Ryan Anderson seemed like a perfect fit for the Houston Rockets’ bench when he returned to the team during the offseason. One of the league’s preeminent shooting big men, Anderson had previously spent two seasons with the Rockets before a 2018 trade sent him to the Phoenix Suns. His return this summer seemingly gave Houston more stylistic diversity in its front line, but less than a month into the season, the Rockets are pulling the plug and waiving Anderson, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Anderson had not played much for Houston this season, taking the floor only twice for 14 total minutes despite seeming to be an ideal player for lineups featuring Russell Westbrook. Houston outscored opponents by 21.2 points per 100 possessions in that span, but Anderson himself shot 1-for-5 on 3-point attempts. After last season’s 9-for-40 mark, Anderson’s decline as a shooter seems to be meaningful.
Still, the Rockets are dealing with a number of injuries at the moment. Gerald Green remains out after a preseason injury, and Eric Gordon will be sidelined for quite some time. Fellow backup big man Nene has not yet played this season, and one would reasonably think that a team in that position wouldn’t want to get rid of depth without an immediate plan for fortifying it. Of course, for Houston, there are significant financial implications involved in this move.
Anderson was signed for the veteran’s minimum salary figure of around $2.6 million, but only $500,000 of that deal was guaranteed. By waiving him now, the Rockets have slipped back under the luxury tax threshold for the season.
Owner Tilman Fertitta has claimed that he is willing to pay the tax, but his actions since taking over the team tell a different story. Houston gave away a number of assets to get under the tax at last season’s trade deadline, and while the 37-year-old Nene has some chronic injury issues, his contract is likely the main thing keeping him sidelined. Houston signed him to a deal involving a number of bonuses based in part on games played, and if even a single one of those bonuses paid out, the Rockets would vault back above the tax line. Naturally, they would prefer that didn’t happen, and so Nene has not yet played this season.
Further complicating matters is the revenue Houston has lost since Daryl Morey’s tweet about Hong Kong. According to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN, that figure will fall in the $20 million range. Fertitta needed to take on a substantial amount of debt in order to buy the team, and falls on the low end of NBA owners in terms of overall wealth and liquidity.
Unless Houston follows this move up with a subsequent signing to fortify its weakened bench, it will be hard not to view this at least in part as a financially-motivated decision. The 10-3 Rockets appear to be true championship contenders, but just opened up a roster spot despite missing several players to injury already. If Houston ever planned to put its money where its mouth is in regards to the tax, now would be the time to do so.