Did the Houston Rockets mismanage their mid-level exception?

Houston Rockets Daryl Morey (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Daryl Morey (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is known as an elite general manager around the league, but did he make the wrong decision regarding the 2019-20 mid-level exception?

Heading into the 2019-20 season, it was well known that the Houston Rockets were top-heavy and were desperately in need of additional depth. Regardless of whether the Rockets had Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook running the point guard position, it was blatantly obvious that the Rockets were missing the necessary pieces to make a championship run.

Sure, P.J. Tucker is an elite-level defender, but he’s also essentially a non-scorer on a Rockets’ team lacking offensive firepower, with the exception of James Harden and Eric Gordon. But the Rockets were financially strapped for cash and left with few remaining options, so how exactly were they going to add depth?

Enter the mid-level exception, which is a clause that allows teams without cap space to spend money on signing free agents they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. As the Rockets were slated to be a taxpaying team, they were granted $5.7 million, which can be divided into multiple players or one player. The only caveat is that the contract duration can only be set at a maximum length of three years for any player signed with the mid-level exception.

The Rockets decided to spend $3.5 million of their mid-level exception on Danuel House, who had become a fan favorite at the time following his breakout 2018-29 season. This left the Rockets with $2.1 million remaining on the MLE, which they decided not to use on any other players during the off-season. This proved to be a beneficial decision because it gave the Rockets the ability to sign rookie guard Chris Clemons to a standard deal as the season was underway.

This has left the Rockets with roughly $1.6 million in unspent money on the MLE, which raises the question of why the Rockets didn’t spend more. The Rockets obviously have their best chance of winning a title this season with the dismantling of the Golden State Warriors, so why not spend money the Rockets had at their disposal? On top of that, why not maximize on James Harden’s prime years?

Although the Rockets may have appeased the fan base by keeping two of Rockets Nation’s most popular players, would it have been better to have added another player or two? We previously discussed how Danuel House has been struggling, which is actually putting it politely. Over the last two games, House has averaged a measly 5.5 points per game on 30 percent from the field and 14 percent from downtown in spite of averaging 24 minutes per game during that span.

On top of that, we all know that Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has been disinterested in giving significant playing time to Clemons, which was also evident during the Rockets’ last two games, as Clemons didn’t play at all. This is intriguing considering the fact that Russell Westbrook didn’t play against the Memphis Grizzlies, as he’s continued the load management plan of resting the 2017 MVP on back-to-backs.

Granted, we’d have to expect House to shoot himself out of his recent slump but what exactly was the point in inking Clemons if MDA isn’t going to play him? More importantly, what is the benefit of not maximizing the MLE while other Western Conference teams continue to improve their roster?

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We’ll have to see what Morey has up his sleeve but it’s an interesting decision to not spend the entirety of the MLE the Houston Rockets had available.