Rockets Rumors

Ball, Edwards, Haliburton Head All-Rookie Team

LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Jae’Sean Tate and Saddiq Bey comprised this year’s All-Rookie First Team, according to an NBA Communications tweet.

Ball, who was named Rookie of the Year on Thursday, led first-year NBA players in assists (6.1 APG) and steals (1.59 SPG) and ranked second in scoring (15.7 PPG) and rebounding (5.9 RPG) for the Hornets. Edwards, the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Timberwolves, averaged a rookie-high 19.3 PPG.

The Kings’ Haliburton ranked third among rookies in scoring (13.0 PPG) and second in assists (5.3 APG).  Bey, the 19th overall pick, made a rookie-high 175 three-pointers for the Pistons.  Tate, who went undrafted in 2018 and played in Australia last season, averaged 11.3 PPG and 5.3 PPG for the Rockets.

The All-Rookie Second Team consists of Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley, Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane, Pistons center Isaiah Stewart, Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro and Bulls forward Patrick Williams.

Rafael Stone Talks Upcoming Draft, Scouting, John Wall, And More

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone sat down for an extended conversation with Kelly Iko of The Athletic as the team heads into a major offseason, looking to continue a massive roster overhaul.

After being compelled into trading All-Star guard James Harden to Brooklyn, an injury-plagued Houston team finished with a 17-55 record during its inaugural season under new head coach Stephen Silas.

In the interview, Stone discusses a variety of topics, including how he and his front office team are prepping for what could be a loaded 2021 draft, the way he and his staff evaluate talent in an effort to land under-the-radar depth, and what he projects as the futures of two of the team’s priciest veteran players.

The full story is well worth a read, as Stone also touches on his relationship with team owner Tillman Fertita, how the team dealt with COVID-19-related challenges during the 2020/21 season, his chemistry with Silas, and more.

Here are some highlights:

  • On taking an open-minded approach to talent in the upcoming 2021 draft: “I’m definitely not geared towards any one type of player; we’re just going to try and find the player or players that we think have the potential to be the best. We’re not a team in our iteration that should be focused on this position versus that position, A. But B, I don’t know that any team is generally doing that in the draft. I think the draft is where you’re trying to find just good talented basketball players, I think, where you start thinking about real positionality and holes is more free agency.”
  • On Houston’s scouting process: “It’s definitely a collective effort. It’s not just me, I’d say I do my best to use as many different sources of information as I can… I watch a ton. I try to watch them in different situations, I try to envision how they’ll look in our system, both offensively and defensively… My way of thinking about it is you try to funnel. If you can get people who think about basketball differently excited about the same guy, then maybe that’s an interesting guy. When you get to undrafted free agents, or the end of the second round in some respects, you can take a little bit more risk.”
  • On pricey point guard John Wall‘s long-term fit with Houston: “John was great… Highly competitive guy who’s nice, super high basketball IQ. We were talking to our young guys the other day, and they were laughing about how John looks like he’s half-listening, and then they’ve got questions and he’s walking them through A, B, C through quadruple Z. He’s been around long enough now. He understands his position, he understands his teammates’ positions, he understands what the defense is doing. Having guys around like that, that’s just about what a pro is supposed to do; you’re supposed to get the whole thing… It’s great for young guys to see that because that’s the level of knowledge that you should attain. You’re not going to have that as a rookie.”
  • On the future development of center Christian Wood“We think he can be even better. Everybody should always be improving. People don’t have the same rate of improvement, so part of our job is to be constantly monitoring people we think are talented. It could be a guy who could does everything but, shoot, can you teach him how to shoot? That’s frequently a thing… He can score more, I think he can rebound more and defend better. And I think he will.”
  • On talented swingman Kevin Porter Jr.: “His ballhandling is exceptional. That’s not a secret. His passing is really good, too. It did seem like he was miscast playing off the ball. So maybe we were a little more excited about him because we thought that we could maybe unlock a higher upside by moving him onto the ball. We might have been more excited about him than other teams. I’m not in their room, I don’t know what other teams were doing, so I have no idea. But we really liked him.”

