It’s been a rough offseason for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
His plan to decline Chandler Parsons’ team option veered off track when the Mavericks gave Parsons a whopping offer sheet.
Still, Morey still had 72 hours to salvage his cap space before matching – if he could create room in the first place.
He traded Jeremy Lin to the Lakers, sending out a first-round pick to dump the productive backup point guard. But his prearranged trade of Omer Asik to the Pelicans seems to have hit an unexpected snag (though New Orleans might be positioning itself to fix the issue).
Still, Houston surely wants cap room to spend on other free agents before the deadline to match on Parsons.
And that’s where Morey has found even more trouble.
I, like many, assumed the Rockets drafted Clint Capela with the No. 25 pick, at least in part, because he wouldn’t join the NBA this year. If Capela signed a letter agreeing to defer signing for a season, the Rockets could immediately clear Capela from the cap. These arrangements are frequently negotiated before the draft so teams like the Rockets know whom they can draft and stash and whom won’t agree.
Currently, Capela counts against the cap at his rookie-scale amount.
The NBA and the players association, as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, previously negotiated a payment structure for all first-round picks depending on year and pick. The scale amount for the No. 25 pick signed in 2014 is $991,000. Teams can offer between 80 percent and 120 percent of scale, but with rare exception, players get 120 percent.
By design, there’s little room to negotiate. The NBA doesn’t want rookies holding out for monster contracts, which once happened regularly. The league has effectively made signing first-round picks a seamless process.
But occasionally there are snags.
The Houston Rockets and their 2014 NBA first round draft pick Clint Capela are in a contract dispute following the team’s failed attempt to lure Chris Bosh from Miami, league sources informed CSNNW.com.
According to one source, for cap space, the Rockets requested that Capela spend another season in France, believing they would land Bosh in free agency. Capela’s representatives were strongly against that idea and that still stands. Friction amongst the two sides is ongoing, sources say.
There’s a $500,000 buyout to free the 6-11 forward from his French team.
I’m very surprised the Rockets didn’t know Capela’s intent when drafting him. Maybe they thought they did – but there was a clear communication breakdown, which has led to the current impasse.
The Rockets must give Capela a required tender – a standing offer worth at least 80 percent of scale – by Wednesday.
However, Houston’s real deadline is probably Sunday, when Parsons’ offer sheet becomes binding. As soon as the Rockets match, they run out of cap room unless they make other salary-clearing moves.
The Rockets could cover Capela’s full buyout without the spent money counting toward team salary. However, if they don’t want him to sign this year, why would they offer to contribute any money toward his buyout?
Houston could refuse to make Capela a required tender, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Only once – the Bulls with Travis Knight in 1996 – has a team let its first-round pick go rather than offering the scale amount. I can’t believe Morey would squander an asset in that manner, though.
The Rockets could low-ball Capela, offering only 80 percent of scale and refusing to pay any of his buyout. Maybe Capela accepts that, paying his buyout out of his own pocket. If he does, his cap number would be lowered from 100 percent to 80 percent of scale, though Houston wouldn’t get it down to $0 as it would prefer.
If the Rockets toy with Capela in that way, he might not sign this year. And if he does, he could toy right back by delaying an official signature. Either way, he’d remain on the books at his current 100 percent of scale while the Rockets pursue free agents.
Unless the Rockets really need to free an extra $483,664 in cap room (Capela’s scale amount minus a minimum-salary roster charge of $507,336), they will submit the required tender. Then, they can test just how desperate Capela is to join the NBA. Houston could offer 80 percent of scale and none of his buyout this year while promising to pay 120 percent of scale and cover all of his buyout next year.*
*The scale amount, which increases annually, is determined by the year a player signs, not the year he’s drafted.
The difference for Capela would be $2,233,029 over four years if the third-year and fourth-year team options of his contract are exercised ($4,041,792 if signed this year vs.
Both sides have leverage here, which makes this somewhat-minor dispute all the more compelling.
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there
While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.
This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.
Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.
But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.
One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).
That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.
The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?
I just don’t know.
As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.
The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.
At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.
Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.
Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.
In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.
Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.
But they were already in place.
Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.
Offseason grade: C
Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.
Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.
Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.
Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”
“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …
“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”
She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.
There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.
For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.
Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.
Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.
Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.
The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.
New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.
So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?
Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.
Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.
To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.
Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.
The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.
But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.
So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.
This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.
If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.