Cap Backwards: There’s always the season after next

We’ve got to get something done, or it’s not good,” Morey said. “If I’m a fan, I’m waiting for us to get someone.”

I suspect Rockets GM Daryl Morey is expecting us (as fans) to continue waiting.

“It’s not for lack of trying,” Morey said. “I hope people understand that. We’re going to be among the top five teams in the league in flexibility this offseason.”

So we’ve got that going for us, (as people).

If you believe the “not for a lack of trying” defense, you can assume that Houston’s front office burned the phone and email lines between here and all the other teams. Such communications were not made available to me. And short of calling Mr. Morey and pretending to be his billionaire benefactor to get the inside scoop, I was relegated to the internet for my rumor mongering. Differentiating between credible reports and rumors of the high school girls’ variety can be tough and far less entertaining than believing everything you read.

So, was I happy when the www.dailypuppy.com reported that the Rockets were in the preliminary stages of forcibly packing Aaron Brooks’ suitcase in exchange for a Pomeranian and a twelve pack of Purina? No, but I was less thrilled when I read Brooks was headed to Phoenix in return for Goran Dragic and a first round pick. The latter signified the gross overestimation of Brooks’ trade value that I, and the rest of Rockets’ fans, was guilty of calculating. (Brooks demeanor and horrid shooting this season were, admittedly, largely dismissed from that calculation.)

With Brooks’ cheap, expiring contract combined with his previous season’s Most Improved Player performance, I figured he was just a notch or two below the likes of Devin Harris in value. Both are small, Brooks is smaller. Both can score, Brooks is the better shooter. I suppose that is the type of self-interested figuring that lands people in prison.

Now that I have established my limited ability to gauge value, please do not hesitate to sell me that Rolex you picked up in Istanbul last year, and also, understand my frustration at the Rockets’ inability to place themselves in one of the two trades involving players Houston could have benefited by acquiring.

My tally could include: Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Kendrick Perkins and Gerald Wallace. But Anthony only wanted to go to the Knicks, and Portland, who acquired Wallace for some bench players and two future first rounders, paid too steep a price for a super-glue guy.

That leaves Deron Williams and Kendrick Perkins. And yet Rockets fans are leaving the party with Goran Dragic and Hasheem Thabeet.

Perkins was traded from Boston with Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Robinson was used to make the salaries exchangeable under the current trading rules. A young, championship pedigreed, defensive stalwart at the center position for a young power forward and a back-up center?

The Celtics wanted Shane Battier. The Rockets clearly were willing to give him away. Jordan Hill or Patrick Patterson, young power forwards, and Battier is worse than Green and Kristic? I feel like the parent at the basketball game who cannot understand why their kid, whom they think is better than Air Bud, is on the bench when he is actually uncoordinated to the point that the coach thinks the kid needs glasses (barely a true story, but only because Air Bud had not yet been produced).

Much like the rest of the unintuitive* population, I concluded that Jerry Sloan was forced to step down as coach of the Utah Jazz so that the Jazz could appease Deron Williams. I reasoned Utah was, therefore, intent on keeping one of the best point guards on their team. Instead, the Jazz traded Williams for last year’s number three overall pick, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, $3 million, and two first round picks. The people who saw that trade coming are the same people who tell you they were about to invest in Google 15 years ago.

My frustration, while ill conceived in what is probably flawed logic (yup), lies in the idea that the Rockets could have bested that offer. Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry/Brooks, and draft picks? Is the whole world taking crazy pills? Is that not a better offer than what the Jazz took? So what the heck do I know?

As far as the Rockets are actually concerned, here is what happened:

Before the trades, the Rockets’ total salary for the 2010/11 season was $73,753,370. That is $3,446,370 over the luxury tax threshold, which would require the Rockets to pay a dollar for dollar fine for the overage ($6,892,740).

Aaron Brooks for Goran Dragic and the Suns’ 1st round draft pick this June, lottery protected.

If that pick is in the top 14, the Rockets instead will receive Orlando’s 2011 1st round pick that Phoenix acquired in a trade earlier this year. Orlando’s pick will likely be toward the end of the draft given their projected record at the end of the season.

Dragic is making $1,972,000 this season with a team option for $2,108,000 next year.

Brooks is making $2,016,692, or $44,692 more than Dragic, on an expiring contract.

That is $89,384 in luxury tax savings.

Dragic has a team option for $2,108,000 next season.

Brooks would have a cap hold of $2,976,636 this summer which means the Rockets will be effectively $868,636 further under the salary cap (2,976,636 – 2,108,000). Except that this summer’s salary cap will likely be smaller than this season’s and, regardless, it is an unknown number.

Also, the draft pick acquired from Phoenix will have its own associated cap hold (last summer it would have been between $1,443,300 and $850,800, given its position between the 14th and 30th pick).

