If you ever took a serious look into the current NBA CBA rules, chances are your reaction would be somewhere along the line of OMGWTFBBQ . yeah, it's that complex. So it shouldn't be a surprise the NBA teams are essentially paying lawyer to figure out what this whole thing mean, as fans, we aren't going to be able to go that far, but this post is meant to be a general outlook of the primary implication of the CBA in regards to the Rockets off season.
As I am by no means an expert, feel free to correct any thing I may have misunderstood.
1. What is the cap and what does it mean?
The Cap is the main limit a team faces when signing / trading players. there are some ways to get around it to some extend, but generally speaking it is the biggest reference point. the cap have remained at around 58 million for several years now, However it would probably go up a little for next season, supposedly pushing up to around the 60 million range.
a. Cap and FA: in general theory, teams can NOT sign a FA to a contract that pushes them over the cap, not even by 1 dollar. there are a few general exceptions, most notably bird rights (teams resigning their own players) , and mid level exception (signing a guy for league average money) or bi annual exception (signing a guy for around 2 million) or league minimum signings.
b. where is the Rockets at on the cap? The Rockets as of today have 54 million committed to next season, leaving them with only 4-6 million to work with depending on where the next cap is set at, however, this is assuming they pick up all their current options, if they decline Garcia (6.4) Delfino (3) and Brooks (2.5) that roughly puts them at 42 commited, thus having around 16-18 M to work with.
2.What is the maximum salary you can offer to a FA?
This part is complicated, because there are multiple sets of rule at work here, in THEORY, players under 10 years of service time, such as Howard and Paul, can only be offered 30% of the cap, which is $16,402,500 this year, however, if I understand correctly, this does not apply to those 2 player, because there is another provision that states that if a player's current salary x 1.05 is higher than that figure, than that number is the max salary you can offer .
Since Paul and Howard both are obviously making more than 16M this year already, it seems this part applies to them, which means that their max offer for next year is around 18 and 20 M respectively. add in a provision that allows for increase by year , you come up with a roughly 4/87 offer for Howard, and something more like 4/ 78 ish. I'm not entirely sure if the cap count is based on first year or average though.
However, as you can probably already see, this means that even though the Rockets have cap space, signing even one of these two guys will require some work, as barring a much larger cap increase than expected, we would fall just short of being able to offer them the max without other moves.
The obvious is to trade away the player they're replacing, aka Lin or Asik depending on if Paul or Howard signs, however the trick here is that you must be able to trade them first, then offer those guys contracts, and in the last few years alone there have been multiple cases where the team did their end only to have the (supposedly verbally committed player) bail. if that happens, especially in the case of Asik, we basically torpedoed our next season for nothing.
3. What about sign and trade?
Yeah... what about it? you might want to read this part of the CBA... or die trying anyway, since this part makes most other areas look easily understandable in comparison.
This part is complex as hell, but the general gist seem to suggest that you'll see a lot less S&T going forward, if at all, because the restrictions on it now is immense. that it's probably only worth trying for smaller salary guys. which kind of defeats the point.
One must keep in mind that if the Lakers don't amnesty anyone of their big 3 or Metta, they're over the hard cap before even resigning Howard, which essentially bar them from making a S&T , or hell, even do anything other than sign minimum salary guys (they can't even sign mid level exception players.). so it seems baring some huge headline grabbing moves like amnesty Kobe AND trading Gasol, the Lakers bench will look hilarious next season. as in, it'll probably look like the Vipers bench. (hell it might BE the Viper's bench)
I would love to see other guys who know more of this subject to chim in, but from what I'm seeing here, the road to Howard of Paul, while not closed, is pretty difficult unless those players come out clear that they'll sign with Houston over anyone else. (because we're not the only once with cap space, or even close to the team with the most space.) While i'm sure Morey will very seriously investigate that path, one probably shouldn't see it as anything more than a outside shot at happening, like maybe 20% chance. Howard especially is worrisome, as he's well known to not make up his mind. so to hinge our season on verbal committeemen from Howard, and first trading Asik away, to make room, seems way too risky to me at least.