Is Dwight Rocket-Gazing?

Is Dwight Rocket-Gazing?

Breaking Down Dwight as a Rocket

Dwight Howard is soon to be one of the most sought-after free agents of 2013, and will certainly be requesting a maximum deal - either to remain in Los Angeles, or with a new franchise. One of the most prominent cities apparently interested in obtaining Howard appears to be the Houston Rockets. Our premium team breaks down the year by year projections for a maximum contract with theRockets, and its impact to the overall team salary cap.

The Houston Rockets have been trying to clear cap space for the past few years in preparation for a potential push to sign Dwight Howard. Acquiring Howard would complete their "Big-3", along with recent additions James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The Rockets snuck into the 2012-13 postseason, capturing the 8th spot, and feel they are a player or two away from really contending. As seen in the Western and Eastern Conference Finals, a big man down low has been key to the success of teams moving forward, and the Rockets realize this is their missing element; insert Dwight Howard.

Maximum Contract Rules & Numbers
First, a look at the contract details Dwight Howard would be signing with Houston:

Based on the new CBA Rules, Howard can only sign a maximum of four years with a different team, with 4.5% raises of the first year of the contract (if he stays with Los Angeles he would be elligible for 5 years, with 7.5% raises of the first year of the contract).

Furthermore, Howard made $19,536,360 in the 2012-2013 season, with the assumption that the maximum allowable salary for 2013-2014 rises at the same rate as it did from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 (1.05% increase). Howard's 2013-2014 salary would break the CBA Rules forcing his 2013-2014 salary to conform to the 105% increase of the the salary of the last year of the previous salary [estimated 2013-2013 maximum salary for 7-9 years experience would be $17,350,125]. Therefore, Dwight Howards 2013-2014 salary would be $20,513,178 to start his maximum contract, making him the highest paid center.

Potential Maximum Contract with Houston
Salary Center Rank NBA Rank
2013-2014 $20,513,178 1 6
2014-2015 $21,436,271 1 4
2015-2016 $22,359,364 1 2
2016-2017 $23,282,457 1 1
  4 years / $87,591,270    

Projected Rankings
Subsequently, each of the yearly salaries would make him the highest paid center surpassing Chris Bosh in 2013-2014 through 2015-2016, and his 2013-2014 salary would place him as the sixth highest paid player in the NBA. Moreover, his average salary as a center would surpass Bosh's by almost $3.6 million, and would make his average salary as a player the second highest in the NBA, behind Kobe Bryant.

Now that we have Dwight Howard's maxmium contract determined, let's take a look at how his yearly salary could effect the scope and future outlook of the Houston Rockets roster.

2013-2014 Houston Roster

Now let's take a look at the 2013-2014 Houston outlook if Dwight Howard truly did sign with the Rockets. If we add in Howard's estimated salary for 2013-2014 with the currently signed roster, the total cap hit the Houston Rockets are likely to see rises to approximately $75.3 million, which means they have a chance of exceeding the luxury tax threshold. However, as noted below, seven of the players on the current roster have non-guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season, which means they are expendible without any amount counting against to team cap. Furthermore, they also have as of this post one draft pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to account for as well.

Also to be mentioned is the recall of the Lin and Omar Asik signings. Both of their contacts were considered "poison pill" contracts where the Rockets back-loaded the deals in order "steal away" the players from their respective teams. These two contracts qualified for the cap value to be the average of the three-year deal, which as seen below the actual cash the Rockets would be paying out is much lower than the cap hit itself.

Roster size: 16 players -- maximum roster size is 15 players during the season, so one of the non-guaranteed players would most likely be cut prior to the season starting, maybe more if they land a worthwhile draft pick.

