Houston Rockets

Rockets Sign Chris Johnson

SEPTEMBER 22: Johnson’s deal is now official, per the NBA’s transactions log.

SEPTEMBER 21: The Rockets will sign swingman Chris Johnson tomorrow, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The journeyman’s deal will be partially guaranteed.

Johnson is one of two recent NBA players who share the same name, this one – the younger one at 27 years of age – having played more recently than the other via a 70-game stint with the Jazz in 2015/16.

With Utah, his latest of five brief tenures with NBA franchises,  Johnson averaged 2.9 points in 12.2 minutes per game. He’ll enter camp with the Rockets as their 20th player, a number that includes the reported agreement with Bobby Brown.

Houston already boasts a decent amount of depth at the three, so Johnson will have an uphill battle clawing his way into the mix with Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker and Troy Williams before opening day.

Rockets Notes: Capela, Tax, Anderson, Gupta

While Rockets president of basketball operations Daryl Morey doesn’t want to be making roster decisions with one specific rival in mind, he acknowledges in a Q&A with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that it’s impossible not to consider the Warriors at this point when making signings and trades.

“We know we’re going to face them,” Morey said of the Dubs. “We obviously have to get through some extremely tough teams, the Spurs, Oklahoma City, Memphis, you name it. To get there. But if you know you are going to be facing a team if you’re having the season you want, and we want to be all the way to the championship, I think it does make sense to focus on that team.”

Morey pointed to the signings of Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker as moves that were made with the Warriors in mind. Both veteran forwards are strong defenders who would probably match up with the likes of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in a playoff series against Golden State.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Asked by Feigen about the possibility of an extension for Clint Capela, Morey pointed out that contract extensions are getting trickier to pull off around the NBA, since the salary cap isn’t increasingly quite as quickly as initially anticipated, and long-term commitments are starting to add up for many teams across the league.
  • In Houston’s case, new deals for Capela, Chris Paul, and Trevor Ariza next summer would create luxury-tax issues for the club. While Morey didn’t comment specifically about new owner Tilman Fertitta‘s willingness to pay the tax, he told Feigen that Fertitta is “all about winning” and will do what it takes to win. Morey also noted that he has met with the Rockets’ incoming owner a couple times already.
  • Morey tells Feigen that he spoke to Ryan Anderson this week about the Knicks-related trade rumors that have been swirling around Anderson all offseason. “Players get frustrated,” Morey said. “It’s rare for a GM to get frustrated because we have to deal with it all the time, but this one has been frustrating because it’s lingering and not much is accurate out there.”
  • The Rockets announced today that Sachin Gupta has rejoined the team as a special advisor (link via Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston). Gupta was Morey’s first hire back in 2006, but left Houston to become a consultant for the Sixers during Sam Hinkie’s stint in Philadelphia.

NBA Modifies Closeout, Continuation Rules

The NBA has decided to re-evaluate how it handles two particular fouling situations, Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press writes, and two players will see their names live on in notoriety as a result.

In what can colloquially be referred to as the Zaza Pachulia rule, officials will be granted authority to look at replays and make a judgment call as to whether or not a defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way after defending a shot. If necessary, the official can assign a flagrant or technical foul accordingly.

Pachulia’s name is the first to come to mind considering the impact that one particular moment this past spring had on the Western Conference semifinal. That series saw Kawhi Leonard fall to a sprained ankle after landing on a conspicuously positioned Pachulia foot after a closeout.

The second fouling situation that will be viewed differently in 2017/18 pertains to continuation. Officials, Mahoney writes, will now ensure that shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a foul out on the perimeter is worthy of free throws.

Cited in the report as a common perpetrator of milking continuation calls is Rockets guard James Harden. By limiting the number of perimeter foul calls that lead to free throws, the league will disincentivize players from forcing unnatural shots after absorbing content.

NBA Teams That Can’t Offer More Than The Minimum

At this point in the NBA offseason, most free agents who remain on the open market will have to settle for minimum salary contracts, if they receive an NBA offer at all.

