Rockets Rumors

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Ntilikina, Green

Following an exciting first-round playoff exit during the 2021/22 season, the Pelicans face an intriguing 2022/23. The team expects to get 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson back from the foot injury that kept him sidelined last year, and hopes to build on the chemistry its players exhibited in their hard-fought six-game postseason loss to the Suns.

In a new mailbag, Will Guillory of The Athletic addresses questions about the team’s willingness to add 33-year-old All-Star forward Kevin Durant in a trade package centered around draft picks and young star forward Brandon Ingram; guard CJ McCollum‘s standing as a scorer in the NBA; the breakout potential of second-year small forward Trey Murphy III, and more.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Mavericks reserve guard Frank Ntilikina will not suit up for France in the World Cup qualifiers or the 2022 EuroBasket competition due to lingering pain, per a statement from the French Federation of Basketball. Ntilikina showed off his defensive upside during his first season with Dallas, though he boasted relatively modest offensive numbers of 4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG and 1.2 APG across 58 games.
  • In a new conversation with Andrei Felix of CNN Phillippines (YouTube video link) young Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green spoke about the skills he’s been focused on developing during the 2022 offseason. Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic supplied the transcript (Twitter link). “I’ve been working on decision making, tightening up my handle, and knowing what shots I want to get on the floor,” Green said. “Getting comfortable getting to my spots and just rising up. Catch-and-shoot.” He also preached patience to Houston fans hoping for a return to deep postseason runs. “No matter if it’s 2 year, 3 years, next year, I just want every fan to be patient with us,” Green continued. “We’re working. We’re in the lab. We’re going to make sure this happens as soon as possible.” The second pick in the 2021 draft out of the G League Ignite, Green made the All-Rookie First Team while averaging 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 2.6 APG for a rebuilding 20-62 Rockets club.
  • In case you missed it, the Rockets signed veteran center Willie Cauley-Stein to a one-year deal, with a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Rockets, Willie Cauley-Stein Agree To One-Year Deal

The Rockets and free agent center Willie Cauley-Stein have agreed to a one-year contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Terms of the deal aren’t yet known, but Charania suggests that Cauley-Stein will compete in training camp for a spot on the regular season roster. That means it’s almost certainly a minimum-salary deal and likely won’t be fully guaranteed.

Cauley-Stein, who will turn 29 next Thursday, appeared in a total of 20 games last season for the Mavericks and Sixers, playing a limited role. In 2020/21, the big man averaged 5.3 PPG and 4.5 RPG in 53 contests (17.1 MPG) for Dallas. He has also spent time with Sacramento and Golden State since entering the league as the sixth overall pick in 2015.

The Rockets currently have 20 players under contract, so they’ll have to waive or trade someone in order to make Cauley-Stein’s signing official.

Houston already has 18 players on guaranteed salaries and is considered unlikely to keep most of the players that came over from Dallas in the Christian Wood trade (Marquese Chriss, Trey Burke, Sterling Brown, and Boban Marjanovic). It’s possible one of them will be cut to make room for Cauley-Stein, who could end up competing for a roster spot against fellow bigs like Marjanovic and Bruno Fernando.

KJ Martin Attracting Trade Interest

Christian Wood told WFAA TV that he’s “counting my blessings” about the trade that sent him from the Rockets to the Mavericks in June. Wood, who spoke during a break at a youth basketball camp, said he’s focused on helping Dallas get even further than last season’s trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Wood, who’s entering the final year of his contract, will add plenty of scoring and rebounding to the Mavs’ front line. He averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season, but he wasn’t in the Rockets’ long-term plans, so they shipped him to the Mavericks in exchange for four players and a first-round pick.

Western Notes: Porter Jr., Williamson, Engelland, Spurs, Thunder

If the Rockets and Kevin Porter Jr. agree to an extension this offseason, it’ll likely have to be a team-friendly deal, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports. Scotto relays Houston is looking to preserve salary cap space for next summer.

Porter is coming off a season in which he averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 41.5% from the floor and 37.5% from distance. At 22 years old, he’s shown he can be an electric scorer and ball-handler, but he’s dealt with maturity and discipline issues throughout his career.

It’s unlikely Houston would want to offer much more than Porter’s 2023 cap hold ($9.65MM) as a starting salary on an extension. If the two sides don’t work out a deal by opening night this fall, the 22-year-old would be eligible for restricted free agency next summer. Before joining the Rockets, he was the No. 30 pick in 2019 and started his career with the Cavaliers.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

NBA Teams With Open Two-Way Contract Slots

A total of 18 NBA teams currently have both of their two-way contract slots filled, as our tracker shows.

That doesn’t mean those players will be locked into those slots for the rest of the 2022/23 season, or even until opening night, since two-way deals are low-cost contracts that don’t count against the salary cap, making them easy to replace. But it means those spots are unavailable for the time being.

That leaves 12 teams with at least one two-way slot available. Those teams are as follows:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Washington Wizards

The Hawks, Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Clippers, the Trail Blazers, and Wizards have fairly straightforward two-way situations at the moment — they’ve each filled one slot and have one open, with no reports indicating that any of those teams has reached an agreement on a two-way deal with a free agent or draftee.

The Nets and Bulls also have one two-way spot filled and one open, but each of them has a two-way qualifying offer out to a restricted free agent — David Duke for Brooklyn and Malcolm Hill for Chicago. If those players simply accept their QOs, neither the Nets nor the Bulls will have a two-way opening.

The Spurs also have one two-way player signed and one spot open, though a Shams Charania report last month indicated that undrafted rookie Jordan Hall will sign a two-way contract with San Antonio. If and when that happens, the Spurs will join the list of teams with both of their two-way slots occupied.

