Tilman Fertitta

Tilman Fertitta Says He’s Excited About Rockets’ Future

The Rockets have lost an incredible 43 of their last 48 games, will finish the season with the NBA’s worst record, and will only have a 52.1% chance to keep their first-round pick, which is top-four protected. However, team owner Tilman Fertitta tells ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he remains bullish on the future of the franchise.

“I never thought I could feel this good after winning only 16 games,” Fertitta said of his 16-53 club. “I never thought I could feel this good when I’ve been so upset about losing. But when I look at all the draft picks that we have and the future, I’m just happy. I know it’s unusual to feel this good with your coach (Stephen Silas) and your general manager (Rafael Stone), but I do.”

If the Rockets’ 2021 first-round pick falls outside of the top four, they’ll have to send it to the Thunder in exchange for Miami’s first-round selection. Houston also owes two more future first-rounders to Oklahoma City, in 2024 (top-four protected) and 2026 (top-four protected).

However, the Rockets have acquired several other first-round picks and swaps in various trades, including the James Harden blockbuster — they’ll have Portland’s and Brooklyn’s first-round picks this year, as well as first-rounders from the Nets, Pistons, Wizards, and Bucks in future drafts. Fertitta expressed a willingness to be patient waiting for those extra selections to pay dividends.

“It could be 2027 that we get a top-five pick that ends up being the next greatest player,” Fertitta told MacMahon. “We don’t know, but my people have shown all they’ve done so far is made the right decision, and I’m proud of all of them. I’m proud of the basketball ops people and I’m proud of Silas, because they keep showing me they’re doing the right things.”

Fertitta specifically credited Stone for the acquisitions of Christian Wood and young building blocks like Kevin Porter and Kenyon Martin Jr. He also praised Silas for the work he has done dealing with adversity this season and developing those young players. The Rockets’ owner added that he doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind for the club becoming a legit contender again.

“I can tell you this: I’m going to be patient,” Fertitta told ESPN. “I know my basketball guys know what they’re doing. We’re not going to go do something stupid to try to get into the playoffs next year that then will prevent us from competing for a championship in a couple years. … I think we’ll be much better next year and we’ll be much better the following year and then we’ll be much better the following year.”

Rockets Notes: Fertitta, T. Brown, Wilson, Exum

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has watched his team go from among the NBA’s best to the league’s worst record very quickly, and he’s realistic about how long it will take to get back on top, writes Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. Houston arrived in training camp with playoff aspirations and a veteran core in place, but after a massive roster overhaul, the Rockets are just 4-35 since February 5.

“It’s really, really hard because I am competitive and I hate to lose,” Fertitta said. “But my people, including (CEO) Tad (Brown) and (general manager Rafael Stone) and even my son Patrick, just (say) the biggest mistake you can make right now is use all these picks to be a .500 club, because you’re never able to be a championship caliber club,” Fertitta said. “But I hate losing so much I’m totally staying out of it, because I’m scared that I can make the wrong decisions. I want to win today. I just have to (stay out of it) because they’re right and they just gave me examples and examples.”

There’s more on the Rockets:

  • Tad Brown has become the latest high-profile figure to leave the organization, announcing Friday that he will step down as CEO at the end of the season, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Brown made it clear that he wasn’t being pushed out and said he spent several months considering his future before deciding to leave. “This is something that is going to be a part of my heart and soul for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s very difficult to transition out, but I do believe it’s the right thing to do.”
  • The Rockets were down to seven healthy players for Saturday’s loss in Denver, which meant extended minutes for some players who aren’t used to a lot of court time, Feigen notes in a separate story. D.J. Wilson played 40 minutes and K.J. Martin was on the court for 42 minutes. “We put the work in behind closed doors,” Wilson said. “When our number is called, we’re definitely going to be ready, each and every one of us. When you’re not getting those minutes on a game-to-game basis, you can’t do much but ask to play. I don’t think anyone was asking for a sub. Everybody was enjoying the minutes. It was just tough we couldn’t get the W.”
  • Dante Exum, who was acquired in January as part of the James Harden trade, is considered out for the rest of the season, Feigen tweets. Exum only played six games this season because of a calf injury and hasn’t been available since the trade. He has a $9.6MM expiring contract.

