The Houston Rockets may not want to admit it, but this is a win-now season. It would seem unlikely that the Rockets would find themselves in this situation, but that’s exactly where they are. The 2017 season is one full of promise after the Rockets acquired Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers to add to a team that went 55-27 last season.
With James Harden leading the way, many have the Rockets meeting the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. However, if that does happen, win or lose, this Rockets team we see now, might be different at the start of the 2018 season. As good as this team is and hopes to be by June, the issue of money will likely tear them apart in the end.
According to Spotrac, Harden is signed through 2023, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Nene Hilario are signed through (2020), and P.J. Tucker (2021). However, their other core contributors will hit the market this summer. Paul, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be free to sign elsewhere if Houston cannot pony up the finances to retain their services.
For years, the Rockets have flown under-the-radar in terms of dealing with the luxury cap unlike the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But now, they may not have a choice. If they fail to make it to the West Finals, do they just start over? What if they make it to the Finals or actually win a title, what do they do then?
Will Chris Paul be willing to give the Rockets a discount? He’s making $21.4 million but will another team like the Cavs come calling for Paul to join a team that could be home to his friends LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony in 2018? What about Capela? Has he not earned a big payday from the Rockets? Capela is on the books for $1.5 million per, but after posting averages of 14 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in only 28 minutes of action, he will look to get paid.
“You’re not going to find a better leader, tougher competitor than Chris Paul. Nobody can guard James Harden. That’s a good problem. And Mike’s [D’Antoni] philosophy works great with those guys and everybody else that’s been put together here.”
– Gregg Popovich pic.twitter.com/NelAimgK50
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 24, 2017
The same goes for the reliable Ariza. While the addition of Tucker has taken away from Ariza’s production, he’s still the best on-ball defender the Rockets have. Can they afford to increase his annual salary from $8 million to whatever his asking price might be? While Anderson is signed until 2020, there is still the issue of the defensive-minded Mbah a Moute. His contract is a bargain at $2 million per, but will another team in need of his specialty drive up his price?
While the Rockets are not thinking about the money now, they better start. With the NBA trade deadline just a month away, Daryl Morey will have some tough decisions to make. Will he be willing to let a player like Ariza or Anderson go to trim fat or will he roll the dice and hope players are willing to take a discount?