Shane Battier and Ish Smith for Hasheem Thabeet and DeMarre Carroll and Memphis’ 1st round draft pick in 2013, also lottery protected.

Thabeet and Carroll make a combine $5,878,680 this season.

Battier and Smith make a combined $7,828,104 this season, or $1,949,424 more than the incoming salaries.

That is $3,898,848 in luxury tax savings.

Battier’s contract expires after this season, and Smith’s is not guaranteed. Even if there’s a fire.

Thabeet is owed $5,127,720 next year. Carroll’s contract expires after this season. Assuming the Rockets were not going to renew Smith’s contract and that they will waive Carroll, the Rockets cut $2,226,780 off next season’s payroll.

The Rockets saved a combined $3,988,232 in luxury tax payments – 2*(44,692 + 1,949,424) – and potentially cut some payroll off next season’s team.

*Referring to the imbedded link and its’ underlined text, I am being facetious. Thomsen’s premise that the Jazz are preemptively grabbing what they can by trading Williams before he bolts town is flawed. Thomsen seems to be saying the Jazz basically had to do this trade now or lose Williams for nothing; much like Denver had to trade Carmelo Anthony.

Thomsen says the Jazz could “ready themselves to exploit the next collective bargaining agreement.” He further guesses that “the owners of the mid- and small-market teams like Utah will be more galvanized than ever to create a system that can enable them to retain their best players (a franchise tag).”

The Nuggets traded Carmelo because he could opt out of his contract this summer before the new collective bargaining agreement and its proposed franchise tag and hard salary cap stipulations comes into effect. The Nuggets faced losing Melo for nothing or trading him now. Williams has another year on his contract which expires in 2012 meaning that Utah will still maintain the rights to Williams after the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated in 2011. Thomsen’s argument that the Jazz were forced to jettison Williams because they would not be able to take advantage of the new CBA and its speculated stipulations ignores the fact that Williams becomes a free agent in 2012 when the new CBA will be in effect.

Written by Connor Winn, ‘Cap Backwards’ is a discussion column on the NBA’s salary cap and its many intricacies.






in essays
  • Stephen

    Cap holds are not the same as salary.
    If the Rockets opted to renounce their rights to Shane and Brooks,there would have been no cap holds. The Rockets have definitely added Thabeet’s salary for next yr,while subtracting only Ish’s salary.
    And I would argue Shane would have probably signed a multi-yr deal around $5mil/yr to stay in Houston.
    But what’s done is done. And I have the suspicion the Rockets asked Shane where he would be okay w/being traded,and Memphis was acceptable to Shane.(Familiarity,much closer to Hou than say Boston,etc.)

    I must say,I’m really disappointed w/what the team got for Brooks. I’m okay if it’s a middling First,but if it ends up being Orlando’s-well every yr teams are selling picks in that range.
    Plus Sacramento really,really liked/likes Brooks. I would much rather have had Thompson or a Sac First and modest TPE.
    When you add in Phoenix had considered Dragic as their Nash replacement,and now is willing to dump him for a rental AND threw in a First…
    I guess the best way to look at it,assuming the team declines their option on Dragic and had no intentions of re-signing Battier and Brooks,the Rockets traded Ish for Thabeet and two Firsts. Now that’s a deal!

  • rox4lyf

    Deron Williams is one of the best PGs in the league. Almost every other team could use a player of that elite caliber on their team even if their current starter at PG is an all star. What I don’t understand, like you, is how no other team could have bested New Jersey’s offer. The Lakers sure could have used a player like DWill. Heck, the Boston Celtics could too I argue. But, let’s leave the debate between Rondo and DWill for another time. It is definitely baffling. There are boat loads of all star/youth potential players out there that are A LOT better than Devin Harris and Derrick Favors.

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  • Mike B

    I think you’re right about the Perkins offer. I feel like we could have beat that by a substantial margin. Green is a nice player, and maybe better than any individual player that we could have offered (which is probably why they dealt with OKC, not us), but Lee or Battier and Patterson plus a draft pick would have bested that offer IMO. My guess is they wanted a true center in return too, though … in this case, Kristic.

    Disagree on the Deron Williams deal, though. We have nothing close to Favors’ upside, and I believe those picks they received are better than any picks that we have the ability to trade.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Connor, but for the sake of this blog please keep the political links OFF. Not the time and place and very distracting from more important matters like our Rockets. You will alienate some readers if we get the feeling that the “red” in Red94 has to do with something other than the color on Rockets’ jerseys. I feel tricked (heads to eyewash station). Luckily you did include a link to puppies to cleanse my palette.