Rockets Notes: Harden Trade, Wall, House, Wood

The idea that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told general manager Rafael Stone not to trade James Harden to the Sixers – whose front office is led by former Rockets GM Daryl Morey – is incorrect, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Fertitta stays out of trade discussions, according to Feigen, who says that Stone and Morey had “extensive” discussions. In fact, talks on Harden advanced to the point where Stone made one final demand of the Sixers in the final stage of negotiations and would have traded the former MVP to Philadelphia if Morey had agreed.

As Feigen explains, Stone wanted one more draft pick or player – believed to be Tyrese Maxey – and less protection on the draft picks included in the Sixers’ offer. Philadelphia was unwilling to meet those demands, so Houston made a deal with Brooklyn. Morey has since told confidants that he thinks his former lieutenant Stone made a great trade, according to Feigen.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • While some reports have suggested that Harden favored Tyronn Lue for the Rockets’ head coaching job over Stephen Silas, the team actually didn’t know which coaching candidate Harden liked best, Feigen writes in the same story. While Russell Westbrook preferred Lue, Harden never expressed a strong preference, which may have been due to his simmering desire to be traded. Westbrook and Harden both ultimately signed off on the hiring of Silas, Feigen notes.
  • Rockets point guard John Wall isn’t accompanying the team on its road trip this weekend due to a sore knee and isn’t expected back in the lineup until at least Tuesday, according to Feigen. Danuel House (health and safety protocols) also won’t play until Tuesday at the earliest, while Christian Wood (ankle) will miss at least Friday’s game in Detroit.
  • Injuries, absences related to COVID-19, and the Harden trade had the Rockets playing rotational roulette during the first month of this season, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, who suggests the club will ideally be able to get a better read on its roster in the coming weeks.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, D’Antoni, Milton, Baynes

James Harden looked like the star the Nets were expecting as he made his debut with the team Saturday night, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Harden didn’t get to practice with his new Brooklyn teammates because the four-team trade wasn’t finalized until shortly before game time, but he still posted a 32-point triple-double in a win over Orlando.

A number of teams were rumored to be pursuing Harden, but the Nets were his first choice when he made a trade request to Rockets management. Reuniting with Kevin Durant was part of the reason, but he also wanted to rejoin former Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, who is now an assistant in Brooklyn.

“When (ex-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) and Mike left, I sat back and reevaluated everything. Those are two guys I was very comfortable with and the decision-making for the organization,” Harden said. “Once they left, I had to figure out is this organization going into a rebuilt stage or were they still trying to compete at the highest level.

“(D’Antoni) was a part of it. Mike’s an unbelievable coach. He’s been doing it for a very, very long time. Obviously Mike is a factor. Being comfortable with him being comfortable with Kevin, knowing (Kyrie Irving), just those four pieces right there made it easy. Obviously them being in Brooklyn, for me it was a no-brainer.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers were also in the running for Harden, and they believed they were so close to a deal that the agents for Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle informed them of the pending trade, Lewis adds in the same story. But the Rockets never called the Sixers back after getting the offer from the Nets, reportedly because Houston owner Tilman Fertitta was determined not to send his star player to Morey.
  • Sixers guard Shake Milton started the final 32 games of last season, including the playoffs, but he seems better suited to provide instant offense as a sixth man, which is his role under new coach Doc Rivers, according to Keith Pompey of The Phildelphia Inquirer“I just want to do whatever is best for the team,” Milton said. “Whatever helps the team win, it really doesn’t matter if I’m starting or not. It’s an opportunity. I have a really good opportunity coming off the bench right now.”
  • Free agent addition Aron Baynes is only seeing about 16 minutes per night for the Raptors, but coach Nick Nurse plans to expand his role, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.” We’re gonna play Aron, we’re gonna try to get some extended minutes out of him,” Nurse said. “I know we’re not getting very much out of him at this point. We read the game … and his stint is gonna last as long as things are going well or he’s impacting well.”

