The Houston Rockets only have seven players guaranteed to be on next season's roster prior to the start of the NBA offseason, though that will obviously change once the offseason begins and general manager Daryl Morey figures out what to do with his team's salary cap situation.
The Rockets are one of a handful of teams that have a ton of financial flexibility heading into the offseason. That's good news for Houston is several big names (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson) are on the open market.
But just how much flexibility does the team have? The NBA salary cap can be confusing to understand, but I'll be breaking down just about every financial detail of the Rockets in the upcoming paragraphs.
For starters, it's important to note that the seven players currently guaranteed for next season (Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, James Harden, Thomas Robinson, Royce White, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas) will take up just over $39 million of the team's near $55 million salary cap.
White's case is interesting. As he has yet to fulfill his contract, the Rockets could attempt to waive the $1.8 million he's due next season in an effort to free up a little more space. There has yet to be much speculation on that scenario, so we'll assume White will be on the payroll next season.
Gary Forbes, JaJuan Johnson and Jon Brockman are unrestricted free agents. No options are held on them, and the Rockets will have to negotiate with them as normal free agents should the team wish to bring any of them back.
From there, we'll have to do some simple math and not-so-simple assumptions to see where the team will stand after it deals with the contracts of its current players.
Small forward Francisco Garcia's $6.4 million team option will not be picked up, so that money will become available to use this offseason.
Carlos Delfino, Aaron Brooks, Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, James Anderson, Patrick Beverley and Tim Ohlbrecht are all on non-guaranteed deals, meaning Houston has the ability to choose whether or not each player will return.
Parsons, Smith and Beverley are slam dunks, but a case can be made for each player on a non-guaranteed deal. In an effort to free up space, though, I would not bring back Delfino and Brooks if I were Morey. Together, they will be owed around $5.5 million. That money can be allocated to other areas of need. There's absolutely no reason to pay Brooks (the third-string point guard) $2.5 million.
By retaining Parsons, Smith, Anderson, Beverley and Ohlbrecht, the Rockets' payroll will be around $43 million.
Then, the Rockets will have to worry about signing the No. 34 pick in the draft. The team's only selection comes at No. 34, and Morey should be able to sign that pick for just under $1 million. That brings the total payroll to $44 million before free agency.
That leaves Morey with about $11 million to work with in free agency. That's certainly not enough to bring aboard a top-level free agent (Howard, Paul, Smith), but could bring in a Paul Millsap-type. By using the mid-level exception on top of that, Morey could feasibly bring in Millsap and a veteran shooting guard/small forward to take the place of Garcia.
Rumors of trading Robinson to make room for Howard have already surfaced, but moving Robinson's salary may not be enough.
Lin could become a trade candidate, and freeing up his $8 million-plus salary (along with Robinson's) would give Morey ample room to work with. Finding a trade partner would be the hardest part, but I'm sure there would be a few teams lined up to acquire Lin's services (both on and off the court).
Beverley's postseason play has proven that he can handle the reigns as the No. 1 point guard. This makes Lin expendable, though he doesn't necessarily have to be dealt.
Total savings from trading that duo would be around $11.5 million. Add that to the existing $11 million, and Morey would be able to acquire a top talent, a solid bench player (Tony Allen or Andre Iguodala, perhaps) and use the mid-level exception.
Without making a few moves to free up cap space, the Rockets will have to be creative in attempting to lure the biggest free agents to Houston.
Eliminating the non-guaranteed contracts of Anderson and Ohlbrecht could free up about another $2 million, but those moves wouldn't represent substantial enough of a difference. Instead, high-priced players like Lin and Robinson could be moved.
Even Omer Asik's $8 million-plus salary could become expendable if Howard is the target. Trading Lin and Asik (instead of Lin and Robinson) would free up over $16 million—thus giving Morey about $27 million to work with.
Houston has options heading into the offseason, but it's good for the fans to know the extent of those options before the confusing financial details are being thrown about by analysts.
The Rockets will make a free-agent splash, but the extent of that splash depends on which financial route they choose to take. If one thing's for sure, it's that the roster will likely look different come the opening tip of the 2013-14 season.
*All financial information taken from Hoopsworld.com.