Houston’s acquisition of Ty Lawson allows them to void the last year of his salary, roughly $13 million. Howard has a player option for $23 million. Every other contract actually declines or is wholly manageable to a franchise player (Harden’s deal). Essentially, Houston can avail itself of an extra $16 million as the cap booms. Let’s look at it with some firm numbers since everyone knows the magnitude is pretty severe.
The cap is anticipated to sit at around $90 million next year, a total jump from the current cap of $70 million. If Dwight opts out and the Rockets shed Lawson’s salary they sit at $56 million total (This lets Jones and Motiejunas walk and we have no numbers on Montrezl Harrell right now). That’s a total of 34 million to throw at a player.
Under those numbers, Houston could effectively angle what the Spurs did and restock their talent and bring back key contributors cheaper. However, Morey’s architecture isn’t limited to one year.
Space City Scoop
By 2017, the cap is anticipated to hit $108 million. That’s a jump of $18 million from next season. Another max level player can be had with that money. By that season, Harden’s $18 million will come off the books.
Again, the Rockets can bring back a player and add another key factor. By not spending into oblivion this year, and keeping an eye towards staggered cap roll-offs, Morey has kept his team versatile enough to act on an opportunity if it arises, absorb salary, or work the Spurs model of building a winner and bringing back players to keep it going.
There’s a special level of genius that has to be appreciated with this. Houston, in two consecutive years, could, fathomably, add key contributors and field a lineup with multiple All-Star/All-NBA level talent given the cap explosion and Morey’s management. Few other teams have the same combination of financial flexibility, championship possibilities, and stability that the Rockets have to offer.
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This is the endgame of Morey’s minor roster tweaks, set up moves, and long term planning. Every micro-transaction that has driven fans nuts for years has culminated in an experiment that looks like it is going to be successful. The Rockets are poised to be major players in every free agency in a new NBA landscape and, health notwithstanding, should factor into the title picture for quite some time because of it.
If Houston is an experiment in basketball, Morey deserves, and has long been denied, his equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Maybe in a few years he’ll be appreciated for providing the blueprint for navigating an evolving professional sport. Until then, let’s just enjoy him as our secret.