Nets Notes: Irving, Durant, Fertitta, Shumpert

Now that a new Big Three is together in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving will likely be asked to sacrifice to make it work, two NBA scouts told Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Today’s trade that reunites James Harden with Kevin Durant gives the Nets three elite offensive players, but they may not fit together smoothly.

“On paper obviously that team wins the East and probably the whole thing,” said Bryan Oringher, a former scout with the Raptors, Hawks and Wizards. “But it all depends if they’re willing to do a Warriors-type thing and all sacrifice. (Harden’s) obviously incredible, but none of them seem super happy without the ball.”

Irving missed a fifth straight game tonight for personal reasons, and his absence could be extended if the NBA decides he has to quarantine when he returns to the team, Lewis adds. Coach Steve Nash refused to address specifics about Irving during a session with the media.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to know any new details about Kyrie’s situation,” Nash said. “So I’ll just rely on the front office to learn more as we go. They’re the ones that are going to do the messaging on that front.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Durant couldn’t talk directly about the Harden deal after tonight’s game because it’s still not official, but he did speak briefly about his previous experience with Harden in Oklahoma City, saying, “It was fun,” Lewis tweets. “I’ve heard that that’s not even finalized yet, so I’ll talk about it another time,” Durant added (Twitter link).
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta wasn’t impressed by the players the Nets were offering, such as Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, who is sidelined with a torn ACL, Lewis adds in a separate story. That explains why Allen wound up in Cleveland and LeVert was sent to Indiana, while Houston acquired Victor Oladipo and a parcel of draft picks.
  • Today’s trade leaves the Nets with three open roster spots, and free agent Iman Shumpert could be worth considering, writes Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. Shumpert played 13 games for Brooklyn last season and brought a strong defensive presence to the team. He briefly played alongside Harden in Houston, and was a teammate of Irving and Joe Harris in Cleveland.

Rockets Rumors: Westbrook, Harden, Luxury Tax, Tate

The Hornets and Knicks are the only teams with “verifiable” trade interest in Rockets star Russell Westbrook so far, Marc Stein of The New York Times writes in his weekly newsletter. And Stein cautions that both clubs’ interest is “conditional” rather than aggressive.

Some people around the NBA believe that Charlotte’s desire to acquire Westbrook will increase if the team doesn’t end up drafting LaMelo Ball on Wednesday night, per Stein. As for the Knicks, their stance is best described as “weighing, but resisting,” according to Stein, who says multiple people within the organization are hesitant to make a move for Westbrook and his pricey contract.

Stein suggests that the best offer the Rockets could expect from the Knicks for Westbrook at this point would include one future first-round pick from Dallas, along with players who aren’t part of the team’s long-term plans, such as perhaps Julius Randle and Dennis Smith Jr.. Even then, there’s no guarantee New York would want to take on the three years and $133MM left on Westbrook’s contract.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • While the Rockets remain reluctant to move James Harden and don’t feel pressure to make a move right away, the “overwhelming expectation” around the NBA is that he’ll eventually be dealt, whether it’s this week, next month, or sometime in 2021, according to David Aldridge and Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Past inquires of Harden have simply been turned aside by the Rockets, but there’s a sense that they’ll now come around if the package is strong enough.
  • Although Harden is reportedly focused on getting to the Nets, the Sixers‘ interest in him has grown in recent weeks, sources tell The Athletic’s duo. According to Aldridge and Iko, rapper Meek Mill – who is from Philadelphia – has been trying to convince Harden to come to the Sixers.
  • The Clippers aren’t currently pursuing Harden, per The Athletic’s report.
  • Sources tell Aldridge and Iko that Harden feels as if some of the Rockets’ decisions – including roster moves and hirings – have been made without substantial impact from him.
  • The Athletic’s sources maintain that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is “hellbent” on keeping the team out of luxury tax territory for the foreseeable future.
  • Sydney Kings swingman Jae’Sean Tate, who went undrafted out of Ohio State in 2018, is expected to sign with the Rockets sometime after free agency opens later this week, Stein reports. John Hollinger of The Athletic recently referred to Tate – who made over 40% of his three-point attempts in Australia last season – as one of the most highly-regarded players outside of the U.S. Houston is also bringing Sydney’s head coach Will Weaver stateside as an assistant on Stephen Silas’ staff, as we relayed last week.

