It’s been widely reported that the Houston Rockets are a team that intrigues Dwight Howard. The Rockets might even rank ahead of the Bird-rights-owning Los Angeles Lakers as the Mavericks’ primary competitors for the perennial All-Star big man.
Here’s one problem for Houston: The Rockets would have to do some significant payroll slashing to be positioned to offer Howard a max contract.
Howard’s max salary next season would be $20,513,178. The salary cap is expected to be set between $58.5 million and $60 million. The Rockets have $48,571,158 worth of contracts on the books, assuming they decline Francisco Garcia’s $6.4 million team option.
It doesn’t take an MBA from MIT -- which Rockets general manager Daryl Morey happens to have -- to figure out that the math doesn’t add up for Houston and Howard.
Morey made sure the Rockets had some built-in wiggle room with seven nonguaranteed deals on the roster, although that list includes six-figure bargains Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith that are inexpensive, integral parts of James Harden’s supporting cast. Houston might have to sacrifice one of their major additions from last summer to make room for Howard.
That could mean trading point guard Jeremy Lin or center Omer Asik to a team with cap space for no immediate return. That is a nice way to say dumping an $8,374,646 million salary, the amount both Lin and Asik are due in the second season of their identical three-year, $25.12 million contracts.
Such a salary dump would put the Rockets close to being able to afford Howard, but they’d still have some work to do.
They could waive sixth man Carlos Delfino ($3 million) and/or reserve point guard Aaron Brooks ($2.5 million), both of whom have June 30 deadlines before their salaries become guaranteed, meaning a decision would have to be made before the Rockets are allowed to meet with Howard. The nonguaranteed salaries of young projects Tim Ohlbrecht ($788,872) and James Anderson ($916,099) could also create the necessary space depending on where the cap falls, although the Rockets would pick up a cap hold of $490,180 in the process if they cut both because their roster would dip under 12 players. A salary-dump deal that would send 2012 No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson ($3.53 million) to his third team is another alternative.
A much less attractive option than finding an under-the-cap trade partner to take on the contract of Lin or Asik: Waiving one of them and using the stretch provision.
In that case, the Rockets would still have to pay the $16.75 million remaining on the contract, but they would be allowed to spread the cap hit over five years (twice the length remaining on the contract plus one year). So Houston would create a little more than $5 million in cap space with such a move – and then have to get rid of nonguaranteed salary and/or make salary-dump deals to ship off young talent (Robinson, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas).
The Mavs would also have to do some maneuvering to give Howard a max contract, but not nearly as much as the Rockets.
The Rockets can free up enough money for Howard, but it would require slicing into the supporting cast of a playoff team -- and perhaps paying a $16.75 million tax in addition to his max deal.