There are some exceptions, particularly on the restricted free agent market, where Mason Plumlee just signed a three-year, $41MM deal with the Nuggets. Within the last week or two though, we’ve seen top remaining unrestricted free agents like Shabazz Muhammad, Tony Allen, and Andrew Bogut settle for minimum salary contracts.

That’s good news for several teams who have used all their available cap room and/or exceptions and can only offer minimum salary contracts for the rest of the 2017/18 league year. They won’t necessarily be at a disadvantage when it comes to signing free agents if those players aren’t being offered more than the minimum by teams with the means to do so.

In some cases though, an inability to offer more than the minimum can handicap a team. Dante Cunningham‘s free agent decision this week reflects this — according to multiple reports, the deal Cunningham agreed to with the Pelicans is actually worth $2.3MM, which is more than his minimum salary of $2.1MM. While we haven’t seen the official terms of Cunningham’s new contract yet, it’s possible that the $200K difference was one reason Cunningham chose New Orleans over a suitor like the Timberwolves, who could only offer the minimum.

Teams with the flexibility to offer more than the minimum could also benefit later in the NBA season. For instance, if Dwyane Wade negotiates a buyout with the Bulls and considers which team to join as a free agent, the fact that the Heat have retained their $4.328MM room exception could be a factor — it would allow Miami to make a stronger offer than the Cavs could.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the teams that currently don’t have the ability to offer more than the minimum salary, which is $815,615 for a first-year player:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Houston Rockets: $350 of mid-level exception available
  • Los Angeles Clippers: $774,770 of mid-level exception available
  • Memphis Grizzlies: $1,440,385 of mid-level exception available, but will use at least $815,615 to sign Ivan Rabb.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • New York Knicks
  • Oklahoma City Thunder

Meanwhile, the following teams have less than $3.29MM (the value of the bi-annual exception) to offer to free agents:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: $2,549,143 of taxpayer mid-level exception available
  • Utah Jazz: $1,128,000 of room exception available
  • Washington Wizards: $1,902,000 of taxpayer mid-level exception available

Of course, just because a team has an exception available, that doesn’t mean the club will be eager to use it. Teams like the Bucks or Pelicans, for instance, still have various MLE and BAE exception money available, but their proximity to the luxury tax threshold will make them reluctant to offer more than the minimum salary to anyone the rest of the way.

For a full breakdown of how teams have used their mid-level, room, and bi-annual exceptions for the 2017/18 league year, be sure to check out our MLE tracker and BAE tracker.

Carmelo Anthony's Camp Still Hopeful For Trade

It appears all but certain at this point that the Knicks will begin training camp with Carmelo Anthony still on their roster, but Anthony’s camp is holding out hope that the team can get a trade done before Monday, writes Frank Isola of The New York Daily News. According to Isola, Anthony and his family have “mentally” moved to Houston, having believed that the Knicks would get a deal done with the Rockets.

Unless the Knicks were bluffing all offseason about their unwillingness to take Ryan Anderson‘s contract in a trade with the Rockets, it doesn’t seem likely that the two teams will get a deal done in the coming days, so we’ll see what happens if and when Anthony has to report to camp with the Knicks.

Andre Iguodala Nearly Signed With Rockets In Free Agency

An eventful series of free agent meetings in July had Andre Iguodala on the verge of signing with the Rockets before the Warriors swooped in and met his demands at the last minute, Chris Haynes writes in a fascinating piece for ESPN.com.