Rockets Owner Believed Chris Paul’s Contract Was The Worst He’d Ever Seen

Last summer’s trade that sent Chris Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook was driven by the dismay Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had over Paul’s contract, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said on the latest edition of The Lowe Post podcast.

Reflecting on Daryl Morey’s tenure in Houston, MacMahon said Fertitta and James Harden were more insistent on the deal than the team’s former general manager. Harden had clashed with Paul during their final season as teammates, and Fertitta believed Paul’s contract “was the worst that he’d ever seen in business or sports,” according to MacMahon.

MacMahon emphasizes that Morey didn’t openly object to making the trade, but was compelled to act because of the wishes of his “two bosses,” Fertitta and Harden. He adds that many people in the Rockets’ organization believe the relationship between Paul and Harden could have been salvaged if Westbrook hadn’t been available.

Paul, 35, still has two seasons left on the four-year, $160MM contract the Rockets gave him in the summer of 2018. He played just one season in Houston after signing the deal, as the team shipped him and a parcel of draft picks to Oklahoma City in exchange for Westbrook.

Paul was outstanding in leading the Thunder to the playoffs in what many considered to be a rebuilding year, but his age and contract make him a candidate to be traded again before the start of next season.

Rockets Notes: Morey, Fertitta, D’Antoni, Coaching Job

General manager Daryl Morey’s job is safe and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta declared that Morey and the basketball operations department will conduct the search for a new head coach, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Fertitta, who made his comments on CNBC, said he will merely sign off on the recommendation made by Morey and his staff.

“It begins and ends with the general manager,” Fertitta said. “You can talk to me all day long. I personally wouldn’t know what coach to hire. That’s why you have a basketball operations team that’s made of a half a dozen people that use all kinds of analytics and experience.”

Mike D’Antoni‘s decision to leave Houston was made public on Sunday.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Fertitta’s lack of communication with D’Antoni after the Rockets were eliminated by the Lakers led to the coach’s decision to depart, Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic report. D’Antoni spoke with Morey and everyone on the team prior to the flight back to Houston on Sunday. D’Antoni expected a phone call from ownership regarding the season and its future plans for him but that didn’t come. Prior to boarding the plane, D’Antoni decided he would leave the franchise and test the open market.
  • Expectations will remain high for the Rockets and that’s one factor for potential head coaching candidates to consider, Feigen opines. The Rockets’ core players are on the wrong side of 30 and their window is closing. If the franchises decides to rebuild after Russell Westbrook and James Harden finish out their contracts, the Rockets don’t possess many assets, Feigen adds.
  • Jeff Green isn’t thinking about retiring, though as a free agent it’s uncertain whether he’ll be back in Houston. Get the details here.

Rockets Notes: Fertitta, House, Carmelo, Westbrook

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta doesn’t have a reputation as a free spender, but he promises money won’t stand in the way of bringing a championship to Houston, writes Jerome Solomon of The Houston Chronicle. The Rockets made moves at the trade deadline the past two years to escape the luxury tax, including a four-team deal this season that unloaded Clint Capela and brought in Robert Covington. However, Fertitta insists the tax isn’t the team’s top consideration.

“We don’t make basketball decisions of two or three million dollars based on the luxury tax,” Fertitta said. “Our whole budget this year was to be in the luxury tax.”

