Apr 4, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots during the fourth quarter as Houston Rockets center Omer Asik (3) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets have an estimated $52.6 million in pay roll. Patience may be the key in building a true contender.
The Rockets are still paying Luis Scola $6.5 million to not play for them (Scola was amnestied). However, the cap situation should be considerably improved next summer, and beyond that.
That is why Daryl Morey needs to consider that the final building block to his team will be available in 2016. However, that building block will be highly pursued. What else could be expected of a three-time scoring champ and MVP contender, Kevin Durant?
Durant will be heavily courted (obviously), and he’s been linked to his hometown Washington Wizards (via Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman). It’s strange to imagine Durant playing for the Wiz, but he’s spent his entire career in a small market thus far, so it’s not as farfetched as it appears at first glance. It’s less absurd given the Wizards’ rise and young prospering backcourt.
That said, if Morey chooses not to use the cap room next summer, Durant could be an option. The thought is that the Rockets need three stars to contend, and currently it’s a debatable two on the team, since Dwight Howard is still not quite his former Orlando-self (and he may never be).
Signing Durant would obviously catapult the Rockets to true contention, and it would reunite James Harden with his former teammate. It’s hard to get a read on Durant’s intentions, given he still has two seasons before he becomes a free agent.
Part of the decision will hinge on what Morey does with Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, both of whom will have team options for the 2015-16 season. Following that, in the summer of 2017, both become restricted free agents. It stands to reason that Jones may be quite valuable by that time. He’s progressing rapidly as a player, and it seems a good idea to keep him around. Even so, the Rockets will only have a payroll of $47.8 million in 2016-17, allowing for Durant to be signed while retaining the young talent on the team.
There is a strange element to this, however, and it is illustrated by LeBron James only signing a two-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The collective bargaining agreement expires in two seasons, and the structure of free agency and cap space will once again be addressed. It could, of course, lead to another lockout, which would impede the signing of free agents.
It’s all a bit too early to speculate, but the reality is Morey may be wise to keep the cap space and flexibility to make a move in 2016.
Dwight Howard holds a player option for $23 million that he’s almost sure to exercise in 2016-17, given that he may not be worth max money then (especially if his back begins to flare up again). The Rockets will have options, but it’s just a matter of how Morey intends to construct the team.
Apr 4, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo (9) controls the ball during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
With links to Rajon Rondo, the Rockets could fortify the backcourt, but it would ultimately rob the Rockets of the cap room needed to obtain Durant. These are the decisions that keep Morey and other GMs up late at night, pondering their teams’ futures.
It’s a sticky situation to play the waiting game and strike out again, like the Rockets did this summer, but often patience is a key element in building a dynasty, which would be the aim if the Rockets had three max-contract stars. The team may sacrifice depth, but it was front-loading the team with talent that allowed the Miami Heat to reach the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons.
Salary Info: Hoopshype.com