Rockets Rumors

14 NBA Teams Have Open 20-Man Roster Spots

With NBA training camps right around the corner, several more teams filled their 20-man offseason rosters this week. The Hornets did so on Monday, with the Mavericks, Pistons, Raptors, and Hawks following suit over the next few days. Those clubs join a list of 16 total teams that don’t have any openings on their offseason rosters.

Of course, every NBA team with a full 20-man roster is carrying multiple players who have non-guaranteed contracts, so it’s not as if any of them would be hamstrung if they really want to sign another player. But for now at least, it appears as if those 16 teams have their 20-man squads set for when camps get underway at the end of the month.

That leaves 14 clubs that still have open roster spots, as our tracker shows. Here’s a breakdown of those teams, along with my speculation on whether we can expect them to make moves within the next week or two:

19 players under contract:

  • Golden State Warriors
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Washington Wizards

None of these teams are carrying 15 players on fully guaranteed contracts, so it’s possible they’ll still add a veteran player who could earn a regular season roster spot. But it’s more likely that they’ll each sign another young player who could end up in the G League, since all four teams have their own NBAGL affiliates. The Wizards, who need to add some point guard depth, are said to be eyeing Chris Chiozza for their final spot.

18 players under contract:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Houston Rockets
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • Orlando Magic
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Portland Trail Blazers

While it’s not official yet, the Celtics essentially have a full roster. Kaiser Gates and Yante Maten have both reportedly agreed to Exhibit 10 contracts with the Celtics, but have yet to finalize them. Once they’re under contract, Boston’s 20-man roster will be full.

The Magic could also have a full 20-man roster if and when they complete their reported agreement with Isaac Humphries and sign first-round pick Chuma Okeke. The Pelicans, meanwhile, reportedly reached deals with undrafted rookies Jalen Adams, Javon Bess, and Aubrey Dawkins, but there’s only room for two of them on the roster, so unless New Orleans plans to waive a player, the team won’t be signing all three.

The Rockets are signing Thabo Sefolosha and would have room for one more camp invitee, while I’d expect the Suns to invite two more young players to camp with them.

The Nuggets and Trail Blazers don’t have their own G League affiliates, so they may not fill out their rosters unless they just need healthy bodies for camp.

17 players under contract:

  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Oklahoma City Thunder

All three of these teams have their own G League affiliates and should fill out their camp rosters with young players who can play for the Long Island Nets, Windy City Bulls, or OKC Blue. Of course, rumors continue to swirl that the Nets are eyeing Carmelo Anthony, but I wouldn’t expect the Bulls or Thunder to be seeking any veteran help.

And-Ones: FIBA Ranks, Olympic Qualifiers, NBAGL

Despite their disappointing showing at the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has retained the No. 1 seed in FIBA’s international rankings, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. World Cup champion Spain is at No. 2, followed by Australia, Argentina, and France.

FIBA’s rankings account for results from the last eight years, so the fact that Team USA won the 2014 World Cup and took home gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics keeps the program at the top of that list for now.

Meanwhile, FIBA also announced this week that the 24-team field is set for next summer’s Olympic qualifying tournaments. Eight of the 12 spots in the 2020 Olympics have already been claimed, but 24 countries will have a chance to compete for the final four spots. Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Serbia, and Slovenia – all of whom should have NBA players on their rosters – are among the teams competing in those qualifiers.

Interestingly though, those Olympic qualifying tournaments are scheduled to take place between June 23-28, 2020, so it’s not clear whether members of next year’s free agent class will be willing to participate — suffering a major injury in those games would impact their earning potential a week later.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic polled a dozen executives around the NBA about the 2019/20 outlook for the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets. The consensus? Those execs unanimously agreed that Golden State will make the playoffs, and believe that the Clippers are a better team than the Lakers. They’re also not convinced that the Rockets will be much better after swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook.
  • The NBA announced this week that the annual NBA G League Winter Showcase will have a new tournament format this year. The event, which will take place in Las Vegas from December 19-22, will feature a $100K prize for the winning team. That prize will have to be split among all the team’s players, but it still represents a nice bonus, considering the NBAGL’s standard salary is $35K.
  • In an interesting piece for The Athletic, Danny Leroux explains how an over-the-cap, below-the-tax team that re-signs a player using Bird rights can essentially turn that player into a “walking trade exception” by overpaying him to some extent. Leroux points to Darius Miller of the Pelicans as one example. Miller probably wasn’t getting a $7.25MM salary from any team besides New Orleans, but that contract could be a useful salary-matching piece for David Griffin during the season, whereas a minimum deal wouldn’t have been.

