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 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.

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