Summary: The NBA’s salary cap is a complex system that has an impact on every team in the league. For the Houston Rockets, staying under the cap has been a challenge in recent years, but they have managed to do so by making smart personnel decisions and prioritizing financial flexibility. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Rockets’ cap situation and how it has affected their roster construction.
1. The Rockets’ Cap Situation
The NBA’s salary cap is a hard cap, meaning teams cannot exceed it under any circumstances. For the 2020-21 season, the cap is set at $109.14 million, with a luxury tax threshold of $132.627 million. Teams that go over the luxury tax threshold are subject to additional taxes based on how much they exceed the threshold by.
The Rockets have been operating close to the luxury tax line in recent seasons, which has limited their ability to sign big-name free agents or make other significant moves. However, they have found success by focusing on acquiring undervalued players who can contribute on the court while fitting within the team’s financial constraints.
One of the biggest challenges for the Rockets is the contract of superstar guard Russell Westbrook, who is owed over $41 million per season through 2022-23. Westbrook’s on-court production has been inconsistent since the Rockets acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019, and his contract has limited the team’s flexibility in other areas.
2. The Rockets’ Priorities
Despite their cap limitations, the Rockets have remained competitive in the Western Conference in recent seasons. However, their priorities have shifted from competing for championships to building a sustainable foundation for the future. This means focusing on young, cost-controlled players and draft assets.
In the 2020 offseason, the Rockets made several moves to acquire future assets, trading 2017 MVP James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a package that included four first-round draft picks and four pick swaps. They also signed Christian Wood, an up-and-coming big man, to a team-friendly deal worth $13.6 million per year.
The Rockets’ current roster features several young players who have shown promise, including guards Kevin Porter Jr. and K.J. Martin Jr. The team also has a number of draft picks over the next few years, which they can use to continue building around their young core.
3. The Impact on the Rockets’ Roster
The Rockets’ cap situation has had a significant impact on their roster construction. In order to stay under the luxury tax threshold, they have had to make difficult decisions about which players to keep and which to let go.
One example of this is the case of forward P.J. Tucker, who was a key player for the Rockets during their successful runs in recent years. Tucker was set to become a free agent in 2021, but instead was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for a package of draft picks. While the move was criticized by some, it allowed the Rockets to shed Tucker’s $7.97 million salary and acquire additional assets in the process.
The Rockets have also prioritized signing players on team-friendly deals, such as Wood and guard David Nwaba, who signed a two-year deal worth just over $4 million per season. By finding value in the market and signing players to low-cost contracts, the Rockets have been able to maintain a competitive roster while staying under the luxury tax threshold.
The Rockets’ cap situation is a challenging one, but the team has managed to navigate it successfully by focusing on financial flexibility and building a sustainable future through young players and draft picks. While their current roster may not be as talented as some of the other teams in the league, the Rockets are well-positioned to continue improving and competing for years to come.
Ultimately, the NBA’s salary cap is an important factor in the league’s competitiveness and parity. By keeping all teams on relatively equal financial footing, it allows smaller-market teams like the Rockets to compete with larger-market teams on a level playing field. As the league continues to grow and evolve, the salary cap will remain a crucial element in maintaining this balance.