Houston Rockets reach deal with Luis Scola: 5 years, $47million

Just tweeted by Jonathan Feigen of the Chronicle.  He originally tweeted “5 years, $57million”, leaving me scrambling to pick my jaw up from off the floor.  Still, this is quite a hefty price-tag for the 30 year old.

Update at 10:02AM on Friday morning

On the surface, this signing has ‘Carrol Dawson’ written all over it.  (To the younger fans, that’s not a good thing.)  My first reaction was to wonder who let the Rockets’ former general manager in on the negotiations.

With that said, Daryl Morey’s track record has earned him the benefit of the doubt.  With no capable replacement, they couldn’t just let Scola walk.  While the figure is higher than expected, you can rest assured that the Rockets let the market set the price, probably with intel about a potential offer – this was not borne out of the same gratuitous urge that brought you Kelvin Cato.

So why didn’t Morey simply wait and match an offer sheet as he did with Landry and Lowry?  Perhaps there was a higher offer expected to be on the table.  Another reason could be that because the annual raises for contracts for players signed by their original team is 10.5% (as opposed to 8% if signed by another team), the lower first year salary could have been desired to offer potential breathing room (around the tax threshold) near the deadline if the team decides to cut losses.

In a now outdated special for SB Nation Houston, I explained where the club stood with regards to the cap.  With a starting salary just under $8million, Scola’s new deal pushes the Rockets well into luxury tax territory.

Many may have qualms with the decision.  After all, Scola will be 35 when the deal ends and isn’t exactly elite.  With that said, his production since the Landry trade has been undeniable.

In March, I wrote that in the ten games to that point following the Landry trade, excluding one night when he only logged 16 minutes due to injury, Luis Scola had averaged 19.4ppg and 12.2rpg.  While I don’t yet have the final figures on Scola on the year, that’s All-Star production.

More as it comes.

Update at 9:28PM: A reader, Chris, writes:

Rahat, word is the 5th year is only partially guaranteed. (ala what the Mavs do).

Fascinating considering that the last year on Lowry’s deal is also partially guaranteed.  This is significant.  Remember that in the modern NBA economy, it’s no longer expiring contracts which hold paramountcy in value, but rather partially guaranteed deals and traded player exceptions.  Teams want the instant savings, as opposed to cap space, and Morey seems to be engineering his signings to create that asset for future use.

Update at 6:42AM on Friday morning:

A reader, Carl Herrera, writes:

Scola is reported to have an offer from Tau Vitoria, his old team in Spain. My guess is that the Rockets “matched” that offer.

This would seem to make the most logical sense – an outright signing flies in the face of Morey’s established M.O. (not to mention smart business.)  You can rule out altruism as the source of this, contrary to what is no doubt the popular assumption.  Still though, pretty surprising that 1) the Rockets felt there was enough of a chance of him going back overseas to do this and 2) that contracts run so high abroad.

A reader, Bob Schmidt, writes:

Would anyone prefer Brendon Haywood at a six-years for $55 million? He’s also 30 and the Mavs look nuts for making this deal. Career averages not much more than 1/2 Scolas.

I don’t know if I agree here.  There’s a premium on 7 footers.  By some statistical metrics I’ve seen, Haywood is also considered elite defensively.  I think that price was pretty fair.

A reader, Keith, writes:

According to Feigen “In the 29 games after his backup Carl Landry was traded to the Sacramento Kings, Scola averaged 22.2 points and nine rebounds” thought i would help.

Scola’s pretty much a true 20/10 making this a fair value contract.  Then why do I hold such a subjective bias against him?  I’ve always found it interesting psychologically to evaluate my own biases and assumptions.  Here we have a 20 and 10 guy who works tirelessly, does not miss games, and is the consummate professional, and yet my immediate reaction upon his garnering $9million annually is a negative one – what gives, Rahat?

It could be because his game is so ugly.  I touched on this concept in my feature piece on Yao Ming saying that a large part of negative perception towards Yao is borne from the fact that when he struggles, unlike other players, it’s aesthetically painful to watch.  I wonder if the same thing is at play here with Scola – he’s an oafish dude who seems to have clubbed feet when he runs, seems to have never run a left-handed dribbling/layup drill, and sticks his foot out on his jumpers.  Yuck.  If that’s the case, that’s pretty irrational on my part.

