Nene

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Southwest Division

Over the course of the 2019/20 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Although the Spurs don’t typically make splashy in-season trades, the Southwest could still end up being one of the NBA’s busiest divisions in 2019/20 in terms of trade activity. The Rockets and Mavericks are in position to buyers, while the Pelicans and Grizzlies may seek out deals that position them to better build around the top two picks from the 2019 draft.

Let’s focus on three players out of the Southwest who could emerge as trade candidates before this season’s deadline…

Andre Iguodala, G/F
Memphis Grizzlies
$17.19MM cap hit; UFA in 2020

Iguodala is perhaps the most obvious trade candidate in the NBA at the moment. The Grizzlies are so resigned to the fact that the veteran wing has no future in Memphis that they’re not even requiring him to be with the team, having reached an agreement in September allowing him not to report to camp.

While the Grizzlies are holding out hope that a favorable trade emerges for Iguodala, many of his primary suitors don’t have much to offer to match his $17MM+ salary and may rather wait to see if he’s bought out. A recent survey of executives conducted by David Aldridge of The Athletic revealed that most people around the league expect Iguodala to end up with the Lakers, but they have no realistic path to a trade, given the construction of their roster.

It makes sense for the Grizzlies to be patient with this process. Iguodala would fit in well on just about every NBA roster, and more buyers could emerge by January or February, increasing Memphis’ leverage.

Courtney Lee, SG
Dallas Mavericks
$12.76MM cap hit; UFA in 2020

Lee had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2017/18, averaging 12.0 PPG on .454/.406/.919 shooting, but he has been slowed by injuries since then and isn’t currently a fixture in the Mavericks‘ rotation.

Although he doesn’t have positive value, Lee’s expiring contract would be Dallas’ best salary-matching piece if the club goes out in search of an upgrade. The team is well below the tax line, so taking on some extra money in a deal involving Lee wouldn’t be an issue.

By way of example, the Mavs could offer Lee and another asset to the Grizzlies for Iguodala (and perhaps already have). Although there’s a gap between their cap charges, the NBA’s trade rules would allow Dallas to take back up to $17.76MM in exchange for Lee alone.

Nene, C
Houston Rockets
$10MM cap hit; $10MM non-guaranteed cap hit for 2020/21

When the Rockets gave Nene an incentive-heavy contract that was only fully guaranteed for $2.56MM (his minimum salary), the idea was to create a trade chip like the one the Mavericks have with Lee. Because the deal featured $7.44MM in incentives deemed “likely,” Nene’s cap hit is technically $10MM, but as long as he doesn’t play more than nine games, he ultimately won’t count for more than $2.56MM against his team’s cap.

Unfortunately for Daryl Morey and the Rockets’ front office, that plan backfired, as the NBA ruled that only the guaranteed portion of Nene’s contract can be counted for salary-matching purposes. That significantly limits his trade value.

Still, it’s not as if Nene now has no value as a trade chip. On his own, he could bring back a player earning up to about $4.59MM. Paired with a little-used player like Isaiah Hartenstein, the Rockets could acquire a player earning up to approximately $7.07MM. That could still come in handy when the deadline rolls around.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rockets Notes: Bennett, Pinckney, Anderson

While outside shooting was always part of Anthony Bennett‘s game, he has spent the past few seasons refining his three-point shot in preparation for his next NBA opportunity. That opportunity has come with the Western Conference contender Houston Rockets.

Bennett will have to wait to showcase the improvements he’s made to his game, however. As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes, the 26-year-old will begin training camp on the sidelines recovering from left knee tendinitis.

The Rockets currently have just 11 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, which leaves ample room for a player like Bennett to stick with the squad when the regular season begins. If Bennett’s impact when he returns to health is anything like it was in the G League when he shot 45.3% from beyond the arc last season, there’s a good chance that he does just that.