2021 NBA Offseason Preview: Houston Rockets

The Rockets entered the 2020/21 league year with – at the very least – playoff aspirations. The team was coming off a disappointing second-round exit in the 2020 postseason, but after adding Christian Wood in free agency, there was a sense that if everything broke right, the roster still had enough talent to compete for a top spot in the West and make a deep postseason run.

Instead, injuries, COVID-19 issues, and James Harden‘s trade demand tanked Houston’s season almost before it began. The club managed to tread water for a little while, even after trading Harden in January, and was above .500 (11-10) as late as February 5. But injuries and a lack of star talent eventually caught up to the Rockets, who went into full-fledged seller mode by the trade deadline and finished the season by losing an incredible 45 of their last 51 games.


The Rockets’ Offseason Plan:

Lottery night will be crucial for the Rockets, who have slightly better than 50/50 odds to keep their top-four protected pick. If that selection lands at No. 5, Houston would have to send it to Oklahoma City in exchange for No. 18. If it ends up in the top four, the Rockets will be in prime position to draft a long-term cornerstone for their rebuild.

Either way though, the Rockets will have three first-round selections, including two in the 20s. Whether they use all of those picks or end up trading one or two, general manager Rafael Stone will be under pressure to maximize their value. Virtually all of the most valuable assets the team received in the Harden deal were future picks and swaps, so Stone is betting on his ability to draft well and perhaps uncover some hidden gems during the next few seasons.

Without a ton of cap flexibility, the Rockets appear unlikely to be particularly active on the free agent market. Waiting until the second or third wave of free agency to hunt for veterans on bargains makes sense for the club — those vets could contribute in the short term and perhaps be flipped for assets at next year’s trade deadline.

Stone figures to be more active in trade talks, with John Wall, Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin, and Danuel House among the players who should be available for the right return. However, Wall and Gordon are coming off injuries and have pricey salaries, which will make it tricky for the Rockets to find decent value for them.


Salary Cap Situation

Note: Our salary cap projections are based on a presumed 3% increase, which would result in a $112.4MM cap for 2021/22.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • D.J. Wilson ($6,422,171 qualifying offer / $13,644,840 cap hold): Bird rights
  • Total (cap holds): $13,644,840

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • First-round pick (cap hold TBD) 2
  • No. 23 overall pick ($2,353,320)
  • No. 24 overall pick ($2,259,240)
  • Total: TBD

Extension-Eligible Players

  • John Wall (veteran)
  • Danuel House (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

With only about $89MM in guaranteed money on their books, the Rockets could theoretically have a little cap room this offseason. However, the non-guaranteed salaries for Tate and Martin will almost certainly be guaranteed and the cap holds for their first-round picks will significantly cut into their projected space, especially if they’re able to hang onto their top-four protected lottery pick.

It’s possible Houston will make a trade or two to reduce team salary and generate cap room, but for the time being, we’re assuming the club will operate over the cap, which would allow the front office to keep its various exceptions and to retain Olynyk’s Bird rights.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $9,536,000 3
  • Bi-annual exception: $3,732,000 3
  • Trade exception: $8,180,351
  • Trade exception: $5,019,920
  • Trade exception: $2,174,318
  • Trade exception: $1,780,152
  • Trade exception: $103,894

Footnotes

  1. Martin’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after August 1.
  2. One of the Rockets’ three first-round picks is lottery-dependent. It could end up between 1-4 or at No. 18, depending on the results of the lottery.
  3. These are projected values.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rockets Face Several Offseason Decisions

  • The suddenly-rebuilding Rockets find themselves faced with a variety of offseason questions, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Iko thinks that Houston may look to add some intriguing, cost-effective restricted free agents this summer, along the lines of Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen and Lakers shooting guard Talen Horton-Tucker, tantalizing role players who may be asked to do more with a developing Houston club. Iko also opines on which of the Rockets’ own restricted free agents will be retained. He notes that, in more minor free agency news, that the Rockets may look to shore up their center depth behind Christian Wood.

