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Why did the Rockets offer Victor Oladipo $22 million per year?

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It may not be why you think.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of questions stemmed minutes before tipoff of last night’s game (that should never be mentioned again) about the report that Victor Oladipo declined a 2-year, $45.2 million extension, the most the Rockets could offer at this time.

A lot of these reactions were negative amongst the members of Red Nation on Twitter.

A lot of people on Twitter were clamoring that the Rockets should never have acquired Vic, but rather Caris LeVert or Jarrett Allen, both of whom were dealt to Indiana and Cleveland respectively in the James Harden trade.

The criticism behind this move is warranted, considering Oladipo has not been the “James Harden replacement” the Rockets have needed. The Rockets are 5-8 when Oladipo plays this season and the team’s offensive rating slides by almost six points when he’s on the floor.

Basketball-Reference

The most logical reason why the team acquired Oladipo was because he is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, which would give the Rockets more flexibility when it comes to the salary cap to sign whomever they wish. The front office could possibly believe it can nab a player better than LeVert, who still has three years on his contract, or Allen, who is a restricted free agent this summer, but creates a logjam at the center position with Christian Wood also in tow.

Cue the question: So, if the Rockets want flexibility, why would the Rockets offer the extension?

Good question. The answer has a few layers to it.

The Rockets offered the extension knowing Vic wasn’t going to take it.

Let’s say I offer you $45 right now, but I also tell you that if you wait three months, you could have $113. Or, if you wait five months, you could have up to $150. What would you do? Would you take the instant $45 or wait just a little longer to make more?

Vic has made it clear since the beginning of the season that he’s going to find a new home in free agency for a boatload of money. That’s why Indiana traded him and it’s why Houston might decide to trade him by March 25, the NBA’s Trade Deadline.

Oladipo is 28, coming off of a large injury, but he’s still able to average nearly 20 points per game in the NBA. While he hasn’t played well in Houston, he’s had to deal with many physical and mental adjustments and Houston’s style simply doesn’t fit Vic’s style of play.

By declining this extension that would have paid him on average $22.6 million in each of the next two seasons, Vic is saying he believes he can make more than that in free agency.

50 NBA players are earning north of $22 million this season. Some of those players include Harrison Barnes, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, and Otto Porter Jr, all of whom are averaging fewer points than Oladipo this season.

It also includes Gordon Hayward, who shocked a lot of people by declining his $34.5 million player option with the Celtics because he was a “washed” guy who had experienced a major injury in his career. Nobody believed he would make that kind of money elsewhere.

Instead, the Charlotte Hornets inked him to a 4-year, $120 million contract, which is in the ballpark of what Vic is looking to sign this summer. And so far this year, Hayward is having his best season statistically since his days with the Utah Jazz. The Hornets are also in the playoff picture for the first time in five seasons.

Yes, the NBA is a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of league, but should he stay healthy this season, some team will offer Vic more than what the Rockets offered.

The Rockets are raising his trade value by allowing this news to leak.

Remember when the Rockets offered James Harden an extension that would have paid him more than $50 million per year?

Of course, we know that James declined it because he wanted out of Houston, but by offering the maximum extension to Harden, it showed teams how much the Rockets valued Harden, which changes the negotiation price at the top.

Whether or not something similar happens here with Oladipo is to be determined. However, the Rockets are going to find themselves with the most cards at the upcoming Trade Deadline.

And, should they wish, they will send Oladipo to whichever team offers the most for him.

Considering this Trade Deadline will have very few sellers, the Rockets are in a position of power.

If Jrue Holiday was traded for three first-round picks on a one-year expiring deal, I’d imagine the Rockets could get a similar haul for Oladipo. Granted, the team trading for him might only be guaranteed Vic will play the stretch run and playoffs for whichever team acquires him. But in a year where so many teams are contenders and fighting for playoff positioning, getting a player like Vic could be what pushes a team over the top. He will likely be the best player on the block at the Trade Deadline.

Given general manager Rafael Stone’s brief track record on trades as a general manager, he was able to squeeze a first-round pick out of Russell Westbrook, acquire up-and-coming sensation Kevin Porter Jr. for peanuts, and get a king’s ransom of draft picks for James Harden. He hasn’t given Red Nation a reason to distrust him yet.

So, while on the surface this news appears worrisome, it actually makes me even more confident that the Houston Rockets are heading in the right direction when it comes to the future of the franchise.