fall for Jimmy Butler, but Minnesota passed on that offer.

Even if Houston doesn’t make any huge moves this offseason, the roster figures to undergo a good deal of change. Rotation players like Iman Shumpert, Gerald Green, Austin Rivers, and Kenneth Faried will all be unrestricted free agents, while Danuel House is up for a new contract via restricted free agency.

Rockets Rumors: D’Antoni, Luxury Tax, Gordon

After promising in the wake of the Rockets‘ elimination from the postseason last weekend to upgrade the team’s roster this summer, owner Tilman Fertitta addressed the upcoming offseason more extensively in a conversation with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle this week.

Before digging into Houston’s roster or offseason plans, Fertitta made it clear that Mike D’Antoni will return for the 2019/20 season, which will represent the last year of his four-year contract with the club. Typically, an NBA team will sign its head coach to an extension rather than let him enter the final year of his deal as a “lame duck.” Fertitta tells Feigen that while he’s not beholden to that concept, he’s certainly not opposed to the idea and plans to meet with D’Antoni in the coming weeks.

“He’s not a lame duck to me. That’s just a media term. That’s just a media buzzword,” Fertitta said. “Mike is going to be 69 years old (next May) and Mike doesn’t know totally what he wants to do, yet. We’ll sit down with Mike in the next few weeks and talk with him.

“We’re more concerned with making our team better next year. Mike will be here. I like Mike. I think he’s a very good coach. Players like playing for him. I keep being told, free agents want to know who the owner is and they want to know who the coach is. Mike and I do well together. Hopefully, we’ll continue to win and Mike will be here for a long time.”

Here’s more from Fertitta on the Rockets:

  • While Fertitta indicates that he’d welcome back the Rockets’ starting lineup, he’s also open to a more “dramatic retooling” and likely won’t enter the offseason with a run-it-back mentality, writes Feigen. “I’ve directed my people to get better next year — anything we can do, from ownership to conditioning and training, all the way to that level,” Fertitta said. “If we can make our team better player-wise, we’re going to make our team better. If we can make our team better coaching-wise, we’ll make our team better.”
  • Fertitta made it clear that he has high expectations for the franchise: “We’re here to win. We’re not here to be just OK and make it to the playoffs. We’re going to do whatever it takes to be a championship style team every year. I will make moves to always extend our runway. I’m not a rebuilding guy to go collapse for three years to get draft picks. I want to keep us at as high a level as we can. I have a good management team. We’re in the City of Houston, which is soon to be the third-largest city in the United States so we should always attract our good share of free agents.”
  • The Rockets’ owner strongly pushed back against the idea that he directed the team to get out of luxury-tax territory in 2018/19, calling it an “accident” and telling Feigen that he’s “still trying to figure out” how they got under the tax line. “I spend more money on little things than anybody else,” Fertitta said. “I just bought us a brand-new 767 that we’re re-fitting right now. Everybody else just rents planes. I want our players on our plane. And it’s not a 757; it’s a 767. Anybody can have an opinion. You can say I’m a lousy owner. But don’t make a statement when you don’t have any (…) idea what you’re talking about.” Despite Fertitta’s fervent denials, it’s hard to see why the Rockets’ front office would make multiple cost-cutting moves if team ownership was entirely unconcerned with ending up in the tax.
  • Fertitta would have interest in signing Eric Gordon to a long-term extension this summer, Feigen writes.
  • More from Fertitta on his vision for the organization, via Feigen: “I want us to be tough. I never want to be soft. I don’t like soft ownership and I don’t like soft teams. That’s not my culture. I do want my players scrambling for a loose ball. I’ll set a hard pick in business. I’ll scramble on the floor for a ball in business. I expect them to do it on the court. I’m not saying they don’t. I have a very hard-playing team. But we’re never going to be soft.”

Rockets Owner Promises To Upgrade Roster

The Rockets have no plans to hit the restart button after their Game 6 flop at home against the Warriors. Owner Tilman Fertitta is intent on improving the roster to help the core group get over the hump in future playoffs, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reports.

“I’m very fortunate to have the starting five that I have, but if we can make this team better, we’re going to make this team better,” Fertitta said. “That’s just a fact. I have a great team. I love all five of my starting five, but it’s my job to make sure that we put the best team that we can put on the court next year.”

It’s one thing to say that upgrades are forthcoming. It’s another thing to pull that off when the team already has major salary cap issues. The combined salaries of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker alone put Houston over the projected cap of $109MM for next season.

Harden isn’t going anywhere, so unless the Rockets could somehow unload Paul’s contract — he’s owed a whopping $124MM over the next three years — they’re not going to gain significant cap relief in a trade. The Rockets do have nine trade exceptions they can utilize but none are worth more than $3.62MM.

Houston’s bench is bound to look different because virtually all of its reserves become free agents or have non-guaranteed contracts for next season. The only exception is veteran big man Nene, who can exercise a $3,825,360 player option.

Both of their draft picks this June were traded away in previous deals, with the first-rounder being conveyed to the Cavaliers and the second-rounder going to the Knicks.

The only other major asset Houston will have at its disposal is the $5.7MM mid-level exception for a taxpaying team. Perhaps the Rockets can entice a quality player to sign for below-market value in order to join a contending team.

Otherwise, GM Daryl Morey will have his work cut out for him to create a deeper and more productive bench. Fertitta remains optimistic the Rockets will be champions in the near future.

“I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here,” he said. “We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”