There’s more out of Houston today:

  • The Rockets came up with a creative way of structuring big man Nene‘s contract to increase his potential trade value but the NBA threw a wrench their plans. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, franchise owner Tilman Fertitta respects the league’s decision and doesn’t intend to question it.
  • The Rockets have hired former NBA assistant coach Ed Pinckney as a scout, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets.
  • Not only has the offensive system not changed since Ryan Anderson last donned a Rockets jersey, but he still owns the same condo that he used to live in. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes about Anderson’s smooth transition back to Houston.

Injury Updates: Kuzma, Nene, Crabbe, Hawks

After a report earlier this week indicated that Kyle Kuzma wouldn’t be healthy for the start of the Lakers‘ training camp, the team has confirmed as much, announcing in a press release that Kuzma is rehabbing a stress reaction in his left foot.

According to the Lakers, Kuzma hasn’t been cleared to practice and is scheduled to undergo an MRI next month when the team returns from its trip to China. The second of L.A.’s two international preseason games vs. Brooklyn takes place in Shenzhen on October 12, so Kuzma’s MRI presumably won’t happen until sometime after that contest.

The Lakers provided updates on a couple more players, announcing that rookie Talen Horton-Tucker is receiving treatment for a stress reaction in his right foot and will be a limited participant in camp. Camp invitee Jordan Caroline, meanwhile, is expected to miss 10-12 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left foot earlier this month.

Horton-Tucker has a guaranteed contract and his spot on the Lakers’ roster won’t be affected by his injury, but Caroline is on a non-guaranteed deal and figures to be waived in the coming days or weeks.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Rockets announced today that Nene has re-aggravated a chronic adductor injury and won’t be able to participate in training camp, as David Aldridge of The Athletic relays (via Twitter). Based on the incentives in Nene’s deal, it’s unlikely he’ll play much this season anyway, but health problems would further reduce the likelihood of him seeing regular action.
  • The Hawks issued a series of injury updates on their players, including John Collins (hip strain), Kevin Huerter (knee pain), Alex Len (low back pain; left ankle sprain), and Allen Crabbe (right knee surgery). Collins, Huerter, and Chandler Parsons (load management) are expected to be somewhat limited in training camp, while Crabbe will likely miss all of camp and the preseason. Len’s status remains up in the air.
  • Keith Pompey of Philly.com takes a look at the work Sixers shooting guard Zhaire Smith has put in to get healthy after missing nearly his entire rookie season due to injury and illness.

NBA Ruling On Nene’s Contract Limits His Trade Value

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have made a ruling on Nene‘s unusual new contract with the Rockets, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). As we detailed last week, Nene’s two-year contract has a base value worth the minimum, but features over $7MM annually in likely bonuses that push the value of the deal to $10MM per year.

As Charania explains, Nene’s deal will essentially remain unchanged, but the $7MM+ in likely bonuses will be excluded in the event of a trade. In other words, he’d count for just $2.56MM in both outgoing and incoming salary for matching purposes, rather than being considered a $10MM outgoing piece.

According to Charania (via Twitter), who confirms that the Rockets had discussed a similar deal with Iman Shumpert, Nene will still have the opportunity to earn his bonuses, though the team figures to limit his playing time to avoid paying him significantly more money. In order to receive the full $10MM, Nene must appear in 40 games and his team must compile at least 52 wins.

Word first broke earlier today that the NBA was still weighing how to handle the contract. As we observed at the time,the league has the right to challenge deals that it believes violate the spirit of rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, even if those deals are technically legal based on what’s written in the CBA.

It’s a tough turn of events for the Rockets, who appeared to have found a creative way to maximize their flexibility for in-season deals, having generated a $10MM trade chip without being at risk of paying out the full $10MM. As a result of today’s ruling, that won’t be the case after all.

Because he signed a two-year contract, Nene will have a cap charge of $2.56MM rather than the $1.62MM cap hit he would have had if he’d signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract, pushing Houston closer to the tax. On a one-year deal, Nene would’ve had the right to veto trades.

