Leslie Alexander

Tilman Fertitta Approved To Buy Rockets

OCTOBER 6: NBA owners have approved the sale of the Rockets to Fertitta, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets. The Houston billionaire was approved 30-0.

SEPTEMBER 5, 9:13am: The Rockets have issued a press release confirming that a “definitive agreement has been signed” for the purchase of the franchise by Fertitta. The deal will require the approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors. According to the Rockets, Fertitta has “no other partners in connection with the transaction.”

8:37am: The sale price for the Rockets will be $2.2 billion, per Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg (Twitter link).

8:34am: Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta has reached an agreement to buy the Rockets from current team owner Leslie Alexander, sources tell Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston. According to Berman, the franchise could announce the deal as soon as today.

Rockets CEO Tad Brown announced back in mid-July that Alexander was putting the club up for sale, and we heard just a couple days later that that Fertitta, a Texas native who founded Landry’s restaurants and owns multiple hotels and casinos, was interested in making a bid for the franchise.

“[I] just hope it doesn’t go for crazy numbers,” Fertitta said at the time. “I’ve never really wanted to own a professional team outside of Houston. Houston is my hometown and the place I would prefer to own a professional team.”

Despite Fertitta’s hope that the Rockets wouldn’t sell for “crazy numbers,” it appears he was willing to make a substantial offer to finalize the deal. Confirming that an agreement is in place, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter) that the sale is expected to break the NBA record $2 billion price tag on Steve Ballmer‘s purchase of the Clippers.

Even back in February, before the Rockets won a playoff series, traded for Chris Paul, and extended James Harden, Forbes placed a $1.65 billion valuation on the franchise, and Forbes’ estimates for professional sports teams are often low. Berman notes that Forbes has estimated Fertitta’s net worth to be $3.1 billion.

For Fertitta, while this will be his first time as a controlling owner, it won’t be his first foray into sports franchise ownership. He has previously been a limited partner with the Rockets and the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Although Berman’s report suggests that Fertitta is poised to become the controlling owner of the Rockets, it’s not clear whether he’ll be joined by a series of minority investors or if any big names will be part of his group. Since that July announcement that the Rockets were up for sale, multiple former players – including Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, and Elvin Hayeshave expressed interest in becoming part of an ownership group. Pop star Beyoncé also reportedly had interest in becoming a minority stakeholder in the franchise.

Alexander bought the Rockets for $85MM back in 1993, and has overseen the team since then, including during its two championship seasons in the mid-1990s.

Rockets Announce Franchise Up For Sale

2:58pm: The Rockets have formally issued a press release announcing that the franchise is for sale. Alexander said in a statement that it’s been a”great joy and honor” to own the team for the last 24 years.

“I’ve made this decision after much deliberation with my family and friends, and do so knowing the franchise is in great shape with the players, coaches and management team in place,” Alexander said. “CEO Tad Brown will oversee the sales process with the league office, supported by my management team.”

2:26pm: An NBA franchise is officially on the market. Rockets CEO Tad Brown announced today at a press conference that owner Leslie Alexander is putting the team – along with Clutch City Sports & Entertainment – up for sale (video link via Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston).

According to Brown, Alexander had been approached about selling the Rockets from time to time over the years, but had never really considered it until now. Brown went on to suggest that Alexander, after talking to family and close friends, is looking at “changing the fabric of his life” and focusing on different passions. Brown made it clear that Alexander isn’t dealing with any health issues (Twitter link).

As Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle tweets, the Rockets would prefer the timeline for a sale to be “sooner rather than later.” However, the club isn’t in a rush, since a stable management team is in place, Brown said today.

People around the NBA have been wondering for some time which owner or ownership group would be the first to cash out after a substantial rise in team valuations over the last several years, tweets Zach Lowe of ESPN.com. Still, Alexander’s decision didn’t just come as a surprise to people around the NBA — it also surprised those within the Rockets’ franchise, says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

Many NBA franchises sold within the last decade have been smaller-market clubs, including the Kings ($534MM in 2013) and Bucks ($550MM in 2014). The Hawks ($850MM in 2015) could be another reference point. Of course, Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for the Clippers in 2014 — I’d expect the Rockets’ sale price to be closer to that figure than the others, and potentially even higher.

