K.J. McDaniels is back with the Houston Rockets after signing a three-year, $10 million contract today, ensuring we'll see more of the high-flying wing in Houston for the near future.
The deal will either take up part of the Rockets' non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.4 million-per-year) or full taxpayer MLE ($3.38 million). This is the chunk of change the Rockets were saving, and the reason Josh Smith spurned them to sign an even smaller contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. That Smith leaves and K.J. returns is exactly what most around the Rockets expected.
McDaniels is the third Rocket free agent to re-sign this summer, following Corey Brewer's three-year, $23 million deal and Patrick Beverley's four-year, $25 million contract. With Smoove leaving, Jason Terry is the only contributing Rocket from last year's team who doesn't have an NBA contract, and the Rockets have been linked in talks with him, likely to bring him in at the veteran's minimum. Assuming that happens, here's the Rockets' depth chart entering the season right now:
PG: Beverley, Terry, Nick Johnson, Pablo Prigioni
SG: James Harden, Brewer, Marcus Thornton
SF: Trevor Ariza, Sam Dekker, K.J. McDaniels, Kostas Papanikolaou
PF: Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Montrezl Harrell, Christian Wood (signed partially guaranteed deal before Summer League)
C: Dwight Howard, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey
That's 18 guys, if my basic arithmetic is correct. They can bring up to 20 with them to training camp, meaning, they could still add two more guys on non-guaranteed deals (Alan Williams anyone?). To get down to 15, they could easily cast off all of Wood, Big Papa and Prigs, who have early termination options. They would essentially reload with the same team from last year, minus Smoove, plus Dekker, Harrell and Thornton.
The elephant in the room is the flexibility the Rockets' have to make a trade. Papanikolaou's contract is almost $5 million, completely non-guaranteed. It's basically the perfect trade piece. Terrence Jones is a productive, cheap, young player, and the Rockets own the equivalent of all of their own picks. Anything can happen.
But for now, this is a great move. McDaniels is hyper-athletic, talented, and still crazy affordable. $3.3 million in the current NBA market is peanuts. While it hurts to essentially give up Smoove to sign K.J., Daryl Morey knows what he is doing. Kevin McHale saw plenty of K.J. in practice and in film, and he clearly gave his vote of confidence. Another summer in the gym, working with the Rockets' staff, can only help him.
While it's easy to dismiss McDaniels' contributions from his time with the Sixers -- 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 29.2 percent shooting from deep in 25 minutes per game -- as empty numbers for a bad team, he passes the eye test with flying colors. His shooting form is completely workable, and he seems to be brimming with confidence; after all, he bet on himself by signing just a one-year deal with Philly.
That bet has paid off. McDaniels should see minutes next year for a team with championship aspirations. We don't know exactly where he fits and who he'll play with, but he's an undeniably talented player. The Rockets did well to keep him in Houston.