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Did the Houston Rockets make the right decision on Gary Clark?

By Anthony Duckett
Houston Rockets Gary Clark (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Gary Clark (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets made the decision to part ways with Gary Clark this week, in large part for luxury tax purposes. Although this decision reduces their tax bill, did the Rockets make the right call?

As you’re probably already aware, the Houston Rockets made the decision to cut ties with Gary Clark on Tuesday, which wasn’t all that surprising considering the upcoming contract guarantee Clark was due to receive. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has been very transparent about how he feels regarding the luxury tax and considering the fact that Clark was only playing 11.8 minutes per game, this was bound to happen.

But aside from helping the Rockets avoid his two-year minimum salary of $1.5 million, was this the right call? On the court, Clark never seemed to have the backing of Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, which is also difficult to understand. Clark is shooting 35.3 percent from downtown during the 2019-20 season, and is averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which the Rockets could use. What’s interesting is that Clark is actually playing better this season than the year in which he impressed the Rockets enough to sign him to a standard deal.

When you factor in the fact that Clark is 6-foot-6, it raises question of why didn’t the Rockets want to keep him, since he possesses the size and 3-point ability that the Rockets covet. His defensive rating slipped a tad bit from his rookie season, as the Rockets are allowing 112 points per 100 possessions in which he is on the floor, compared to 110 points in 2018-19. On the flip side, his offensive rating splurged, as the Rockets are scoring 128 points per 100 possessions with Clark on the court as compared to only 108 points last year.

What may surprise many is the fact that Clark’s offensive rating is actually a team-best among players who have played in at least 200 minutes this season. So again, why is it that he couldn’t crack the lineup? Well it seems this decision had very little to do with basketball, as the Rockets are not only keeping a watchful eye on their payroll, but they also are seeking to add another player and coveted the roster spot Clark holds, as first reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This means the Rockets will be likely scouring the buyout market, which could be beneficial considering the potential options available. But even if the Rockets are able to land one of these players, it will only be for the remainder of this season, as compared to Clark who was under contract through the 2020-21 season. What’s also interesting is the fact that the Rockets have pondered the possibility of bringing Clark back, which begs the question of why did they cut him in the first place?

This decision brings me back to another choice the Houston Rockets made heading into the season, when they signed Thabo Sefolosha to a fully-guaranteed deal, which was tweeted out by Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic. This is important because Sefolosha’s contract provides no relief, whereas Clark’s contract wasn’t fully guaranteed so he became expendable. The Rockets would have had the additional roster spot they coveted if they didn’t give Sefolosha the fully-guaranteed contract, because they could have simply parted ways with him instead of Clark.

Even those who were in favor of the decision to let Clark go would even admit they’d rather have him than Sefolosha, who is only playing 9.9 minutes per night and is shooting 27.6 percent from 3-point range. The Rockets already had Clark on a team-friendly deal, they just needed to give him more playing time.

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It’s a dangerous game to play because Clark could very well be picked up by another team, which would ruin the Houston Rockets’ hopes of bringing him back. We’ll have to see what happens but it’s certainly a questionable decision.

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