Report: Rockets trying to dodge luxury tax before trade deadline

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
Tim Warner/Getty Images
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After the Rockets got eliminated last season, owner Tilman Fertitta put on a big show about his commitment to winning.

Of course, a huge reason Houston lost to the Warriors: spending cuts.

Fertitta insisted the luxury tax had nothing to do with the team’s 2018 offseason – a summer of moves that make sense only when assessed through a luxury-tax lens. When the Rockets completed an elaborate series of transactions – surrendering assets to trim payroll rather than upgrade players – to get under the luxury-tax line at last year’s trade deadline, Fertitta said he was surprised by the outcome and called it a fluke. Houston even put out word general manager Daryl Morey had the greenlight to pay the luxury tax this season.

In reality…

Jabari Young of CNBC:

According to league sources who spoke to CNBC, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is seeking to shed additional salary off the team’s nearly $140 million payroll hoping to avoid a luxury tax.

The Rockets shouldn’t have too hard of a time dodging the luxury tax. Morey is good at this by now.

Houston will almost certainly trade Nene, whose contract the NBA rendered an impediment. Clint Capela is on the block. Full-season minimum-salary players like Gerald Green, Thabo Sefolosha, Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein could be traded then replaced by players on partial-season minimum salary contracts.

But if trading players to lower payroll, the Rockets will burn assets before Thursday’s deadline that could have instead been used to upgrade the roster. This in a year James Harden and Russell Westbrook are still All-Stars.

If that’s Fertitta’s priority, he earned the right when buying the team. A large majority of owners won’t pay the luxury tax this season. The Rockets have been especially harmed by lost revenue from China in the aftermath of Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms).

But when Fertitta also bloviates so much about prioritizing winning, dodging the luxury tax during his team’s championship window makes him look like a blowhard.