Cap Backwards: Expanded Sactownroyalty contribution

Below is the longer version of a contribution recently made at sister site, I did not mention Carl Landry because Houston is already deeper than a black hole paradigm lecture when it comes to the power forward spot.  Remember, that while the internet never lies, rumors should be taken with a grain of salt.

As has been well chronicled, Houston Rockets’ GM, Daryll Morey, has been stockpiling liquid assets for some time. Morey is a believer in the RC Buford, superstar team mold: 3 stars, with at least one superstar, integrated with complimentary specialists. With the loss of Yao Ming, and perhaps, regardless of, the Rockets are, at best, two wise men short of the outfit headed to Bethlehem. In need of a generational talent and a dude with frankincense to augment Kevin Martin, Morey is at least, as you will see, following the right star.

Morey’s accumulation of talent resembles the equity, or stock, side of an aggressively managed fund. He is heaviest on the assets having shown glimpses of tantalizing potential and that are easiest to move. Below, I have broken down the Rockets’ roster into two groups with the first being those positions most difficult to unwind. Juxtaposed to the second group of high liquidity assets, one cannot help but deduce that Morey is a bull waiting to charge.

Player, Age – Average salary over life of contract – Contract years remaining after this season – 2010/11 PER


Luis Scola, 30 – $9 million – 3 (base year compensation) – 18.65

Kyle Lowry, 24 – $5.75 million – 2 – 15.42

Brad Miller, 34 – $4.58 – 1 (2nd is unguaranteed) – 17.43


Patrick Patterson, 21 – $2.25 – 3 (rookie contract options) – 16.60

Kevin Martin, 27 – $11.5 – 2 – 22.54

Jordan Hill, 23 – $3 – 2 (rookie contract options) – 11.60

Terrence Williams, 23 – $2.58 – 2 (rookie contract options) – 14.64

Courtney Lee, 25 – $1.79 – 1 (rookie contract option) – 11.58

Chase Budinger, 22 – $0.87 – 2 (unguaranteed) – 14.78

Ishmael Smith, 22 – $0.63 – 1 (unguaranteed) – 9.23

Aaron Brooks, 26 – $2 – expiring (restricted) – 14.52

Yao Ming, 30 – $17.69 million – expiring – N/A

Shane Battier, 32 – $7.35 – expiring – 13.15

Jared Jeffries, 29 – $6.88 – expiring – 9.45

Chuck Hayes, 27 – $1.97 – expiring – 15.81

Not exactly a balanced portfolio, eh? Safe to conclude Morey is more eager to barter than ‘that guy’ in your fantasy league? Too many rhetorical questions?

Given that the Rockets are maxed out on the role players side of the Buford equation, Morey is clearly reaching for the stars. Sacramento is, therefore, not an ideal bilateral option for Houston as the Kings’ lone star, the supremely talented Tyreke Evans, is only being moved if David Stern agrees to replay the 2002 Western Conference Finals with referees from Switzerland, not the original ones from Compton.

Demarcus Cousins is intriguing but also seemingly unmovable but for political reasons (Kevin Johnson is convinced the stuff between Cousins’ ears singlehandedly draws federal education expenditures to the city of Sacramento like a pork barrel magnet). Multilateral negotiations would be far more interesting. And far more complex. And my thesaurus is running out of big words for ‘lots of’. So the focus will be on trades of mutual benefit between the two teams.

With the lack of available stars in Sacramento and the general depth of Houston’s bench, there is not a whole lot with which to build a change-my-underwear inspiring trade. As luck would have it, the Rockets and Kings each have some depth at a position the other could use an upgrade.

Aaron Brooks would seemingly be a fairly good fit next to Tyreke Evans. Brooks is a great shooter and scorer with capable passing skills. He could space the floor for Evans to drive and shoulder some of the offensive burden keeping Evans fresh. The Kings would acquire Brooks’ Bird Rights and the right of first refusal for his upcoming restricted free agency. At the least, Brooks is a dynamic threat off the bench who has averaged 20 and 5 in the past.

The Rockets’ only true center is the 34 year old Brad Miller. Chuck Hayes does an admirable job but does not cut the mustard as a starting pivot on a deep playoff team. Patterson and Hill are each better suited at the 4, as is Scola.

Sacramento’s Jason Thompson can be ruled out for the simple fact that he replicates what the Rockets already have in Hill and Patterson. He also lacks the propensity for taking charges that is a hallmark trait of Morey players. He also is not a great rebounder nor a good shot blocker. Basically, absent from Thompson are all the traits the Rockets need in a center.