One claim I’ve always made is that I felt Scola couldn’t compete against the elite teams.  I decided to verify this by checking the data at Hoopsstats.

Against playoff teams last year, Scola averaged 15.5ppg and 8.0rpg on 49% shooting.  Against lottery teams, he averaged 17.3ppg and 9.6rpg on 54% shooting.  A drop-off, yes, but nothing so egregiously apparent as to validate my claim or come as unexpected against better competition.

Against the top 8 teams in the West, Scola averaged 15.8ppg and 7.7rpg on 51% shooting, roughly around his season averages.

I’ve been pretty off-base on this.  While no one would ever mistake Scola for elite – he doesn’t do it against double teams – he brings it at the same rate against both good and bad teams.

As many readers have noted, given Luis’ playing style (ie: no reliance on athleticism), and lack of NBA mileage, there shouldn’t be much concern over his age and the length of the deal.  And the fact that the last year is partially guaranteed is quite huge – that will be a nice trade chip in a few years.

This contract was by no means a bargain but after assessing this from all angles, it was a fair, if not good deal.

The focus now turns to further moves.  The team still needs an upgrade somewhere but is stuck in a strange spot where few targets would be enough of an upgrade that they would justify their respective costs.  Morey clearly felt the power forward spot could be improved so he targeted Bosh and Stoudemire, but after striking out on them, there isn’t anyone available who is any better than Scola.  (In light of this reality, one can see why the team had but no choice to match any offer he received.)

The team can’t get any better at either center or shooting guard, leaving us with the ‘1’ and the ‘3.’ Even if Brooks is re-signed for $8million/annually, he and Lowry provide better total production than all but a few point guards in the league.  On the other hand, one can argue that the presence of one great player (think Chris Paul) is more impactful than the equal statistical production of two.

Bad news on the market at the ‘3’, as an emailer sends in the following news from theindychannel.com:

Under the deal announced Monday, the team will stay in Conseco Fieldhouse the next three seasons while the city pays $10 million a year for running the arena and pays for a minimum of $3.5 million in fieldhouse improvements, 6News’ Norman Cox reported.

That financial relief would alleviate any need for the Pacers to move  forward Danny Granger.

Carmelo Anthony will likely be available but is such a trade worth the risk?  If he doesn’t sign an extension with the Nuggets, what would make him extend with the Rockets?  He has no reason to think the Rockets are a better organization than the Nuggets or that they have a better chance of winning, given the standings in recent history, nor does he have any affinities to anyone on the team.

A reader, Rahul, writes:

As long as I’m on Twitter, does anyone think that Scola’s favorite team in the World Cup being Uruguay has anything to do with the fact that his doppleganger made the winning penalty kick vs Ghana?http://twitter.com/LScola4/status/17953144554

I can’t seem to find a pic as I don’t know the guy’s name, but to anyone unfamiliar with the reference, a player on Uruguay’s national soccer team looks exactly like Scola.  By ‘exactly’ I mean I haven’t seen a more uncanny resemblance since draft night 2007 when I wondered why the hell Morey had just drafted Chris Rock.

Anyways, my immediate reaction at the time, seeing that Uruguayan player live, was mixed anger and befuddlement as to why Scola would risk injury in a contract period by participating in another sport.  Scola getting hurt playing for a different country in the freaking World Cup would give Moises Alou’s treadmill injury a run for its money atop the list of Houston sports medical oddities.

Rahul again:

“Is there any way to transplant David Anderson’s hands on Jacoby Jones’ body?”

This is undoubtedly the first time anyone has ever made mention of Dave Andersen possessing enviable hands (or any other physical characteristic for that matter.)

And finally, Rahul once more:

I feel like Morey has entered phase 2 of his strategy. After a couple years of stockpiling assets (buying second rounders, signing Hayes and Scola, trading for undervalued players like Lowry), shedding the team of bad contracts, limiting exposure to long term albatrosses, and infusing the team with young and cheap talent, he has reached the turning point.

Well, similarly, you could have dreamed, “What if Daryl Morey one day had an abundance of assets and cart blanche to go over the luxury tax and pursue any deals he wants?” I think we’re about to find out. This summer, Morey did not buy and second rounders. In fact, he tried to move UP. A few months ago, he traded for Kevin Martin, who has a few years left on his contract. He re-signed Luis for five years. He signed Ariza for five years last summer. This was all in contrast to the short, small contracts we were seeing from him before. The man is Keyser Soze. While we try to identify his strategy, we’re actually left analyzing a plan he exercised months before and has since moved on from. Maybe signing Ariza and trading Landry was the harbinger that preparation was complete, that phase 2 is on, and that Morey is about to show us what he really wants to do.