  • Jodorowsky

    Couldn’t agree more… Nothing ruins a good Rockets or Movie blog quicker than politics…

  • Jodorowsky

    Regarding Perkins, I keep hearing people talk about… well… maybe Danny Ainge knows something about his knees that he’s not telling people. Makes you wonder if Morey might have asked about his availability around the time we were hearing about the celtics interest in Mr. Battier and maybe because of some kind of friendship between the two, which I dont even know if there is one, let him in on some inside information. Im sure this is total naivety on my part and actually they just saw the thunder deal as having more upside… but you never know…

  • Bill Simmons take on what morey did:

    “The latest beneficiary: Houston’s Daryl Morey, who flipped 25 games of Shane Battier (a free agent to be) into Hasheem Thabeet and a protected first-round pick. Naysayers would argue that Thabeet is a stiff — partly because he’s been a total stiff, and partly because he’s been a total stiff. But Raymond Felton, Michael Beasley, Channing Frye, Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Antonio Daniels were all top-10 picks who struggled with their first teams and blossomed somewhere else. You should always bet on pedigree if the price is low. Sure, I’d probably bet on Thabeet being on the receiving end of Blake Griffin’s greatest dunk over having a worthwhile career with the Rockets. But you never know. And if you’re not giving up anything, then why not?”

    Very nice to see a non-Rockets write with a positive outlook for the team.
    Discuss.

  • Bill Simmons take on what morey did:

    “The latest beneficiary: Houston’s Daryl Morey, who flipped 25 games of Shane Battier (a free agent to be) into Hasheem Thabeet and a protected first-round pick. Naysayers would argue that Thabeet is a stiff — partly because he’s been a total stiff, and partly because he’s been a total stiff. But Raymond Felton, Michael Beasley, Channing Frye, Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Antonio Daniels were all top-10 picks who struggled with their first teams and blossomed somewhere else. You should always bet on pedigree if the price is low. Sure, I’d probably bet on Thabeet being on the receiving end of Blake Griffin’s greatest dunk over having a worthwhile career with the Rockets. But you never know. And if you’re not giving up anything, then why not?”

    Very nice to see a non-Rockets write with a positive outlook for the team.
    Discuss.

  • Tkired

    thaat’s not a particularly partisan article. just good investigative journalism.

  • randy

    Thabeet wasn’t given any minutes due to Marc Gasol. You can’t expect any rookie to develop or put up significant numbers if you play them 8 minutes a game…

    Doesn’t people remember Jordon Hill? Although he hasn’t done that great, he’s a lot better than what people thought of him to be as a Knick…

    I cannot believe everyone blames Morey to have traded for 4 mil in salary in Thabeet..

  • Kade

    Bill Simmons and Morey are best buddies and will never say anything remotely negative about him/Rockets.

  • Kade

    Utah wouldn’t trade Deron to a Western Conference team unless forced. They also didn’t want to shop him around in fear that his value would go down (see Mello)

    I think the wool is off so to speak regarding Morey/Rockets. They simply can’t get it down then again you have to have a star to get another star to get another star.

    Honestly, if you were a top tier player why go to Houston when you can go to a team already loaded with a chance to win a ring much easier. The days where studs wanted to be the man and win are over.

    Rockets only chance now is through the draft and hope they get the next Lebron/Wade / Durant type player then build. Morey should look at OK to see how they run their program which is light years ahead of Morey’s Rockets.

  • jmwilliamson

    I disagree that we could have offered anything better than either of those packages. I think people who think we could have trumped that need to take their rockets red colored glasses off.

    And Jeff Green is not a power forward/back up center. The only reason he even played power forward in OKC is because they didn’t have a real center and did have one of the best small forwards in the game. His natural position is small forward.

  • Andrewwax

    Hey buddy, i’m all on board with Thompson getting shipped for Brooks, but let’s remember it takes two to tango.

  • Kade

    JM – I agree with you. Honestly just think if you are a top 15 NBA player, why on Earth would you go to Houston over a team that’s loaded and ready to win a title NOW?
    In all honesty Houston has really zero to offer any team that wants to build.

  • Brook

    Utah probably wanted to trade him out of the West. They didn’t want public trade negotiations the way things went for Denver. Also, since DWill isn’t eligible for an extension yet, any team trading for him has no idea if they are getting anything but a 1.5 season lease. The Jazz were obviously looking to go young, so while there might be a handful of playoff teams that might have viewed DWill as the final piece of the puzzle, do many of them have a rookie with the potential of Favors? Would their draft picks be worth as much as Utah hopes New Jersey’s will be?

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  • Anonymous

    I’m not judging the content, having not read it through. Just saying linking to these sources are way off-topic (not cute like puppies), unnecessary and potentially volatile. I appreciate sports as a diversion from the subject matter in question and feel betrayed when my favorite sports blog suckers me into that stuff.

  • Blake

    You mean be perennial losers for most of a decade, get moved out of the city, and get lucky enough to land a generational talent? That is one hell of a way to run a program.

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