Contract Bonus Notes: Nene, KCP, Randle, Jones

Veteran big man Nene officially signed his new contract with the Rockets back on September 6, but the NBA has yet to formally approve the deal, writes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link). Sources tell Marks that the league has been discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement, which create a $10MM trade chip despite the fact that Nene will likely only be paid about $2.56MM.

The NBA has the right to challenge deals that it believes violate the spirit of rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, even if those deals are technically legal based on what’s written in the CBA. While it seems unlikely that Nene’s deal would be nixed, it wouldn’t be surprising if the league looked to adjust the rules related to bonuses and incentives in the future to prevent teams from manipulating a player’s cap hit to such a significant extent.

In the meantime, Nene’s deal is hardly the only one signed this offseason heavy on bonus money. We’ve gone into detail on the incentives included in a handful of other contracts, such as the ones signed by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but Marks has even more details on bonuses available to players around the NBA this year.

We won’t pass along every single note included in Marks’ article, but here are a few of the noteworthy new bonuses worth watching in 2019/20:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can earn three separate $350K bonuses if he averages 1.85 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season with the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope’s new deal also includes a $163K bonus for being named to either All-Defensive team and a $50K bonus if the Lakers reach the Western Finals.
  • Julius Randle‘s contract with the Knicks includes three separate $900K unlikely bonuses that he could earn if he makes the All-Star team, is named to an All-Defensive team, or makes the playoffs (and appears in at least 65 games).
  • Tyus Jones‘ $9.258MM cap hit with the Grizzlies in 2019/20 includes an $858K bonus that has been deemed likely. Jones will earn the bonus if Memphis wins 33 games. If the rebuilding Grizzlies fall short of that mark, Jones’ cap hit for the season will dip to $8.4MM.
  • Maxi Kleber‘s new contract with the Mavericks features a set of four unlikely bonuses that could be worth up to $475K in total. To earn them all, Kleber must make an All-Defensive team ($150K), make at least 80% of his free throws ($75K), make at least 40% of his three-pointers ($150K), and average more than nine rebounds per 36 minutes ($100K).
  • Again, if you’re an ESPN Insider, be sure to check out Marks’ full story for more details on some of the more unusual incentives around the league.

Details On Nene’s Contract Incentives

As we first relayed on Wednesday, the Rockets‘ new deal with Nene is an unusual one, structured to maximize his trade value. The two-year, $20MM contract has a $10MM cap hit for 2019/20, but only has a base value of approximately $2.56MM, an amount equivalent to the minimum salary for a 10-year veteran. The remaining $7.44MM on the deal is made up of “likely” incentives.

The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement dubs an incentive likely to be earned if the player met the criteria the year before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the player will actually meet the criteria again in the following season.

In fact, in Nene’s case, the Rockets will probably try to ensure he doesn’t meet that criteria, since the more guaranteed money the veteran center earns, the less trade value his contract has.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks has the full details on Nene’s incentives, which are as follows:

  • Base salary: $2,564,753
  • If Nene appears in at least 10 games and his team wins 52+ games: $2,435,247 bonus (cap hit increases to $5MM).
  • If Nene appears in at least 25 games and his team wins 52+ games: $2,500,000 bonus (cap hit increases to $7.5MM).
  • If Nene appears in at least 40 games and his team wins 52+ games: $2,500,000 bonus (cap hit increases to $10MM).

As Marks points out, all those incentives are considered likely because Nene played in 42 games last season and the Rockets had 53 wins. It seems safe to assume the 37-year-old won’t appear in as many games this season as Houston attempts to limit his earnings.

However, there’s another important detail worth noting here, as Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights outlines: If Nene were to be traded to a team that didn’t win 52+ games in 2018/19 (ie. any team besides the Warriors, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Bucks, or Raptors), his contract incentives would change to “unlikely” and would no longer count against his cap hit.

While it may seem as if that discrepancy would complicate Nene’s trade market, it’s actually a good thing for both the Rockets and their potential trade partners, as Siegel explains. In that trade scenario, the Rockets would still get to count Nene as $10MM in outgoing salary, while the other team would only consider him a $2.56MM incoming piece.

