Houston Rockets: Luxury tax could spell doom for Gary Clark, McLemore

Houston Rockets (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have several decisions to make as it pertains to the luxury tax and guaranteed salaries. Here’s why the team may look much different over the course of the next six weeks.

The Houston Rockets have essentially made it known that they don’t want to pay the luxury tax unless it means adding a significant piece that would make them a favorite to win the title.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has made on-again-off-again comments about how he’s willing to spend the tax, however, General Manager Daryl Morey has made moves that contrast the Rockets’ willingness to spend the tax.

Despite unloading Chris Paul‘s albatross of a contract, the Rockets are still capped out. This makes each player signing all the more important because the Rockets could become taxpayers depending on who they sign and the terms of the contract that is agreed upon.

But the Rockets could be facing key deadlines in regards to the luxury tax, as explained by salary cap expert Albert Nahmad.

Dates after which Rockets players will out-earn their partial guarantees by still being on the roster (for luxury tax purposes):

– Ben McLemore ($500,000): December 1, 2019

– Gary Clark ($708,746): January 5, 2020

– Isaiah Hartenstein ($708,746): January 7, 2020

— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) November 24, 2019

This seems like bad news for new addition Ben McLemore, whose play has certainly not been worthy of making the Rockets a taxpaying team. McLemore has gotten a significant amount of playing time due to the injuries to Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Danuel House. More specifically, House’s injuries have allowed McLemore to crack the starting lineup, as he’s started four games this season, which are more games than he started all of last season.

But McLemore, who is known to be a 3-point shooter, is shooting just 29.6 percent from downtown, which is certainly not what the Rockets were expecting when they added him. McLemore had an average of 36.4 percent from deep heading into this season and shot 41.5 percent from deep last season. What’s even worse is the fact that McLemore is shooting a career-high in attempts yet is still struggling to get his shots to fall, which is costing Houston possessions.

This has to tempt the Rockets to know they’ve got the ability to cut ties with McLemore in order to avoid being closer to the luxury tax.

Gary Clark was also mentioned by Nahmad, as he has a date of January 5th in which he’ll be due $708, 746. There is essentially no reason for the Rockets to pay this, as they’ve been playing Clark sparingly at best. Despite the Houston Rockets’ need for healthy bodies and strong defenders, the Rockets have still not viewed Clark as a legitimate solution.

This means the Rockets will send Clark back to the Rio Grande Vipers, where Clark will likely play for the remainder of the season. Although Clark could certainly help this Rockets team with his defense and 3-point shooting, releasing him is the right call, as they weren’t going to give him significant playing time anyways.

It would seem like a lock that the Rockets will pay the bonus to Isaiah Hartenstein, as he’s a capable rebounder and presents size that the Rockets need. This was evident during the Houston Rockets’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he grabbed a gaudy 16 rebounds on the night. In addition, Hartenstein’s stats per 36 minutes are 13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. It’s a safe bet that Harty will be receiving his bonus.

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The Rockets are surely going to be a different team after these dates pass, but don’t be surprised if Ben McLemore and Gary Clark aren’t on the roster for much longer.