Signing Of Sefolosha May Cost McLemore Or Frazier A Roster Spot

  • The Rockets‘ addition of Thabo Sefolosha could come at the cost of Ben McLemore or Michael Frazier, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. Even though GM Daryl Morey has said he has the freedom to pay the luxury tax, Nahmad cautions that he won’t do it to keep an average player. Nahmad expects Houston to either start the season with the minimum of 14 players on its roster or possibly keep 15 with the intention to make a salary-cutting trade by the February deadline (Twitter link).

Rockets To Sign Thabo Sefolosha

10:37am: Sefolosha’s contract will be fully guaranteed, tweets Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, who adds that Sefolosha had an impressive performance at Houston’s mini-camp.

9:50am: Thabo Sefolosha will sign with the Rockets, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. The veteran swingman is participating in a mini-camp with Houston players and other unsigned veterans this week in Las Vegas.

Sefolosha, 35, spent the past two seasons in Utah, where injuries limited him to a combined 88 games. He appeared in 50 games last season, averaging 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in about 12 minutes per night. He has also played for the Bulls, Thunder and Hawks during his 13 years in the NBA.

The defensive specialist has plenty of ties to the Rockets organization, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). He was a former teammate of James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and coach Mike D’Antoni was hoping to bring him to Phoenix in the 2006 draft.

Sefolosha will sign for one year at the veteran’s minimum, according to Feigen (Twitter link). With just 10 guaranteed contracts heading into training camp, the Rockets have been looking for veteran help to fill out their roster.

Rockets’ Daryl Morey Talks Tucker, Roster, Tax, More

We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out what Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thinks about the joint ruling made by the NBA and NBPA on Nene‘s incentive-heavy contract, a ruling which will reduce his trade value and essentially invalidate some creative cap work by Houston’s front office.

Before that ruling was reported though, Morey sat down with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle to answer some other questions about the Rockets’ offseason and the upcoming 2019/20 season.

Feigen’s Q&A with the team’s top decision-maker is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of Morey’s most interesting comments from the discussion:

On whether Morey believes the Rockets will enter the season as the Western Conference favorites:

“Yes. We’re favorites. But as usual, there is some very tough competition: Clippers, Lakers, Utah. Then I’d say people are probably underrating Golden State still. We have a healthy respect for them. But we go in shooting for the No. 1 seed.”

On whether or not the Rockets have a “load management” plan in mind for their stars:

“I think there is a good chance you’ll see some guys resting when healthy. It all depends on the context of the season. If we start 7-11 again, I don’t think there’ll be a lot of resting. We’ll be battling for the playoffs. Everything is contextual. We need at all times to be looking at the ultimate goal of wining a title and what is the best decision. That’s why we don’t like to have any hard and fast rules. I don’t think that’s pragmatic.”

On whether the Rockets are interested in working out a contract extension with P.J. Tucker, who has two years left on his current deal:

“We’re open to the concept of extensions early. We have done it with players in the past. Normally, it’s the James Harden-type players. We’re open to it. That said, I have found you don’t really get to an agreement with what both sides are looking at to how the extension can work realistically until you are one year out. I wouldn’t expect any other extension from us this year, mostly because everyone is signed for multiple years.

On whether the Rockets, who have 18 players under contract, will make more additions:

“We’re going to have 20 going into camp. We can only keep 17 (including players on two-way contracts). Right now, we have nine fully guaranteed. I think we do have more roster opportunity than any team in the league at least for the back end of the rotation or guys that might come in if we take an injury.”

On whether Rockets ownership is willing to pay the tax:

“I’ve been authorized to do what it takes to win a title. … I would expect we’ll be over the tax at some point.”

