After a silent trade deadline, the Rockets have taken the buyout market by storm in the past 24 hours, inking veterans Brandan Wright and Joe Johnson.
Daryl Morey has been nonstop at work trying to maximize the potential of the roster and these moves prove that he is all-in for this season. The Rockets are true contenders for the title in June and Morey has built the deepest team the Rockets have had in his tenure as general manager.
The frenzy began Thursday after the trade deadline when it was looking rather likely that former All-Star Joe Johnson was heading to a buyout after he was traded to the non-contending Sacramento Kings in a three-team trade. Johnson had been looking for a trade for the weeks leading up to the trade deadline as he wanted to contend for a championship, and the Rockets certainly fit the bill.
With Johnson heading for a buyout, Houston was a popular destination for the 7-time All-Star. He had played three seasons with Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix and the two still have a very strong relationship.
On Friday, a Rockets signing went under the radar as it was only announced Saturday morning that Bobby Brown had been signed by the team to fill the final open roster spot.
Rockets re-signed guard Bobby Brown to a deal on Friday for the rest of season, but will now waive him to clear roster spot for Joe Johnson, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 10, 2018
Brown signed a deal for the remainder of the season just to be waived less than 24 hours later. The Professional Best Friend continues to benefit from the Rockets.
However, during last night’s win over the Nuggets, the Rockets also made another splash in the buyout market, signing former Grizzlies center Brandan Wright. Wright agreed to a buyout and a commitment to the Rockets in a matter of hours. It all went by extremely quickly.
With only one open roster spot, and the Rockets rumored to be eyeing a potential deal with Johnson, the Wright contract was surprising to say the least.
Now, the Rockets have added one (Brown), added two more (Johnson, Wright), subtracted one (Brown, again) and still need to subtract one more.
With the addition of Brandan Wright and Joe Johnson, Houston will need to waive a player. The Rockets have 14 guaranteed contracts before the two signings.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 10, 2018
There are three candidates that the Rockets are likely to cut to open a roster move for Wright, now that Johnson’s roster spot has been cleared from Brown’s waiving.
Tarik Black seems like an obvious choice because the two play the same position. With Wright in the fold, he will likely absorb the small amount of minutes Black receives. Black has only played 36 games this season but has proven himself to be effective when he is on the floor. Last night, Black played 16 minutes after Nene sat due to rest. Black was a perfect 4-4 from the field and scored eight points while grabbing five rebounds.
Black is an expiring contract and if he were to be cut, he would likely go unclaimed on waivers. His contract could also go against the cap, which is awfully close to the luxury tax line. This would also allow him to sign with any team, likely a contender.
The reason why the Rockets would cut him is because he has no commitment to staying with the team after this season. There is a good chance Black signs elsewhere in the offseason to a place where he could earn more playing time.
The reason why the Rockets would not cut him is because he could go and sign with a direct opponent of the Rockets that starts with a W and ends in an arriors. He is a better player compared to the other waiveable options and the Rockets could keep him to bolster the depth of their center position in case Nene or Wright were to be injured.
The other two options to cut are Troy Williams and Chinanu Onuaku, both of whom have spent majority of their time in the G-League this season. Both have dealt with injuries this year and have battled back from them. Both guys are young prospects the Rockets would love to try and develop, and that’s the benefit in keeping guys like that.
However, that’s also the reason why both could be cut. With both guys incredibly young and under team control beyond this season, there is a good chance both Williams and Onuaku would be claimed off waivers if either player were to be waived. If one of them is claimed off waivers by any of the 29 other teams, their contract does not count against the cap and is simply absorbed by the team that claims them.
Williams, 22, signed a three-year deal this past summer and is making less than $2 million per year until the 2019-20 season. A team would love to take that team-friendly deal on.
Onuaku, 20, also has two years left on his deal before he hits restricted free agency after next season. He was drafted 37th overall by the Rockets in 2016 and it’s not usually common for the Rockets to give up on a promising draft pick before he really has been given the chance to contribute for the team.
It’s uncertain as to where the Rockets will go in terms of waiving a player for Wright, but the decision does not need to be made until Monday, the day that Wright clears waivers and can officially sign with the Rockets.
With Wright and Johnson coming into the fold, they bolster the depth of one of the deepest teams in the league. But they also enter a team that has a coach that does not like to play deep rotations.
The Rockets have an established nine-man rotation that has not done a great job staying on the floor all at the same time. Usually one player has been out of the lineup at some point in every game this season.
In a three-game stretch in January, the Rockets had all ten of their players healthy and ready to go. This saw Gerald Green get the short end of the stick and he did not see important minutes in those contests. Since Trevor Ariza went down, Green has been filling in beautifully.
With Ariza on the mend, and Johnson and Wright eager to join, it will be interesting to see if Coach D’Antoni expands the rotation for the latter part of the season and how many guys will see consistent playing time come playoffs. Last year, only eight guys saw consistent minutes, but the team was not this deep.
It’s just another question the Rockets will have to answer, but in a time with a lot of uncertainty, one thing remains certain: the Rockets are here to fight for the championship.