In other words, let’s say the Rockets swapped Nene for another player with a $10MM cap hit. That’d be an even match for Houston, but the team acquiring the big man would technically be sending out a $10MM player for a $2.56MM player and could create a traded player exception worth $7.44MM.

The second year of Nene’s contract is fully non-guaranteed, but would become partially guaranteed if he’s kept under contract beyond February 15, 2020, just over a week after this season’s trade deadline. So, whether or not the Rockets trade him, Nene may hit the buyout market in February.

For more details on how Nene’s contract works, be sure to check out Marks’ report and Siegel’s analysis in full. If you still have questions, leave them in the comment section below.

Rockets Notes: Nene, Westbrook, Harden, Clemons

The Rockets got creative with Nene‘s new contract, according to Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, who reports (via Twitter) that the deal spans two years, with a non-guaranteed second season. Although Nene is only owed a minimum base salary in each of those two seasons, likely incentives increase the annual value of the contract to $10MM per year, per Siegel.

The criteria for Nene’s incentives will be fascinating, since it’s hard to imagine he’ll actually earn all $7MM+ in bonus money. The Rockets may be artificially inflating his cap hit using incentives that will be tricky to earn (even though they’re technically considered “likely”). A $10MM cap hit – made possible because Houston held Nene’s Bird rights – will make the veteran center one of Houston’s most valuable salary-matching pieces leading up to the February trade deadline.

According to Siegel, the trigger date for Nene’s 2020/21 salary is February 15, 2020 rather than next summer, which suggests there’s a real chance the big man could be released during the season, perhaps being traded and then bought out in early February.

As we wait for more specifics on Nene’s contract, let’s round up a few more items out of Houston…

Nene Returns For 18th NBA Season, Re-Signs With Rockets

SEPTEMBER 6: The Rockets have officially announced the signing, according to a team press release.

SEPTEMBER 3: Free agent big man Nene plans on returning to the Rockets, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Nene opted out of the final year of his most recent contract back in June, which led many to believe he would retire. He has spent 17 years in the NBA so far, with the past three seasons coming in Houston.

The Rockets inked veteran center Tyson Chandler this offseason, so with Chandler and Nene in the frontcourt, the team has solid depth at the five. Houston shouldn’t need to rely heavily on either veteran big man to spell starter Clint Capela, which should allow the team to give their elder centers nights off when needed.

Nene was selected by New York with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2002 draft and he was subsequently traded to Denver on draft night along with Marcus Camby and Mark Jackson in a package for Antonio McDyess. Nene is the only member of the 2002 draft class still in the league.

In addition to the Rockets and Nuggets, the Sao Carlos native has also played for the Wizards. Only nine active players have appeared in more NBA games than Nene.

Rockets’ Nene To Opt Out

Veteran Rockets center Nene has decided to opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Nene’s contract featured a $3,825,360 player option for the 2019/20 season, which he’ll turn down.

Nene, 36, averaged a career-low 13.0 minutes per contest in Houston last season, recording 3.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG in 42 games.

Given his age and his increasingly limited role with the Rockets, Nene’s decision to forgo a salary of nearly $4MM isn’t one I anticipated. It will be interesting to see how he does on the open market — perhaps his agent got word that another team is ready to put a more favorable offer on the table, or perhaps he’s doing Houston a favor.

The Rockets are said to be in the running for Jimmy Butler, who would have to be acquired in a sign-and-trade deal. That would put a hard cap on Houston’s spending for the 2019/20 league year.

Removing Nene’s $3.8MM cap hit from their books would give the Rockets some much-needed flexibility in that scenario and the veteran big man could still theoretically return on a minimum salary deal. He’d earn a projected $2.56MM on a one-year minimum contract, but would only have a cap hit of about $1.62MM.

Of course, it’s possible Nene won’t seek a new contract at all. According to Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic (via Twitter), retirement is a viable possibility for the former seventh overall pick.

Nene’s player option decision was the last one to be reported for the 2019/20 season. The full list can be found here.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.