Note: Made a few corrections thanks to Tisbee in the comments.
Collective bargaining season went slightly out of bounds this year, but now that the NBA and the NBA Players Association have worked out most of what will become the new CBA, let's take a look at what's in store. More important, we'll see how a few particular changes will affect the Houston Rockets.
A key note to keep in mind: No matter what, in all likelihood, the Rockets were going to emerge from this muddled swamp of negotiations with a rather indifferent tone. The Rockets haven't overspent on anyone. They have a nice mix of youth and experience on the court, and they have stability both in the front office and more importantly in the pocket books. To put it simply, CBA changes were never going to drastically affect a team like Houston with zero max players or bad contracts and plenty of money to spend.
We'll start by citing Jonathan Feigen, who did a nice job taking a bunch of confusing numbers and parlaying them into simple, logical points, starting with the new amnesty clause (i.e. The one-time-only "We Can Cut This Guy Because We Made A Bad Decision To Sign Him At One Point" clause).
The Amnesty Clause
The amnesty cut worked out well for the Rockets. Teams may cut one player without having his salary count against the cap or tax. That could make some interesting players available in free agency. The Rockets, however, did not like the idea of having that option available only this season since they don't have any immediate need to jettison a mistake contract, the sort that got us into this mess. The deal, however, will allow teams to make that amnesty cut any time during the CBA, allowing the Rockets to take a chance on a contract and take advantage of that rule later.
What does this mean? Teams are now allowed to cut someone they don't like very much... for free. The Rockets aren't overpaying anyone at the moment, so they'll put this rule on hold. Instead, look for them to be a little more active on the free agent market than usual. Why? In two words: less consequences.
Now, if Houston pays a lot of money for a player who ultimately fails to live up to his contract, the Rockets can choose to cut one of their current players under contract in order to free up more money that would have otherwise been lost to that bad contract.
Restricted Free Agency
In the past, teams were allowed up to 7 days to match an offer to a restricted free agent. As Chris Sheridan notes, that number will likely drop to 3 or 4 days. This doesn't affect the Rockets this season. In 2012, however, Courtney Lee becomes a RFA, but for now, you can ignore this specific rule change.
A second change to restricted free agency that is still pending: The union wants to remove the "restricted" tab from players coming off rookie-scale contracts. In other words, if a young player is drafted into a TERRIBLE situation, he has the right to leave said situation with greater ease.
A New Trade Rule
Under the old system, the salaries of players being traded had to be within 125 percent of each other (if both trading teams were over the salary cap). This rule will be loosened considerably, although a final formula has not been agreed to. The players want the percentage to rise to 225 percent (whereby, for instance, a player making $1 million could be traded for a player making $2.25 million), while the owners have indicated a willingness to allow the percentage to rise to 140 or 150 percent - although teams paying the luxury tax would have a tighter restraint.
In short terms, it's been difficult to make trades in the NBA because teams had to match the traded players' salaries very closely. By widening that gap, it will be easier for big-spending teams to acquire bigger contract players, which usually translates to better players. This bodes well for Houston, a team that is no doubt willing to spend big for a premier player.
Salary Cap Floor
In the old CBA, teams had to spend at least 75% of the salary cap. In the new CBA, teams must spend 85% of the salary cap for the first two years, and in year three and onward, 90% of the salary cap. The rule is in place to keep small market teams spending, but there is a problem: spending doesn't always guarantee talent. Players may not want to end up on bad teams, forcing those bad teams to pay more money to bad players just to make the salary floor.
Does this apply to Houston? Not really. As stated before, they've got plenty of money to spend and shouldn't be in a position where they are trying desperately to meet the floor.
The Stretch Clause
I'll keep this one simple, too. The pending stretch clause will allow teams to literally stretch out the salary of a player it wants to cut over time. Salary cap hits? Consider them reduced. If you've spotted a common theme in many of these changes, it is this: The new CBA, no matter what concessions the players have won, appears to be giving owners and front offices plenty of cushion for regrettable decisions.
Extend-and-Trades (The Carmelo Anthony Rule / The 'I Want To Go Play With Star Player X' Rule)
First, the lowdown from Ken Berger:
Extend-and-trades: With the so-called Carmelo Anthony rule, owners were trying to take away a player's ability to force a trade to a team and sign an extension. The compromise is that teams can acquire player via an extend-and-trade but can only offer a three-year deal (including whatever is left on the player's contract) with 4.5 percent increases.
Now, the reaction from Feigen:
They would love the change in the "Carmelo Rule" to help them. The owners were pushing to put an end to the sign-and-extend trades, like the one Carmelo Anthony signed when he was dealt to the Knicks. The odds are small, but the Rockets do hope to be a player for one of the star free agents to be - Dwight Howard? - and would love to be able to offer a max contract extension to get such a miracle done.
Basically, it's going to be tougher for players to navigate their way to the big markets on their own. Any change at all from the previous system helps Houston, but not Houston alone. The Rockets will still have to put together a convincing trade package, and at the end of the day, they still lack a Derrick Favors-like prospect to offer to a team like Orlando. On the other hand, they do have plenty of draft picks and, perhaps, Kyle Lowry. We'll return to him later.
There is still plenty to be negotiated, including final rules concerning use of the mid-level exception. There are also plenty more changes that I chose not to include here. For more, look at what Sheridan, Berger and ESPN's Ric Bucher have been putting together. They're doing a great job.
To cap it all off, take a look at this note from the fantastic Zach Lowe of The Point Forward:
It will also be interesting to see where [the Rockets] fall on the revenue-sharing front, and whether that affects owner Les Alexander's willingness to pay the luxury tax if the front office can build a title contender. This is a big-market team that, like the Celtics, will soon take equity ownership of a regional sports network.
My gut feeling: Les pays the tax if we've got ourselves a legitimate contender. He likes winning, and if it costs him a little extra, he'll pay for those wins.
That's all I've got for now. We'll have more on free agency, the Rockets' roster and a look ahead at the upcoming schedule as more news pours out.