Even back in February, before the Rockets won a playoff series, traded for Chris Paul, and extended James Harden, Forbes placed a $1.65 billion valuation on the franchise, and Forbes’ estimates are often low. Alexander bought the team for $85MM back in 1993, Feigen notes (Twitter link).

Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander Fined $100K

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been hit with a $100K fine by the NBA for confronting a referee during live game action in Game 5 of his club’s first round series, the league announced today in a press release.

The incident occurred near the end of the first quarter of the Rockets’ series-clinching win over the Thunder on Tuesday night. With the Thunder controlling the ball, Alexander got up from his courtside side, walked over to referee Bill Kennedy, and appeared to express his displeasure with a call before walking back to his seat (video link).

While we’ve seen a number of players and coaches fined already during the NBA postseason, the $100K fine for Alexander is the largest penalty handed out by the league since the playoffs begin. Of course, as the Rockets’ owner, Alexander is more equipped to pay that fine than any player or coach.

Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was docked $30K for criticizing officials in his post-game press conference, while Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverley, and Kelly Oubre were each fined $25K for various infractions.

Rockets Owner Became More Involved In 2016 Roster Moves

Following a disappointing 2015/16 season, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander took on a larger role in his team’s roster-building process this summer, sources familiar with the process tell Zach Lowe of ESPN.com. According to Lowe, Alexander was “eager to rebound at any cost” after Houston underachieved last season.

Alexander’s increased involvement signals that Daryl Morey‘s hold on the general manager job may not be as secure as it once was, league sources tell Lowe. For his part, Morey says he doesn’t “feel more or less pressure” in his GM role than he has in previous years. However, Lowe suggests that the Rockets’ dismissal of former VP of player personnel Gianluca Pascucci earlier this year was “widely seen as a shot across the bow at Morey.” The GM says that decision was his.

As Lowe observes, the Rockets took a different approach to roster-building this summer than they have in the past under Morey. The team has typically made an effort to add another star or two to a roster headed by James Harden. However, as they lost Dwight Howard in free agency this July, the Rockets instead opted to use their cap room to sign solid – and expensive – complementary players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Houston still wanted to add star power, and will keep an eye out for a top player going forward, but Morey suggests that last year’s disappointing showing had an impact on the club’s ability to recruit top-tier players this summer.

“Last year hurt us in terms of perception around the league,” Morey said. “We felt like if we didn’t have a more successful season this year, our ability to be a top destination would be hurt. … We had a choice: keep our powder dry and value play, or go for two blue-chip players past the obvious superstars. It was a tough cap environment. You have to spend the money on someone.”

According to Lowe, Morey and the Rockets believe players like Anderson, Gordon, and others will thrive this season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, boosting their trade value. So Houston will be a team worth watching at February’s trade deadline. If Morey’s bet doesn’t pay off, it will also be worth keeping an eye on whether his grip on his GM job grows more tenuous.

Southwest Notes: D’Antoni, Bzdelik, Pera, Maker

The Rockets finished the paperwork for new coach Mike D’Antoni today and are reportedly close to hiring Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Feigen adds that some contract “language” is holding up the deal for Bzdelik, who is expected to run the defense under D’Antoni. Houston will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to introduce D’Antoni. (Twitter link).