The Pacers and Pelicans are currently the only two teams that don’t have a single player on a two-way contract. A Charania report way back in June suggested that Dereon Seabron would sign a two-way deal with New Orleans, but it hasn’t officially happened yet.

The best candidate for a two-way contract with Indiana, meanwhile, could be 48th overall pick Kendall Brown, who is one of a handful of 2022 draftees still unsigned. Even if Seabron and Brown sign two-way pacts, the Pacers and Pelicans would still each have one slot available.

Southwest Notes: KPJ, Bane, McCollum, Nance

Rockets point guard Kevin Porter Jr. appears to have earned a long-term look with the franchise. Houston and Porter have had initial discussions about the future of the extension-eligible 22-year-old, prompting Kelly Iko and Danny Leroux of The Athletic take a deep dive into what a new deal might look like for the fourth-year guard.

Leroux projects an annual number in the range of $10-15MM for Porter. Should the Rockets opt to not extend Porter and instead let him reach restricted free agency in the summer of 2023, Leroux notes that the market for the 6’4″ guard’s services could be dampened. Currently, just seven NBA clubs, including the Rockets, project to have cap space available to sign Porter for more than the mid-level exception.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Third-year Grizzlies shooting guard Desmond Bane has evolved into a reliable locker-room leader, despite his relative greenness, writes Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal“I’ve always been a vet [in terms of personal comportment], but now I’m a vet for real,” Bane said. “I don’t really think that too much has to change. I’ve always been the guy to lead by example, put my best foot in front of the other. That’s half of leadership right there.”
  • Pelicans veteran players CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr., new additions to the team at the 2022 trade deadline, are extension-eligible this summer. Will Guillory and Danny Leroux of The Athletic consider potential extension contracts for both New Orleans players. Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes that McCollum contributed as a versatile scorer and consistent ball-handler, while Nance helped the team in the less-glamorous role of flexible bench big. Clark notes that both players have shown interest in sticking around long term with an exciting young Pelicans club hot off its first playoff appearance in four years.
  • In case you missed it, the lucrative new extension inked by Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson includes a caveat that requires him to get consistent weigh-ins by New Orleans. Should the total of his body fat percentage and weight exceed 295, the team will be able to reduce the guaranteed portion of his salary.

And-Ones: T. Scott, 2023 Draft, ’23 Cap, Freedom

NBA and G League veteran Tre Scott is headed overseas for the 2022/23 season, having signed with Fos Provence Basket, the French team announced in a press release.

Scott, who went undrafted out of Cincinnati in 2020, has spent most of his first two professional seasons in the NBAGL, playing for the Salt Lake City Stars, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, and the Cleveland Charge.

The 6’8″ forward earned a call-up to the NBA last December during the league’s COVID-19 outbreak, signing a 10-day hardship deal with the Cavaliers. He appeared in two games for the Cavs during his brief NBA stint, scoring six points and grabbing a couple rebounds in 11 total minutes of action.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report shares his first 2023 mock draft, headed by French big man Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson. Overtime Elite wing Amen Thompson, Duke swingman Dariq Whitehead, and Villanova forward Cam Whitmore round out Wasserman’s initial top five.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype takes a look at the teams currently projected to have the most cap room in 2023, including the Spurs, Rockets, Pistons, and Magic.
  • In an interview with Israeli outlet Walla, free agent center Enes Freedom said he hasn’t received any offers from NBA teams this offseason (hat tip to Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops). Freedom attributed that lack of NBA interest to the comments he has made denouncing China, though it’s worth noting that his minutes were already on the decline due to his subpar outside shooting and defense.

Rockets Re-Sign Bruno Fernando

1:43pm: Fernando received an Exhibit 10 contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The deal could be converted into a two-way contract prior to the season or would entitle Fernando to a bonus worth up to $50K if he’s waived and then joins the Rockets’ G League team.


1:31pm: The Rockets have re-signed free agent big man Bruno Fernando to a new contract, the team announced today in a press release. Houston now has a full 20-man offseason roster.

Fernando, who will turn 24 next month, was the 34th overall pick in the 2019 draft. He began his career in Atlanta, was sent to the Celtics in a 2021 offseason trade, then was flipped to Houston at the 2022 deadline in February.

The former Maryland standout played some of the best basketball of his career down the stretch with the Rockets, albeit in a limited role. He averaged 6.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 0.8 BPG on 70.7% shooting in 10 appearances (9.4 MPG) for Houston.

The terms of Fernando’s new deal are unclear. The Rockets already have 18 players on guaranteed standard contracts, so it seems unlikely they’d want to bring in a 19th without clearing that logjam.

Fernando is technically eligible for a two-way contract, but there’s no indication in Houston’s announcement that he got a two-way deal. That makes a non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed standard contract the likeliest outcome, but we’ll wait for confirmation on the details.

Team, Porter Jr. Seeking Extension

  • The Rockets and guard Kevin Porter Jr. have mutual interest in a contract extension before the start of the season, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Last week, Kelly Iko of The Athletic opined in a mailbag post that he’d be surprised if the Rockets gave an early extension to Porter, believing they’d rather stay flexible and allow him to enter restricted free agency.

Examining Rockets' 2023 Free Agency, Coaching Additions, More

  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic examines several Rockets topics in his mailbag, including next summer’s free agency, new assistant coaches and more. Houston is coming off a 20-62 season and is continuing a full-scale rebuild. The team has a young nucleus of Kevin Porter Jr. (22), Jalen Green (20), Jabari Smith Jr. (19) and others to build around. Houston also recently added Lionel Hollins, Mike Batiste and Mahmoud Abdelfattah to its coaching staff.