Samuel Dalembert, on the contrary, is closer to filling a need – as a shot blocker capable of coming from the weak side to cover the mistakes of an otherwise porous defense. Additionally, he rebounds at an above average rate. He also comes with an expiring contract of $13.4 million which would not detract from the Rockets’ emphasis on flexibility.

To acquire Dalembert, who by the way is a statistically inferior defender to Chuck Hayes in points allowed per play 0.74 to 0.88, the Rockets could recompense the Kings the expiring contracts necessary to maintain Sacramento’s goal of being massively under any projected cap. Jeffries’ expiring $6.88 million and/or Battier’s expiring $7.35 million are a good starting point. But a “Brooks and expiring contracts for Dalembert swap” alone is not nearly enough impetus for a trade between the two teams.

Because the Kings are $13.5 million under the salary cap, Sacramento is able to absorb that much more salary in a trade than they divest. This makes the Kings a potent facilitator in multi-team trades, but does it add value in the eyes of the Rockets?

With Houston barely contending for the 8th seed, it is presumably safe to rule them out of NBA Finals contention this summer. As such, it would be understandable for Rockets’ owner, Les Alexander, to cut some fat off the team’s $3.4 million luxury tax overage. Any amount excised would effectively save the team double because of the dollar-for-dollar penalty associated with the tax. In that context, an expiring contract like Jared Jeffries and a conditional draft pick for little used Antoine Wright would make sense. In such a scenario, the Rockets could potentially move under the tax threshold and save a combined $8.6 million in salary obligations and luxury tax fines.

Additionally, if the Rockets are on the verge of losing some of their assets this summer to free agency, it would make sense to trade them now and save on the luxury tax bill. For example, if Aaron Brooks does not fit into the Rockets’ future plans, it does not make sense to retain him heading into his free agency this summer when another team will sign him and leaving the Rockets with nothing. That would waste any value he has to the team now. If the decision to cut ties with Brooks is made, it would make sense to use his value now, in a trade to someone like Sacramento, to dump salary and avoid luxury tax fees. The Rockets could combine Brooks in a trade like the cost cutting one above for Wright, saving the Rockets a combined $16 million in salary and fees.

Unfortunately for this exercise, the Rockets are seemingly poised to pay a luxury tax in order to retain and accumulate talent. This was made evident in December when Morey and Company traded a conditional 1st round pick for Terrence Williams. Williams cannot be part of any trade, except for a one-for-one swap, until this summer. Considering the cost of adding Williams is double his salary because of its addition to the luxury tax, the Rockets appear ready to pay the tax in order to increase their chances at landing a superstar sometime down the road.

The Rockets, however, are cognizant of the state of limbo toward which this strategy may lead. Neither good enough to compete nor bad enough to win the lottery, the team’s popularity and value will decline in the mire of mediocrity. The Kings, while not possessive of a star for Houston, can deliver the hope necessary to stave of irrelevance – a 15% chance at winning this summer’s draft lottery.

Most teams would be loath to give up a chance that high at attaining the talent that comes with a top 3 pick. Even with a draft pool like the one upcoming, which lacks any “sure thing” pick, teams do not want to give away the sense of hope that keeps a fan base curiously engaged. But maybe that lack of promising potential can be effectively contrasted against enough of Houston’s young talent and expiring deals to assuage such hesitancy. This is highly unlikely. The potential for pairing Duke’s Kyrie Irving with Tyreke Evans, in what would become one of the most intriguing NBA backcourts, gets the Maloofs’ blood pumping about as much as the thought of Justin Bieber signing a 10 year performance deal at their Palms casino in Vegas.

For argument’s sake, however, a combination of the expiring deals of Yao Ming and Shane Battier with the potential of Brooks, Hill/Patterson, and Budinger for the Kings 2011 1st round pick, Dalembert, and the vaguely onerous contract of Francisco Garcia does work. Sacramento would be adding $30.5 million this year and none of it would be guaranteed next season. Budinger and Hill could be retained for $0.884 and $2.8 million, respectively. Combined with the cut of Garcia, the Kings would only add an additional $0.917 to next year’s bottom line (and that includes the qualifying offer to Brooks necessary to maintain the aforementioned right of first refusal).

These scenarios are interesting in their strategic impact, though devoid of the sex appeal of the big names average fans crave. In the end, the Rockets and Kings are imperfect trade partners by themselves. Each team, though especially Sacramento, has positioned itself to facilitate trades between other teams, allowing them to take a little off the top for themselves. Teams such as Indiana, Charlotte or New Orleans with costs to cut and major assets in play would be prudent in keeping the Kings and Rockets in mind.

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