What will Kevin Porter Jr.’s Houston Rockets do in the end?
For the 22-year-old point guard, the last two seasons in Houston have been a mix of ups, downs and potential. The franchise, in the midst of a rebuild, needs to cement its foundations, and obviously Porter seems to be part of that.
So what exactly does an extension look like? Athleticism Rockets beat writer Kelly Iko and salary cap expert Danny Leroux discussed a variety of angles.
(Editor’s note: Content has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Kelly Iko: Thanks for coming with me, Danny.
Kevin Porter Jr. and the Rockets are in a bit of an interesting spot heading into training camp and the season. It’s no secret that the organization loves him and his skills. He was pulled from a toxic situation in Cleveland, brought to Houston, and asked to switch positions (to point guard, however) — all in the midst of a rebuild.
Now it’s time to talk about turkey. Porter is eligible for an extension, and according to our reports on Athleticismboth parties have communicated and want to do something before the start of the 2022-23 campaign.
My first question for you: is this the best situation for all parties involved? What should be taken into consideration?
Danny Leroux: It really depends on what each side prioritizes. I like to think that extensions mitigate risk; for the player, it locks in the money a year earlier, and for Porter in particular, it would likely be a significant boost to his current salary. For the team, you give the player security in exchange for locking in a contract you are happy with for years to come and avoiding the possibility that you have to pay a lot more if that player has a good season.
There’s a strong rationale for both sides to come to the table, but there’s no guarantee that a deal will happen or is even reasonably possible. After all, the Rockets could see the risk-mitigating middle ground well below Porter’s salary expectations, and/or Porter could see a brighter future and only agree to a big-digit extension, giving little incentive. the Rockets to sign him a year early. .
Beyond that, the most important considerations are Porter’s established level of play so far, expectations for his future performance and the market for players like him both now and with the 2022-23 campaign. . Aligning on these topics is often key to having and finding mutually acceptable fertile ground for expansion.
Iko: We recently saw Porter’s teammate Jae’Sean Tate sign a three-year, $22.1 million extension, but he wasn’t a first-round pick. Why is Porter’s qualifying offer similar to Tate’s ($4.9 million) and $9.7 million cap? How did the league arrive at these numbers? This is the “ABC for Dummies” section.
Red: It is extremely important to remember that the qualifying offer and the cap are two different numbers with a different meaning for the parties involved. The collective agreement sets all of these numbers, and they’re based on a player’s draft year and the league’s salary cap in that season. The qualifying offer is what a team must put on the table in order to have match rights to a player. As the 30th pick in 2019, the Rockets currently must offer Porter a one-year, $4.8 million contract so they can match an offer sheet from another team in restricted free agency. (Note: The team could refuse to extend a qualifying offer, which makes the player in question an unrestricted free agent, but that’s highly unlikely in this case as Porter is too talented and accomplished for that.) However , there’s an ABC wrinkle called the “starting criteria,” and if Porter starts 21 games or plays 2,000 minutes, that qualifying offer increases to $8.5 million. The idea is that if Porter earns enough time to surpass his draft slot as the 30th pick, his team should make a stronger offer to retain game rights.
However, the increase in the eligible bid amount does not affect Porter’s $9.7 million cap. The caps are a placeholder to estimate what a free agent can sign for, and that still stands if a former first-round pick’s qualifying offer goes up or down depending on how their first four years go. The only way to change that cap is if Porter and the Rockets agree to an extension by Oct. 31, because then they don’t need an estimate of what Porter will do; they will have the real salary!
Iko: Let’s go to the negotiating table. Are there any other past deals we can look at that could set a precedent for how Porter’s talks will play out? In two seasons as a Rocket, his overall production has had its ups and downs, but he’s a talented young player who just finished the season on a high. His stock is expected to trend higher, and we’ve seen players get paid based on upside and future projections. Should that apply here too?
Red: Porter will inevitably say he deserves starting money since he started almost every game he was available for in each of his two seasons with the Rockets. Beyond that, he is in his early twenties and is expected to continue to improve. Houston will therefore have a key player for his future, hard to find on the open market and nearly impossible at his age. This could lead to a request for something like Anfernee Simons’ $25 million a year. However, Rafael Stone can easily counter that Simons has had a better 2021-22 season than any Porter season so far, and Simons signed his contract as a restricted free agent rather than a year earlier. in an extension.
An interesting reference might be Kevin Huerter’s four-year, $65 million extension last fall. I would say Huerter had better first three seasons, but was also in a more supportive offensive ecosystem and a year away from new TV money. Still, more than $15 million a year seems high for Porter a year from now, even though he could well surpass that figure by the time restricted free agency rolls around a year or so away. If I were Stone, something between $10 million and $13 million a year would be fine, but Porter demanding more would require asking him to prove it this season while being willing to pay a higher price. in 2023 if he wins it.
Iko: And what is the other side of the coin? Let’s say something doesn’t materialize. What does restricted free agency look like for Porter?
Red: The good news for the Rockets is that there won’t be a ton of other teams with higher spending power except mid-tier next summer. A lot could change by then, but right now only seven franchises – including Houston – plan to have usable space, a number that typically drops over the next 10 months due to expansions and new contracts. .
Their problem is that most of these projected teams are young, and the free agent roster seems pretty low in terms of young difference makers. Assuming RJ Barrett, Tyler Herro, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Johnson all stay with their current squads, either by extension or matchday rights, Porter could be in a somewhat tight group if a potential suitor thinks the Rockets might not have the belly for a big deal. Could the Pistons, Thunder, Pacers or Magic see Porter as an intriguing talent that brings something different from their other young talents? Absolutely, and it only takes one or two interested teams to drive up the price.
Even so, the general rule of restricted free agency is that teams have to fall in love to take the plunge because it hogs their cap space for so long, and it leads to extreme results like Otto Porter Jr. getting a foil. peak bid in 2017 as Collin Sexton and Marcus Smart languished despite obvious talent. My instinct is that Kevin Porter Jr. would attract serious interest but not a bounty unless he makes a big move this season. Probably $8-10 million in a reasonable worst-case scenario, and more like $20-28 million in a best-case scenario.
Are the Rockets ready to roll those dice?
Iko: How much should the Rockets balance by paying Porter now versus the large amount of cap space they should have next summer? A small part of that has already been swallowed up by Tate’s new contract. Does this have a rolling effect on Porter’s negotiations?
Red: For me, the biggest balancing act is weighing the potential extension against what Porter could get in restricted free agency. In fairness, the margin between a $9.7 million cap and regardless of its first season in an expansion is relatively small for a franchise that might have $65-70 million in cap space. Losing $5 million or even $10 million on that is unlikely to make a difference to any moves Stone makes next summer, even if the Rockets are major players in the offseason.
(Photo: Troy Taormina/USA Today)