I think we’re in Phase 3 with the lines blurred between the phases.  Morey expunged toxic assets in Phase 1, trading Howard, Alston, and Bonzi Wells.  Phase 2 saw him create wealth, identifying market inefficiencies in acquiring the likes of Landry, Lowry, Brooks, and Budinger.  We’re now in Phase 3 where we see asset retention and upgrade.  Morey sold high on Landry leaving everyone to assume ‘selling high’ was entrenched philosophy.  Now he goes and re-signs Lowry and Scola at their market rates, disproving our (or atleast my) initial assumption that he only dealt with bargains.  We find ourselves at the tipping point with no point of return and a roster teeming with so much wealth that Morey can’t retain it all even if he wanted.  Does he make the logical move and upgrade again, combing assets, or does he shock us all and keep every one of them?  Who knows but I’m anxious to find out.

Update at 8:34AM: CNBC Sports Business’s Darren Rovell tweeted yesterday that Penny Hardaway would be announcing his intention to return to the NBA.  I have mixed emotions.  This is not unlike the feeling one has in adolescence when first realizing one’s own parents’ embarrassing quirks.

Penny Hardaway was my childhood idol.  If you’re around my age, he was yours too.  Most NBA wings under 30 cite Penny as their favorite player growing up (T-Mac, Lebron have gone on record). In fact, in terms of popularity, I can’t think of even a near-equivalent to Penny in the modern game. There’s sort of a duality with Kobe-Lebron where everyone hates/loves one or the other, splitting the vote.  No one really cares about Wade.  Iverson was there for a while but of course that’s no longer. Everyone loved Penny Hardaway.

The funny thing is, in retrospect, while great, he wasn’t really much compared to today’s elite.  Even in highlight clips, you can see he had sort of a weak left hand, often slightly losing the ball when making a move to that direction.  He couldn’t pull up going to his right.  It just underscores the point that we’re currently witnessing the golden age of NBA guard play.  Now of course that’s just a function of the evolution of ‘skill’, but interesting just how extreme it is for guard play while post play has reverted to the stone age.

A reader, Alituro, writes:

I think Luis can be healthy for 5 years. His feet to the floor style of play is more condusive to a long career versus someone who jumps out of the building.

This has been mentioned a lot and brings to mind another childhood anecdote.  It was around 5th grade or possibly middle school, during the absolute peak of Shawn Kemp’s prime, that my best friend at that time recounted to me at the bus stop a “report” he had heard on Sportscenter that Kemp’s career would be over at age 30 due to his high-flying style of play.  I refused to believe it; like I’ve said many times in this space, falls from invincibility are imperceivable.

Well Kemp was pretty much out of the league by around 30.  Now of course, as we know now, this early retirement was due to his habit of inhaling donuts like they were cocaine, but that’s besides the point.  It’s interesting that at that time, guys didn’t really flame out early due to loss of athleticism.  Now, it’s a reality, starting with the wave of high-schoolers who came into the league in the mid 90’s.

Update at 10:02AM: TrueHoop’s Sebastian Pruiti discusses Jordan Hill’s struggles in the post with video evidence.  Take a look.

A reader, Mike B, writes:

Not a Texans/NFL fan, eh Rahat? David Anderson (same name, different spelling as our Aussie center) is a wide receiver for the Texans. He’s about 5’8″, great route runner with great hands but obviously no length and not great athleticism. Jacoby Jones is the opposite- great athleticism, speed and length, but questionable hands.

Guilty.  I should just turn in my ‘man card’ now because there’s probably no greater faux pas in American society than apathy towards/ignorance of football.

Another reader, George, writes, with regard to the true identity of Scola’s doppleganger:

Sebastian Abreu, who is nicknamed “El Loco”, or “The Madman” for those of you who don’t speak Spanish.

There absolutely must be a movement to anoint “El Loco” as Scola’s new nickname, especially given the fact that Scola kinda has to know the guy’s his twin.  Call Friedman, call the media outlets, this must be done!

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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