Report: Rockets drop below luxury-tax line by trading Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin, second-rounder to Pacers

AP Photo/Michael Wyke

The Rockets did it!

No, not beating the Warriors. The team that once was fearlessly and openly obsessed with toppling the Golden State behemoth has ceded ground in that fight. Houston’s big victory:

Dropping below the luxury-tax line.

The Rockets started shedding salary this offseason, and they continued with multiple trades this week. The latest – dumping Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin – will get Houston out of the tax.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

All this salary-dumping has come at a significant cost. The Rockets are down a first-rounder, two second-rounders, James Ennis and De'Anthony Melton. Houston also exchanged second-rounders with the 76ers and agreed to a second-round swap with the 76ers, both of which work in the other teams’ favor.

Those picks and positive-value players could have helped bolster the team on the court. Instead, they went to saving Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta money. To be fair, he said he’d pay the tax to reach the NBA Finals and not otherwise. This doesn’t look like a Finals team. He’s a man of his word. Sometimes.

At least Houston got Iman Shumpert in the string of transactions. He should contribute on the court. The Rockets also opened a couple roster spots to use on post-buyout players. But the Rockets can’t sign anyone immediately, or they’ll go back over the tax line. How appealing will delaying be to free agents?

Houston might make some noise about delaying the repeater clock, but that’s mostly bunk. Even if they paid the tax this season, the Rockets wouldn’t pay the repeater tax until at least 2022. And that’s only if they spent every season between now and then in the tax.

This was about Houston cutting costs this season and receiving the portion of luxury-tax distribution paid to non-tax teams. Nothing more. And it came at the expense of winning for a team that has its championship-contention window open.