Back on July 1, we heard that Iguodala was expected to circle back to Golden State after getting an offer he liked from Houston, but Haynes goes into far more detail in describing the process that got Iguodala to that point. Here are a few highlights from the ESPN report:

  • As free agency opened, the Warriors increased their initial offer for Iguodala to $42MM over three years, with a partial guarantee in year three, according to Haynes. However, the swingman wasn’t satisfied with Golden State’s pitch and opted to take meetings with several suitors rather than accepting the Dubs’ offer.
  • The Lakers were the first team to speak with Iguodala, but as was the case throughout free agency, L.A. only offered one year, aiming to preserve 2018 cap room. The Lakers’ one-year offer was worth $20MM, per Haynes.
  • Iguodala met with the Spurs next, and San Antonio offered a fully guaranteed four-year deal. The Spurs only had their mid-level exception to offer, meaning they couldn’t offer more than about $36MM, but Iguodala – who likes being involved in the tech world – was intrigued by the team’s proximity to Austin.
  • The Kings met with Iguodala next and, armed with about $43MM in cap room, essentially asked him to name his price — within reason. If Iguodala named a price that Sacramento was willing to match, the Kings wanted a commitment on the spot, according to Haynes. Not wanting to commit right away, the 33-year-old held off on specifics, but recognized that Sacramento likely had the means to offer him the most money.
  • The Rockets were the next team to make a pitch to Iguodala, and one source within his camp called it “the best recruiting presentation of all time,” per Haynes. Houston was limited to its mid-level exception, but president of basketball operations Daryl Morey began proposing “lucrative sign-and-trade scenarios like a mad scientist” in an effort to meet Iguodala’s demands. Following the meeting with the Rockets, Iguodala cancelled his remaining meetings, including sit-downs with the Sixers, Clippers, Timberwolves, and Jazz, and there was “a strong sentiment that he was Houston-bound.”
  • Iguodala decided to meet one last time with the Warriors, though he expected to use the meeting as an opportunity to say goodbye, sources tell Haynes. Golden State offered a fully guaranteed three-year, $45MM deal, but Iguodala wasn’t budging from his asking price of $16MM per year, and intended to sign with the Rockets if Golden State didn’t meet that demand.
  • Shortly after Iguodala’s meeting with the Warriors ended, GM Bob Myers went to team owner Joe Lacob to ask for a little more money, and received approval to offer $48MM over three years, which was enough to bring Iguodala back into the fold.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Moore, Long, Cunningham

The Rockets enter the 2017/18 campaign with last season’s Most Valuable Player runner-up in James Harden and offseason acquisition Chris Paul, widely viewed as one of the greatest point guards ever. A deal for Carmelo Anthony has not materialized but Houston is still an improved team, David Aldridge of NBA.com writes.

Aside from the acquisition of Paul, the Rockets have been in headlines all offseason. Tilman Fertitta purchased the Rockets for $2.2 billion, Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston hard, and even to this point, Anthony to Houston rumors persist. Nonetheless, head coach Mike D’Antoni believes his team is in prime position for success.

“The biggest advantage is for 48 minutes we have a Hall of Fame point guard (either Harden or Paul) on the floor. That’s huge,” D’Antoni said. “And both of them can play off the ball real well, they’re both great shooters, and both can exploit the defense when the ball is kicked … whoever initiates it would normally finish it, but if they have to kick the ball over to the other guy, they’ll finish it.”

Aldridge also breaks down the team chemistry heading into the season and expectations for a team that won 55 games last season.

Below you can read additional notes around the Southwest Division:

Dwight Howard Considered Retirement In 2015

Dwight Howard considered retirement following his disappointing 2014/15 campaign, Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated passes along in a full-length piece that’s worth a read. Injuries certainly played a role in Howard evaluating that option, as he missed 41 games because of knee issues in 2014/15. Other factors, including his fit on the Rockets and his mindset toward the game of basketball, also were major factors.

“The joy was sucked out of it,” Howard said about his mindset toward the game that season.

The former No. 1 overall pick signed a four-year deal with Houston during the summer of 2013 and the team expected him to mesh well with rising star James Harden. The Harden-Howard pairing never came together as the franchise had hoped for, though the team attempted to create chemistry between the two by setting up a meeting during the 2014/15 season. Harden reportedly explained to Howard that he wanted the big man to set stronger screens and be a tougher rim protector, and Howard reportedly didn’t provide much of a response. One team source tells Jenkins that the gathering felt more like an intervention than a typical NBA player meeting.

