With the news of Nene returning to the Rockets, it seems like Houston addressed a need. But could they possibly be paying him to not actually play?
Veteran big man Nene has agreed to a new contract with the Rockets, according to Kelly Iko of the Athletic, prompting speculation on how significant his role will be on the floor, and rightfully so.
But are we sure he’s actually going to PLAY for the Rockets?
It’s an interesting question considering the fact that he could actually help resolve the Rockets’ need for more bigs on the roster. But according to salary cap expert Albert Nahmad, the Rockets could lock Nene into a veteran minimum contract of $2.6 million and still be under the luxury tax, whether he plays for the team or not. The Rockets would be motivated to do Nene a solid simply because he’s done the same for them in the past, as pointed out by Nahmad.
Nene is also the player who originally agreed to sign a 4-year, $15.0M contract with the Rockets in July 2017, but agreed to shorten it to 3-years, $11.0M (including the $3.8M option he declined in June) due to Over-38 rules.https://t.co/IxsJzWbPth
— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) September 3, 2019
Nene and his agent had actually agreed to an extra year on his contract extension at an additional four million but decided to shorten it and settle for $11 million, which certainly was a team-friendly decision. In addition, he opted out this off-season and costed himself $3.8 million, which definitely aided the Rockets as he was not going to get an annual salary of $3.8 million on the court had he signed with any other team. So this could be the Rockets way of sending him off into retirement with his last check and trying to help him re-coup what he missed out on by declining his player option to help the team, who was a fringe tax payer at the time.
What could complicate this is the incentive based contract extension the Rockets gave Clint Capela in 2018, which Nahmad also points out in his tweet. Capela’s incentives include $1 million for reaching the Western Conference finals, $500,000 for finishing with a defensive rebounding percentage of 30% or greater, and $500,000 for shooting 65% or greater from the free throw line, according to Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.
The incentives on Clint Capela's contract, per a league source: $1 million for reaching the Western Conference finals, $500,000 for finishing with a 30% defensive rebounding rate, and $500,000 for shooting at least 65% from the free throw line. Those are for each of the 5 seasons
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) July 27, 2018
But the Rockets wouldn’t be going the avenue of paying Nene to leave if they thought they would be paying the luxury tax because of Capela’s incentives. What’s also entirely possible would be for the Rockets to send Nene off like the Miami Heat did with Udonis Haslem. Haslem played 77 games total over the last 4 seasons with the Heat, averaging 5-8 minutes per night. But not only that, the Heat didn’t play Haslem a single minute in the 2018 NBA playoffs despite the Heat appearing in 5 games against the Philadelphia 76ers.
It’s an interesting theory and would actually go against the spending strategy of owner Tilman Fertitta, who is certainly not the type of owner to pay someone to leave, especially if it would leave him in a compromised cap situation, but again the Rockets wouldn’t do that if they thought it would cripple them. Doing such a move however would draw favor around the league with free agents, as it would be perceived as doing an aging player a solid and paying him back for helping them maneuver the salary cap. I’m sure that would be seen as desirable to players who know as they approach retirement, the Rockets will continue to do right by them.
It’s a really interesting question that will only be answered within a matter of time.