Player 2013-2014 Actual Cash 2013-2014 Cap Hit Status
Howard, Dwight 20,513,178 20,513,178
Harden, James 13,668,750 13,668,750
Lin, Jeremy 5,225,000 8,374,646
Asik, Omer 5,225,000 8,374,646
Garcia, Francisco 6,400,000 6,400,000
Robinson, Thomas 3,526,440 3,526,440
Delfino, Carlos 3,000,000 3,000,000 non-guaranteed
Brooks, Aaron 2,508,000 2,508,000 non-guaranteed
White, Royce 1,719,480 1,719,480
Jones, Terrence 1,551,840 1,551,840
Motiejunas, Donatas 1,422,720 1,422,720
Parsons, Chandler 926,500 926,500 non-guaranteed
Anderson, James 916,099 916,099 non-guaranteed
Smith, Greg 884,293 884,293 non-guaranteed
Beverley, Patrick 788,872 788,872 non-guaranteed
Ohlbrecht, Tim 788,872 788,872 non-guaranteed
  $69,065,044 $75,364,336  
2014-2015 Houston Roster

Now let's take a look at 2014-2015 Houston Outlook. There are four team options that could be exercised and four non-guaranteed salaries that could potentially be on the Rockets roster. If we assume this roster is intact starting in 2014-2015 the Rockets will be paying approximately $78.3 million in actual cash with a cap hit of approximately $65 million. As mentioned above, but worth noting, the actual cash paid to Lin and Asik rises to almost $15 million. However, the cap hit remains lower than the actual cash output, which benefits the Rockets largely because otherwise they would be at $78.2 million cap hit with only 12 players instead of the full 15 players.

Roster size: 12 players -- maximum roster size is 15 players during the season, so the Rockets could sign three more players adding value and/or skill to their roster.

Player 2014-2015 Actual Cash 2014-2015 Cap Hit Status
Howard, Dwight 21,436,271 21,436,271
Harden, James 14,693,906 14,693,906
Asik, Omer 14,898,938 8,374,646
Lin, Jeremy 14,898,938 8,374,646
Robinson, Thomas 3,678,360 3,678,360 team option
White, Royce 1,793,520 1,793,520 team option
Jones, Terrence 1,618,680 1,618,680 team option
Motiejunas, Donatas 1,483,920 1,483,920 team option
Anderson, James 981,084 981,084 non-guaranteed
Parsons, Chandler 964,750 964,750 non-guaranteed
Beverley, Patrick 915,243 915,243 non-guaranteed
Ohlbrecht, Tim 915,243 915,243 non-guaranteed
  $78,278,853 $65,230,269  
2015-2016 Houston Roster

Now let's take a look at 2015-2016 Houston Outlook. While the roster obviously is much smaller than previous two years, it gives an interesting look at the Rocket's future outlook. Of the six players that are on the books, four of them are slotted to be team options and the other two would be Howard and Harden. With only having six players on the roster and the potential to add six more players (free agents, draft picks and/or via trades), the Rockets are already at $50.3 million actual cash/cap hit. This does leave $20-25 million of room for them to sign these types of players, but depending on which high-end free agents they pursue, that money could dwindle quickly.

Roster size: 6 players

Player 2015-2016 Actual Cash 2015-20156Cap Hit Status
Howard, Dwight 22,359,364 22,359,364
Harden, James 15,719,062 15,719,062
Robinson, Thomas 4,660,482 4,660,482 team option
White, Royce 2,751,260 2,751,260 team option
Jones, Terrence 2,489,529 2,489,529 team option
Motiejunas, Donatas 2,288,205 2,288,205 team option
  $50,267,902 $50,267,902  
2016-2017 Houston Roster

At this point, sort of irrelevant with only two players, but looking at the 2016-2017 roster, Howard and Harden will account for $40 million against the cap. A substantial amount of money, but could allow them to bring in other key players to surround the two of them.

Roster size: 2 players

Player 2016-2017 Actual Cash 2016-2017 Cap Hit Status
Howard, Dwight 23,282,457 23,282,457
Harden, James 16,744,218 16,744,218
  $40,026,675 $40,026,675