Amazingly enough, possible trades and what numbers certain players will be wearing have dominated a lot of this offseason. The latest being the possibility of Ben Simmons leaving the East Coast and heading to the Houston Rockets.
At this point, that is just a rumor, and the current roster is set. Training camp is coming up in less than a week. Cap space is not a massive issue for the Rockets outside of John Wall's huge contract (part of the trade rumors I spoke of earlier) and Eric Gordon, another trade candidate. The next biggest contract is Christian Wood at $13,666,667 this year and $14,317,459 the following year.
This is where it gets interesting for the Rockets. The 2023-24 season is where many tough decisions will have to be made, which could determine the next several years for the Rockets. Barring trades or players being bought out, we have an idea who will be on the roster. Let's take a look at the Rockets cap situation going into 2023-24 free agency.
Current Houston Rockets, whose contracts will expire
As I mentioned earlier, the Rockets have several decisions once the 2023-24 off-season starts. Going into this off-season, the Rockets will only have:
I won't spend too much time discussing Wall in this article. Mainly because by this point, Wall will be traded or bought-out and won't be a factor. It is possible, though, that if he is traded, he could bring back contracts that impact this off-season, but we will cross that bridge at a later time.
The most significant decision will be if Christian Wood will receive a max offer from the Rockets. Wood's contract expires after the 2022-23 season, and barring injuries, Wood will be looking to cash in. A possible max contract at that time for Wood could be in the $40 million range based on his time in the league. Wood could also possibly leave for another team but would receive significantly less money.
This seems like a massive number, and it is not something you can take lightly, but there may be some other factors that come into play at that time. One is that Wood, at this point, maybe one of the best power forwards in the league. He already had a 20 and 10 season (although abbreviated) and was heading to a possible All-Star game before his injury.
The other factor is the salary cap could balloon during this offseason. Reports state the cap could be over 119 million dollars for the ‘23-’24 season. This could make a number like $40 million a year more tolerable in the future. One more factor could be that several younger players will still be on rookie deals at this point.
One of the biggest surprises coming out of last year was the emergence of Jae'Sean Tate. Tate, who went undrafted in 2018 and played overseas last year, had a significant impact on the Rockets.
Tate has two years left on his contract with the Rockets, who hold a team option for the 2022-23 season. They’ll almost certainly be picking that up. That means Tate will be an unrestricted free agent in ‘23-’24.
Tate, in all likelihood, will not command a max contract at this point but will see a significant pay raise if you go by his current trajectory. His contract could range anywhere from $10 million a year to $20 million. One way or another, he will be making a lot more than his current $1.5 million.
The Rockets will also have other decisions for players at the back end of the rotation, like D.J . Augustin and Khyri Thomas, but more than likely, Augustin will be traded to a contender before his contract ends and Thomas may not be in the rotation at this point.
Other team option contracts
Also, going into that pivotal 2023-24 off-season, the Rockets will have to decide if they should pick up team options on David Nwaba, Eric Gordon, and a qualifying offer decision on Kevin Porter Jr. I didn't mention the team option for Jalen Green because it's almost a certainty the Rockets will pick that up.
More than likely, Gordon will be traded by then, and the decision on Nwaba will come down to if the Rockets are competing at this point or still rebuilding. Likewise, the decision on Porter Jr. comes down to if another team is willing to offer him a significant contract, and if so, the Rockets would have to match it or let him walk.
I think it's more likely the Rockets will match any offer barring a significant setback by Porter Jr. The other three rookies the Rockets drafted also have team options, but I see no reason the Rockets wouldn't pick up all three options.
Possible free agents
The Rockets will have a little over $58 million on the books after the 2022-23 season. This includes Gordon, who probably will not be on the roster by this point. That leaves a lot of room for Rafael Stone to maneuver. Even if you factor in a possible max contract for Wood, they will still bring in another max contract-free agent. It's not likely these players will be free agents at this point, but here are the top players.
If we are honest, players like LeBron James, James Harden, and Bradley Beal aren't realistic options for the Rockets (for different reasons). The one player that sticks out is Nikola Jokic. I know it's a long shot considering the Nuggets will offer him the supermax at the first opportunity.
It is not as crazy as it seems if you look at it. By this time, the Rockets will, by all accounts, be a much-improved team. Porter Jr. and Jalen Green will have played two years together, and if Wood continues to improve, he could be an All-Star at this point. Let's say Denver flames out the next two years. Houston could be a potential destination for players like Jokic. Young up-and-coming players and an All-Star in Wood who will still be under 30.
As I said, it's a long shot, but even if it doesn't happen, the Rockets could go the route of bringing in two or three lower-tier players at less money to build out the roster.
The off-season before the 2023-24 season will be a pivotal time for the Rockets if they stick the landing, they could propel themselves right back into the top of the Western Conference. 2023-24 off-season will be a make or break one for the Rockets