When Healthy, Wood Filled Stat Sheet With Rockets

  • When he was available, Rockets center Christian Wood proved his mettle during his first season with the club, says Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. The 25-year-old Wood, who has two years and $28MM left on the three-year contract he signed with Houston before the season, averaged 21.0 PPG (shooting 51.4% from the field and 37.4% from deep) and pulled down 9.6 RPG in 41 games.

Cam Reynolds Has Tough Road To Climb

  • Cameron Reynolds has an uphill climb to remain with the Rockets, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle opines. An excess of players at the the wing positions could make it difficult to Reynolds to work his way into the team’s plans. He was signed on a 10-day deal using the hardship provision in the last week of the regular season. He appeared in two games, including a 31-minute stint against San Antonio.
  • The Rockets own three first-round picks, though they would have to convey their highest pick to Oklahoma City as part of a pick swap if they slide out of the top four in the draft lottery. Feigen takes a look at the prospects in each of the areas where the Rockets might be selecting.

Kelly Olynyk Exceeded Expectations After Trade

  • Kelly Olynyk exceeded expectations as a scorer and playmaker after the Rockets acquired him from Miami in March, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Olynyk will be an unrestricted free agent, but Houston has his Bird rights and a strong interest in keeping him on the roster.

14 NBA Players On Canada’s Preliminary Olympic Qualifying Roster

Team Canada has yet to secure a place in the men’s basketball event at the Tokyo Olympics, but the club should have a loaded roster as it looks to lock up a spot in a qualifying tournament next month.

Canada Basketball issued a press release today announcing its 21-player preliminary roster for the Olympic qualifier, and the group includes 14 players who finished the season on NBA contracts. Here’s the full list:

Of the seven players who didn’t play in the NBA this season, one (Bennett) is a former first overall pick, another (Nicholson) was also a first-round selection, and a third (Alexander) has NBA experience. Bell-Haynes has played in the G League, while Doornekamp, Ejim, and Nembhard all have extensive experience representing Canada in past international competitions.

Still, a few noteworthy names are missing from the list. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be able to participate. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also dealing with an injury, announcing on Instagram that rehabbing the plantar fasciitis in his right foot will prevent him from representing Team Canada.

Raptors big man Chris Boucher is a third notable omission. According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link), Boucher is focused on rehabbing a knee sprain and wants to make sure he’s 100% healthy heading into 2021/22. He also has a somewhat uncertain contract situation — his $7MM salary for next season is non-guaranteed, though I’d be shocked if he’s not retained.

Even without Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Boucher, Canada Basketball is in position to run out a roster stacked with NBA talent and led by former NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse.

While the final roster will depend in part on which players are available, none of the 21 players on the preliminary are on teams expected to still be alive for the conference finals. However, a club like Powell’s Mavericks or Barrett’s Knicks could surprise.

Team Canada will compete against Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey, and the Czech Republic in a qualifying tournament in Victoria, British Columbia between June 29 and July 4. If the club wins that six-team qualifier, it will be part of the 12-team field in Tokyo and would be a legit contender for a medal.

2021 NBA Draft Tiebreaker Results

The NBA conducted a series of random tiebreakers today to determine the lottery standings and the 2021 draft order. These tiebreakers involved teams that finished the regular season with identical records.