There’s more news from the Southwest Division:

  • D’Antoni will begin to make decisions about his staff, Calvin Watkins posts on ESPN NowGreg Buckner and T.R. Dunn are two of former coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s assistants who are waiting to hear if they will be retained.
  • D’Antoni arrived in Houston earlier today and had kind words for his new bosses and players, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26. On owner Leslie Alexander: “He’s been voted a few times the best owner in the NBA. He continues to be that.” (Twitter link). On GM Daryl Morey: “[He] does an unbelievable job. I’m happy to be able to hopefully assist in it and be a part of it and try to get the job done.” (Twtter link). On James Harden: “He’s one of the biggest threats, period. Just a great player. So really looking forward to it.” (Twitter link).
  • Grizzlies owner Robert Pera took an instant liking to new coach David Fizdale during his job interview, according to David Williams of The Commercial Appeal. “I asked him what his goals were for the team, and he didn’t say, ‘Hey, I want to finish in the Top 10’ or anything,” Pera related. “He said ‘Championship.’ … That was one. The second is, as soon as we gave him the job, he’s heading out to the players. He’s visiting [Mike] Conley. He’s setting up meetings.”
  • Nineteen-year-old center Thon Maker may be a good draft gamble for the Spurs, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Maker was once projected as a lottery pick, but his stock has fallen because of his unstable high school background and because coaches haven’t seen him play against quality competition. He is now projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round, and the Spurs might consider him too tempting to pass up with the 29th pick.

Rockets Notes: Free Agency, Beasley, D’Antoni

The Rockets should concentrate on shooters in free agency if their primary targets don’t work out, recommends Kevin P. Smith of Real GM. Houston is hoping to meet with Kevin Durant and Al Horford, two of the top names in the free agent class, but if neither player comes to Houston, Smith believes 3-point marksmen should be the priority in new coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. The writer mentions Brandon Jennings and Jerryd Bayless as possible backups to Patrick Beverley, and suggests Ryan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic as potential front court prospects. Smith also says the Rockets could have interest in Marvin Williams, Jeff GreenDerrick Williams, Marreese Speights and Al Jefferson.

  • Two late-season additions, Michael Beasley and Andrew Goudelock, are likely to stay in Houston for another season, Smith says in the same piece. Beasley, who played most of last season in China, averaged 12.8 points per night in 20 games after joining the Rockets. Houston has a $1.4MM team option on Beasley for 2016/17. Goudelock only made it into eight games after signing with the Rockets in March, but a $1,015,696 team option gives him a chance to stick around. 
  • Rockets owner Leslie Alexander chose the “big, splashy name” when he hired D’Antoni this week, charges Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. Smith writes that the Rockets should have hired Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, and that D’Antoni is the wrong choice to bring the discipline and emphasis on defense that the Rockets need to improve on a 41-41 season.
  • Free agents will be more likely to consider Houston because of D’Antoni’s history of helping his players land big contracts, writes J.A. Adande of ESPN.com. Adande lists Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jodie Meeks as players who struck it big in free agency after playing in D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.

Southwest Notes: Smith, Demps, Labissiere, Ulis

Kenny Smith, a candidate for the Rockets‘ head coaching position, said he had “a great meeting” with team officials, relays Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston. Smith sat down with owner Leslie Alexander and GM Daryl Morey for 2 1/2 hours Tuesday at Alexander’s Florida home. “They have a clear vision of what they want to do,” Smith said. “I have a clear vision of what I’d like to do. Sometimes you meet in the middle. Sometimes it doesn’t meet at all, but it was something that we both had to explore, and [are] still exploring.” Smith, who helped bring two NBA titles to Houston in the mid-1990s, said he and the team are “just staying in contact” with each other at this point. He added that he enjoys his job as a TNT analyst and said it would take a fantastic offer to make him leave.

There’s more tonight from the Southwest Division:

  • The combine in Chicago is “an integral part of the draft process,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps told Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com. Coaches, GMs and other team officials from around the league gather each year to watch prospects display their skills and get to know them on a personal basis. Demps said that contact is vital in preparing for the draft. “Most NBA coaches do not get the opportunity to watch college players during the NBA season [due to the 82-game schedule], so the combine is usually the first time they can watch them play in person,” he said.
  • The Pelicans spoke with Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere, according to Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv (Twitter link).
  • The Spurs and Grizzlies were among the nine teams that interviewed Kentucky sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, relays Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv (Twitter link).
  • Seton Hall sophomore point guard Isaiah Whitehead had an interview with the Rockets, tweets Zach Braziller of The New York Post.