General manager Daryl Morey says Fertitta hasn’t ordered him to stay under the tax threshold, and the team will almost certainly exceed it next season with Russell Westbrook and James Harden each earning more than $41MM. With two former MVPs in the backcourt, Fertitta vows to spend whatever it takes to win a title.

“We want to be champions,” he said. “You win a championship, it’s probably worth $30-50 million dollars the following year to you from sponsorships, and people wanting to buy tickets and everything else. So you want to spend the money to win a championship.”

There more Rockets news to pass along:

  • Danuel House is taking advantage of his opportunity in Orlando and once again looks like the perfect small forward for the Rockets’ system, observes Rahat Huq of Forbes. Eric Gordon was supposed to move into the starting lineup after the hiatus, but a sprained ankle has prevented him from playing. Huq notes that an improvement on defense has made House more viable as a starter.
  • Carmelo Anthony‘s success in Portland has raised questions about whether the Rockets gave up on him too quickly last season, but it was an arrangement that was never going to work, contends Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. Smith argues that Anthony wasn’t willing to adapt his game and was an awkward fit with Harden, Chris Paul and coach Mike D’Antoni.
  • Westbrook and Gordon are both improving physically, but they have been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Kings, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Bruno Caboclo, who is suffering from an ankle injury, won’t play either.
  • In case you missed it, Harden has been named as a finalist for MVP honors.

Financial Effects Of Pandemic Likely To Impact NBA Offseason

A number of team owners around the NBA are feeling the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, for instance, has seen business fall off precipitously at his restaurants, hotels, and casinos, while Heat owner Micky Arison has had to temporarily shut down his Carnival Cruise Lines.

While some team owners have been hit harder than others by the effects of COVID-19, there’s an expectation that the pandemic will have a league-wide impact on spending this offseason, as Windhorst writes. Some teams may have to make difficult financial decisions that could result in unexpected player movement.

“With few exceptions, no one wants to make long-term commitments right now,” one general manager told ESPN. “You can already feel it coming.”

In addition to the teams that may feel pressure to dump pricey contracts or avoid expensive free agent commitments, some clubs may face financial constraints in the draft. Although selling second-round draft picks remains fairly common, no NBA team has sold a first-round pick since the Nuggets did so with the No. 27 selection in the 2013 draft, according to Windhorst. Some people around the league believe that teams will consider the possibility again in 2020.

“I suspect first-round picks will be for sale in this draft,” a team executive said. “We haven’t really seen that in a decade.”

Here are a few more noteworthy details and quotes from Windhorst’s examination of NBA teams’ finances:

  • Warriors owner Joe Lacob has told his fellow owners that he’s exploring a deal with Goldman Sachs to raise up to $250MM to manage expenses, per Windhorst. Sources tell ESPN that other team owners are considering ways to raise capital as well, with some – including the Rockets – pursuing legal action against companies that have denied coronavirus-related insurance claims.
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta recently took out a $300MM loan and is more leveraged than many other owners, since he purchased the franchise fairly recently, but he continues to insist he’s not looking to sell any shares in the team. Brokers who have approached him representing potential bidders have been told the same, reports Windhorst.
  • Nets owner Joseph Tsai recently sold about 25% of his shares in tech company Alibaba, according to Windhorst. Other owners might not have similar opportunities to raise capital. “I don’t know what will happen, but I may lose $50MM next season,” one owner told Windhorst. “If that happens, I have three options: I could borrow the money, I could sell part of the team or I could do a cash call and me and my partners would have to write checks.”
  • NBA rules allow team owners to borrow $325MM against the equity in their franchises. A majority of NBA teams – including the Warriors – have maxed out that credit, sources tell Windhorst.
  • Although the Buss family’s pockets aren’t as deep as some of their fellow owners, the Lakers bring in about $200MM annually from their local TV deal and aren’t expected to have any issues re-signing Anthony Davis, writes Windhorst.