The results are as follows, per Jeremy Woo of SI.com (Twitter link):

  • Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 4) over Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5)
  • Chicago Bulls (No. 8) over Sacramento Kings (No. 9) over New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10)
    • Note: The Magic will receive the Bulls’ first-round pick if it doesn’t move up into the top four.
  • Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) over San Antonio Spurs (No. 12)
  • New York Knicks (No. 19) over Atlanta Hawks (No. 20)
  • New York Knicks (No. 21) over Los Angeles Lakers (No. 22) over Houston Rockets (No. 23)
    • Note: The Knicks’ pick is courtesy of the Mavericks, while the Rockets’ pick is courtesy of the Trail Blazers.
  • Los Angeles Clippers (No. 25) over Denver Nuggets (No. 26).

Lottery teams that finished tied in the regular standings are granted essentially identical odds to move up into the top four. For instance, the Thunder and Cavaliers will each have an 11.5% chance at the No. 1 overall pick, while the Bulls, Kings, and Pelicans will have matching 4.5% odds at the top selection.

However, the tiebreaker is still important for lottery teams because it dictates which team(s) will draft first in the event that neither club moves into the top four. For example, the Cavs could theoretically slip as far as No. 9 in the draft now, while the Thunder couldn’t fall below No. 8.

Outside of the lottery, the tiebreaker results simply determine the draft order. That order is subsequently reversed in the second round. For instance, the Clippers and Nuggets will pick at Nos. 25 and 26, respectively in the first round, but in round two, Denver’s pick (traded to the Thunder) will be No. 55, while the Clippers’ pick (traded to Charlotte) will be No. 56.

The Thunder and Knicks are among the big tiebreaker winners. Oklahoma City’s odds of securing a top-six pick improved by virtue of its tiebreaker win over Cleveland. As for the Knicks, they could’ve ended up with the 20th and 23rd overall picks, but will instead draft at 19 and 21.

The Magic are an under-the-radar winner as well, since they hold Chicago’s first-round pick (top-four protected). The Bulls’ tiebreaker win didn’t affect the team’s odds of moving into the top four, but it substantially increased the odds that Orlando will end up with a pick at No. 8 or 9 instead of 10 or lower.

Texas Notes: Tate, Silas, DeRozan, Doncic

Rockets wing Jae’Sean Tate enjoyed being able to hone his raw defensive promise at the pro level in his rookie season, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

“If you pay attention to later in the season,” Tate told Iko, “I started to play without my hands and try to beat (players he was guarding) to the spot. I think my angles have improved tremendously since the beginning of the season, just picking my angles and how to cut people off.”

Iko notes that Rockets head coach Stephen Silas has entrusted a variety of defensive assignments across a variety of positions to the 6’4″ Tate, who ranks in the top 97th percentile of league players in his ability to guard all of the NBA’s positions.

“I’ve been grateful enough to be able to play different positions throughout this year,” Tate said of his positional versatility for the depleted Rockets this season. “And for them to give me that freedom to play point guard — I played a little bit a point guard (in the past) but to actually start at the one certain games and be the floor general where I got other younger players telling me to lead us out there — that was a big eye-opener for me because I’ve never been in a position like that.”

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Despite a lackluster season in Houston that will send the 17-55 Rockets to their first lottery appearance in years, new head coach Stephen Silas still has the approval of owner Tilman Fertitta, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
  • As Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan enters free agency, he is amenable to testing the market, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. The 32-year-old vet, a four-time All-Star during his time with the Raptors, acknowledged his appreciation for the three years he has spent in San Antonio. “It’s definitely an honor to play for this organization,” DeRozan said when the club’s season officially concluded this week. “Everything they did for me and how they treated me, it was definitely A1.”
  • Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic and his team are applying lessons learned during last season’s Orlando “bubble” playoffs for Dallas’ second consecutive first-round matchup with the Clippers, writes Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News“I think last year helped this year,” said Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith. “When the game goes down to the wire, we know we’ve got to get that one more stop or that one more rebound.” With Doncic and fellow prime Dallas scorer Kristaps Porzingis going cold in the fourth quarter, Doncic knew to turn to the team’s role players to help ice a Game 1 victory over the Clippers.