Tilman Fertitta calls Rockets dodging luxury tax ‘fluke’ and ‘accident’, reportedly approves paying next year

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The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:

1. Golden State is an all-time great team.

2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.

Nothing else is even close. Neither Chris Paul nor Clint Capela had a great series. But the Rockets generally played about as well as expected entering the matchup.

That was the problem.

While still excellent, the Warriors looked more primed to get upset than last year, when Houston pushed them to seven games. But the Rockets lowered their own roster quality.

They started in the offseason, letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute walk for bigger contracts. Both players wound up overpaid for their production. But Houston didn’t have the cap flexibility to get anyone nearly as good as Ariza. Though Mbah a Moute had a lost season with the Clippers due to injury, the Rockets wanted to keep him. They just deemed him too expensive.

Later in the summer and closer to the trade deadline, Houston made more moves to escape the luxury tax entirely. Those trades cost the Rockets a first-rounder, two second-rounders, a couple second-round pick swaps, James Ennis and De'Anthony Melton. Houston could have used Ennis, who had a nice postseason for the 76ers. All those picks and Melton could have been used to acquire a far better player than Iman Shumpert if trimming costs weren’t the priority.

Yet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is – once again – trying to play everyone for suckers.

Fertitta, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Last year (getting under the luxury tax) was a fluke,” Fertitta said. “We were going to be in the (tax). It was an accident. I’m still trying to figure out how we got under. I was positive we were going to be in it by $11 million. But if I’m in the luxury tax, I expect us to win.

Feigen:

general manager Daryl Morey has already been given a green light to pay the tax, a person with knowledge of the team’s planning said.

If I were Morey, I’d be livid. All general managers must work within the constraints set by team owners, but this goes way beyond. Either Fertitta is lying or Morey is a terrible general manager. Morey’s moves in the last year were indefensible – unless he had a mandate to dodge the tax, in which case they were sadly shrewd.

I don’t believe Morey is a terrible general manager.

I’ll also believe the Rockets will pay the luxury tax next season only when I see it.

Fertitta made a big show about how upset he was with Houston losing to Golden State, which was rich considering his spending limitations were a prime culprit. Maybe the experience motivated Fertitta into spending more in the future. But James Harden and Chris Paul will never have this season back, and especially Paul is at an age where further decline should be expected.

The Rockets also have all their top players already signed. Houston could spend into the tax, but salary-cap rules will inhibit the major spending that was possible last summer. So, this is a much safer proclamation from Fertitta this time.

We’ll see whether he lives up to even that.