Howard acknowledges that his communication skills are partially to blame for him not working in Houston and previously in Los Angeles.

“When I don’t like what’s going on, I tend to shut down, put my headphones on and ignore everything. I don’t talk about things. That happened to me in L.A. It happened to me again in Houston. I should have communicated better,” Howard said.

The big man was traded to the Hornets this offseason just one season into a three-year contract with the Hawks. Charlotte will be the center’s fourth team since he forced a trade from the Magic back in 2012.

Daryl Morey Talks Lottery Reform, Tanking, Rockets

The NBA’s Board of Governors is prepared to vote for draft lottery reform later this month, and one person strongly in favor of the adjustment is Rockets president of basketball operations Daryl Morey. Appearing on Howard Beck’s Full 48 podcast at Bleacher Report, Morey argued in favor of the proposal, which he described as just a “minor fix,” but a “positive directional step.”

Morey also briefly addressed the Rockets’ offseason, but the brunt of the conversation involves the draft lottery and the issue of tanking, with Beck frequently playing devil’s advocate to Morey. The podcast is worth checking out in full, but here are a few highlights from the head of the basketball operations department in Houston:

On tanking as an NBA-wide problem:

“Teams have to go through cycles … What you want to have though is that when a team is in its rebuilding cycle, which every team goes through – we went through it after Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady – you don’t want them to sit around the table and be dreaming of ways [to get worse]. … ‘It’s not good enough to only win 25 games, to actually get the best odds, we have to win 15 games.’

“It’s just bad for the league that a team in a rebuilding cycle has to think about ‘Maybe I won’t sign a free agent because, oh my goodness, that might win us a few extra games.’ … When you’re down in that rebuilding trough, you shouldn’t have to dream up more ways to be even s–ttier so that you can get the odds at a top player.”

On whether the lottery reform proposal may give borderline playoff teams more incentive to miss the postseason due to better odds at the No. 1 pick:

“I think they’ll all choose the playoffs. We have teams in the NBA who haven’t made the playoffs in, like, 15 years right now. So making the playoffs is going to look really good to most of them.

“I actually think the problem of going from bad to extremely bad, and the fact that teams will have to take themselves out of free agency – which created a whole bunch of problems with the players’ union – I think that’s a much bigger issue than if you might see a team go ‘Hey, we’re going to win 40 games, maybe we’ll win 39 games [instead, to miss the playoffs.]’ You’re saying, ‘I’m going to give up $10MM+ in revenue from the playoffs and the down-stream [impact on] ratings and season tickets.'”

On the Rockets’ addition of Chris Paul:

“It’s very hard to improve a mid-50s-win team. There’s not many levers to pull there. The ones you can pull are generally you’ve got to get a top player, because if it’s not adding a top player, you’re usually bringing in a good player with some flaws and you’re replacing a good player with some flaws. So obviously adding Chris Paul was not a difficult decision.”

On the Rockets’ ability to contend for a title heading into 2017/18:

“I’d say we feel much better. We went from feeling not so good – which I think 29 teams in the league should feel like considering the Warriors obviously are the class of the league – to feeling spunky. We’re feeling like if we can pull this together, get our habits right on offense and defense, execute, that we can give one of the best teams of all time a very, very good series.

D'Antoni Accepts Coach Of The Year Award

  • Rockets mentor Mike D’Antoni accepted his Coach of the Year award Friday from the National Basketball Coaches Association, writes Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. D’Antoni was a co-winner along with Miami’s Erik Spoelstra after guiding Houston to a 55-27 record and the third seed in the Western Conference. “The tie was legitimate and there were five or six others who received significant votes,” said NBCA president Rick Carlisle of the Mavericks. “So it really spoke to the quality job that everybody did from top to bottom.”
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