If you ever read Grantland, you've noticed that in a majority of its NBA columns, their writers (especially Zach Lowe) mention the impact that the NBA's new TV deal will have on free agency, which will kick into effect after the 2015-16 season. The salary cap is projected to rise to somewhere between $80-$88 million, up from $63 million this season.
It's possible that the cap doesn't fly up in one season, as it may be negotiated to be raised incrementally, but with all the players planning to become free agents in the summer of 2016 -- like Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum and Mike Conley, plus guys like LeBron James, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, David West and Roy Hibbert, who could all opt out that summer -- I don't see a way the NBA can weasel its way out of the mammoth, overnight jump.
Let's turn our focus back to the Houston Rockets. Personally, I still believe in Daryl Morey. I believe, being the astute person he is, he's been secretly planning for this increase in the cap the whole time. Morey, who was able to keep the franchise from losing fans by keeping it competitive during a rebuilding process and land two stars -- not an easy tasks in the NBA these days -- had a crappy summer, but let's point some things out about it:
1. Carmelo Anthony probably wouldn't have been the piece to take Houston over the top. I mean, if you thought the offense lacked movement and the ball got sticky last year, imagine what it'd look like with Melo.
2. The Chandler Parsons deal was way too expensive, even though it was relative to the market set by Gordon Hayward's deal (which totally screwed a Utah Jazz organization that has a lot of young talent).
3. He was extremely close to creating a championship caliber team with the addition of Chris Bosh, which would have led to the the Rockets retaining (an overpriced) Parsons.
4. He did a solid job of creating more depth and landing dudes who could turn into future contributors (Big Papa, Clint Capela and Nick Johnson), two of which could have an impact on this season's team.
So, exactly how does the new TV deal help the Rockets?
First of all, James Harden is locked up through the 2017-18 season, getting paid max money in today's NBA, which will be border-line-All-Star money after the cap rises. Harden's max deal pays him nearly $15 million this season, almost $16 million in 2015-16, about $17 million in 2016-17 and slightly less than $18 million in 2017-18 (did you notice I found four different ways to say almost there?). Yeah, Houston will still be paying The Beard some serious bread, but it'll be considerably less than the amount superstars who will sign in the summer of 2016 and beyond will be making.
But wait, it gets better. Like Harden, Trevor Ariza is signed through the 2017-18 season on a very manageable deal for a 29 yea- old who will only be 32 years old at the end of his contract. That means that two starters, including one a superstar (who will hopefully be a better, more committed defender in the coming years), and one competent two-way player, will be locked up for below market value by 2016.
In addition to those two team-friendly deals, Patrick Beverley might be locked up by then too. This season, Beverley is playing for less than $1 million bones, but when he becomes a restricted free agent after this season (the Rockets will undoubtedly pay his $1.2 million qualifying offer), that number will obviously rise. On the open market, I assume that Beverley will be paid similarly to another top-tier defender, Tony Allen, who's currently playing on a four-year, $20-million deal (this is contingent on the way he plays this season, but I have high hopes for Beverley, who's my basketball-watching partner/dad's favorite player).
I think Beverley is the kind of guy who is committed to playing on a winner will be loyal to the team that took him out of the freezing cold of Russia. It's possible that he signs a one-year deal, knowing that his market value will rise in 2016, but I don't think that's his style. I can't be sure of that, but he seems like the kind of dude who'd back his boy in a fight even when he's dead wrong, and in this case, who would sign for a reasonable amount of change to prove his loyalty.
But wait, it gets better (kind of). In the summer of 2016, Houston will have four restricted free agents, as long as Houston picks up their qualifying offers: Kostas Papanikalaou, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan.
The Rockets will almost certainly be looking to land a power forward to add to the mix in that summer, which will make T-Jones and D-Mo expendable if the team's successful in their attempt to add a top-tier 4. Or, if the Rockets decide to add a 3 or a 1, they'll shift one of their likely starters, Beverley and Ariza, to the pine, which will bolster their bench. The restricted free agents will be due for raises, but the Rockets are going to need to weigh their options, and will already be ahead of the eight ball due to the aforementioned preexisting contracts. Because they're restricted free agents, Houston will have the last say when it comes to retaining them or not, which could lead to a mutually beneficial sign-and-trade deal.
The bad news is that the spike in the cap means that Dwight Howard probably won't pick up his $23 million option for 2016-17, but that's okay given the rest of that the fact that three starters could be locked up and the Rockets will have the ability to offer him one more year than everyone else. Leslie Alexander proved with the Bosh/Parsons fiasco that he'd be willing to go over the cap to bring a legitimate contender to Houston, which bolsters Morey's ability to make that happen.
Houston will be one of a few big winners of the TV deal, having prepared for it in advance. Obviously, this doesn't guarantee them anything, but it certainly will help that they'll be able to add another max contract, while being lucky enough to have an owner who's willing to go over the cap to produce a championship contender.
For now, we're all focused on taking last year's successful regular season and insanely disappointing playoff performance to the next level, but a brighter future looms for the franchise we love. However, it's important to understand that if the team can slide up a tier into the West's elite (right now I have them in the second tier along with the Golden State Warriors), they'll be in an even better position to land another superstar (and right now the team's a pretty tempting destination).
In the famous words of Winston Wolf, "let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet," as Morey has some work to do and something to prove, but this is just another reason to be excited about the boys in red.