NBA Ruling On Nene’s Contract Limits His Trade Value

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have made a ruling on Nene‘s unusual new contract with the Rockets, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). As we detailed last week, Nene’s two-year contract has a base value worth the minimum, but features over $7MM annually in likely bonuses that push the value of the deal to $10MM per year.

As Charania explains, Nene’s deal will essentially remain unchanged, but the $7MM+ in likely bonuses will be excluded in the event of a trade. In other words, he’d count for just $2.56MM in both outgoing and incoming salary for matching purposes, rather than being considered a $10MM outgoing piece.

According to Charania (via Twitter), who confirms that the Rockets had discussed a similar deal with Iman Shumpert, Nene will still have the opportunity to earn his bonuses, though the team figures to limit his playing time to avoid paying him significantly more money. In order to receive the full $10MM, Nene must appear in 40 games and his team must compile at least 52 wins.

Word first broke earlier today that the NBA was still weighing how to handle the contract. As we observed at the time,the league has the right to challenge deals that it believes violate the spirit of rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, even if those deals are technically legal based on what’s written in the CBA.

It’s a tough turn of events for the Rockets, who appeared to have found a creative way to maximize their flexibility for in-season deals, having generated a $10MM trade chip without being at risk of paying out the full $10MM. As a result of today’s ruling, that won’t be the case after all.

Because he signed a two-year contract, Nene will have a cap charge of $2.56MM rather than the $1.62MM cap hit he would have had if he’d signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract, pushing Houston closer to the tax. On a one-year deal, Nene would’ve had the right to veto trades.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Paul, Harden

Speaking to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta discussed his fondness for incentive-based contracts (“I believe that when you perform well you should make more money”), the possibility of an extension for P.J. Tucker (“It hasn’t come to my desk”), and a handful of other topics.

One of Fertitta’s most interesting comments was about replacing Chris Paul with Russell Westbrook. While he didn’t come right out and say it, the Rockets’ owner suggested that Westbrook will help increase Houston’s pace and perhaps complement Harden better both on and off the court.

“We used to be one of the top transition teams (in the league), and we’ve slowed down the last few years,” Fertitta said, alluding to the fact that the Rockets ranked 27th in pace last season after placing in the top five as recently as 2016/17. “And James and Russ go back a long ways in California, so they can talk to each other like brothers, you know, instead of one (player) thinking that he’s the mentor.”

Fertitta went on to clarify that he thinks Paul still has plenty left in the tank and will have a great season in Oklahoma City, but that Westbrook is “just a little bit better fit” for the way the Rockets want to play.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • In a separate recent interview, Fertitta spoke about the Rockets’ championship window essentially being open for the next four years or so. Kelly Iko of The Athletic looks back at the club’s offseason and examines whether Houston can reasonably expect to contend for a title during the next four seasons.
  • The Rockets may shun the “load management” label, but team officials have a plan to take some of the scoring and play-making burden off of James Harden this season, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. As Beck notes, Houston’s goal is to keep Harden as fresh as possible for the postseason to ensure he’s still performing at an elite level in the spring.
  • Within his feature on Harden, Beck spoke to the former MVP about the goals he still has for the rest of his NBA careers as he enters his 30s. “I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” Harden said. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the NBA is still reviewing Nene‘s contract with the Rockets. The league is said to be discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement.

Contract Bonus Notes: Nene, KCP, Randle, Jones

Veteran big man Nene officially signed his new contract with the Rockets back on September 6, but the NBA has yet to formally approve the deal, writes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link). Sources tell Marks that the league has been discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement, which create a $10MM trade chip despite the fact that Nene will likely only be paid about $2.56MM.

The NBA has the right to challenge deals that it believes violate the spirit of rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, even if those deals are technically legal based on what’s written in the CBA. While it seems unlikely that Nene’s deal would be nixed, it wouldn’t be surprising if the league looked to adjust the rules related to bonuses and incentives in the future to prevent teams from manipulating a player’s cap hit to such a significant extent.

In the meantime, Nene’s deal is hardly the only one signed this offseason heavy on bonus money. We’ve gone into detail on the incentives included in a handful of other contracts, such as the ones signed by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but Marks has even more details on bonuses available to players around the NBA this year.

We won’t pass along every single note included in Marks’ article, but here are a few of the noteworthy new bonuses worth watching in 2019/20:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can earn three separate $350K bonuses if he averages 1.85 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season with the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope’s new deal also includes a $163K bonus for being named to either All-Defensive team and a $50K bonus if the Lakers reach the Western Finals.
  • Julius Randle‘s contract with the Knicks includes three separate $900K unlikely bonuses that he could earn if he makes the All-Star team, is named to an All-Defensive team, or makes the playoffs (and appears in at least 65 games).
  • Tyus Jones‘ $9.258MM cap hit with the Grizzlies in 2019/20 includes an $858K bonus that has been deemed likely. Jones will earn the bonus if Memphis wins 33 games. If the rebuilding Grizzlies fall short of that mark, Jones’ cap hit for the season will dip to $8.4MM.
  • Maxi Kleber‘s new contract with the Mavericks features a set of four unlikely bonuses that could be worth up to $475K in total. To earn them all, Kleber must make an All-Defensive team ($150K), make at least 80% of his free throws ($75K), make at least 40% of his three-pointers ($150K), and average more than nine rebounds per 36 minutes ($100K).
  • Again, if you’re an ESPN Insider, be sure to check out Marks’ full story for more details on some of the more unusual incentives around the league.

Sefolosha, Brewer, Felton, Others To Attend Rockets’ Mini-Camp

1:41pm: Mbah a Moute, in a change of plans, won’t be attending the Rockets’ mini-camp in Vegas after all, tweets Iko.

12:13pm: A handful of the most noteworthy veteran free agents on the market will take part in the Rockets‘ upcoming mini-camp in Las Vegas, according to multiple reports. In a series of tweets, Kelly Iko and Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic reported that the following players will participate in the mini-camp:

With the exception of Jones, who has spent six seasons in the NBA, all of these players have more than a decade of NBA experience under their belts, which could make them good fits for a veteran Rockets team seeking depth as it looks to make a championship run this season.

[RELATED: Iman Shumpert turns down Rockets’ contract offer]

Although there’s some positional variety among the free agents who are participating in the Rockets’ mini-camp, it appears the team’s primary focus is on wings. Brewer, Mbah a Moute, Sefolosha, and Young all fit that bill. Mbah a Moute and Sefolosha, in particular, could be nice fits in Houston if they’re healthy, given their three-and-D abilities.

None of these veterans are currently under contract with the Rockets, who are carrying 18 players on their offseason roster. However, a strong showing at this week’s mini-camp could very well result in training camp invites for one or two of these veterans. Houston could bring even more of these players to camp if the team is willing to cut any of its current players to create extra spots on the 20-man roster.

No NBA team has fewer players on fully guaranteed deals than the Rockets, so a couple of the team’s regular season roster spots figure to be up for grabs in the preseason.

Iman Shumpert Turns Down Rockets’ Contract Offer

Free agent swingman Iman Shumpert has opted to decline a contract offer from the Rockets and won’t be attending the team’s mini-camp in Las Vegas this week, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). According to Charania, Shumpert made this decision after “months of discussions.”

Shumpert, 29, is one of the most notable veteran free agents still on the market. The eight-year veteran, who has spent time with the Knicks, Cavaliers, Kings, and Rockets since entering the league, averaged 7.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 1.8 APG with a .374/.348/.800 shooting line last season in 62 total games for Sacramento and Houston.

It’s not clear what the Rockets’ offer to Shumpert looked like, but I can’t imagine it was particularly lucrative, since Houston is inching dangerously close to luxury tax territory. Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops offers an intriguing tidbit, tweeting that Shumpert is looking at other options because the Rockets “reneged on their initial promise” to him.

This is entirely my speculation, but I wonder if the deal the Rockets proposed to Shumpert shared some similarities with the incentive-packed one Nene signed. After all, it seems unlikely that a straightforward minimum-salary offer would’ve required “months of discussions.”

Shumpert has also been viewed as a possible sign-and-trade candidate if the Rockets decide to aggressively pursue a trade for Andre Iguodala, but nothing appears imminent on that front.