Coaching Rumors: Bickerstaff, Messina, McHale

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff will be among the coaches the Rockets consider as they seek to formally name a head coach after the season, and he and his staff have the respect of the team’s players, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. Bickerstaff, who took over for the fired Kevin McHale once the team started 4-7, was unable to win at the rate most expected of the Rockets coming into the season, Watkins notes, suggesting that’ll be a stumbling block to the removal of his interim tag. Still, owner Leslie Alexander nonetheless praised Bickerstaff’s winning record of 37-34 during the regular season, and the playoff berth the Rockets snagged on the final night of the regular season was apparently a significant help to Bickerstaff’s chances. Alexander and GM Daryl Morey anticipate James Harden having a role in the team’s decision, though Dwight Howard, whom the Rockets expect to opt out, is unlikely to have a say, according to Watkins.

See more coaching news from around the NBA:

  • The Lakers will give Spurs assistant Ettore Messina strong consideration for their coaching vacancy if they can’t land Warriors assistant Luke Walton, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com hears (Twitter links). L.A. has asked for and received permission from San Antonio to interview Messina, a one-time Lakers assistant, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick.
  • Multiple people have told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee that McHale isn’t fond of California, casting doubt on the idea that he’d take the Kings coaching job, though Jones cautions that he isn’t entirely sure whether McHale indeed holds a low opinion of the location (Twitter link). The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that McHale was on the fence about whether to interview for the gig, though Stein wrote more recently that McHale and the Kings have had exploratory talks.
  • A close friendship with new GM Scott Layden, the potential of Minnesota’s roster and a belief that Glen Taylor is committed to winning are reasons Tom Thibodeau cited to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune as he spoke about his decision to become coach and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves. Thibodeau said that having the dual coach/executive title the Wolves gave him wasn’t a make-or-break element to the deal. “It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” Thibodeau said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

Southwest Notes: Alexander, Gentry, Aldridge

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander plans to be more active in the team’s offseason moves, according to Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. Alexander gave GM Daryl Morey a vote of confidence this week but said he will take a more hands-on role in overhauling a roster that produced a disappointing 41-41 record and the eighth seed in the West. “I think I will change a little bit,” Alexander said. “More scrutiny and what they’re doing. I was thinking about doing it anyway but after this season, definitely.” Among Houston’s decisions will be whether to retain interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who posted a 37-34 record after taking over for Kevin McHale in November. Alexander didn’t commit to keeping Bickerstaff, but did toss a compliment his way. “He’s got a winning record,” Alexander said, “which is good from where he started.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is hoping for a fresh start next season after a disastrous first year in New Orleans, writes Justin Verrier of ESPN.com. Gentry was hired to take the next step with the Pelicans after they claimed the final playoff spot in 2014/15, but the team was slowed by a long string of misfortune. New Orleans players ended the season with 351 games missed due to injuries and illness, the second-highest total in the past decade. Looking ahead, Gentry has a vision for the type of player he wants to acquire in the offseason. “I think we need that 6’7″ athletic guy that can also be somewhat of a facilitator,” he said. “As to names, I have no idea who that is, but I know that he’s out there. And so that would be obviously a priority for us.”
  • The Spurs became a better defensive team after trading Tiago Splitter and signing LaMarcus Aldridge, according to Matthew Tynan of RealGM. Splitter is considered the better defender, but Aldridge has more range and mobility, Tynan notes, which gives Tim Duncan the more natural role of rim protector.
  • Jae Crowder, who has emerged as a star in Boston, couldn’t wait to get out of Dallas, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Before being included in the 2014 trade that brought Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks, Crowder was frustrated by a lack of playing time, two trips to the D-League and Dallas’ signings of Al-Farouq Aminu, Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson.

Odds & Ends: Wizards, Adelman, Irving

Notes from around the league on Monday night: