The Houston Rockets have spent months trying and failing to retain one of their best defensive wings this offseason in Iman Shumpert. Negotiations reportedly broke off with Shumpert, who was acquired in a three-way trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings last season, earlier this month. The Rockets have now moved on to another perimeter target.
According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, they are signing Thabo Sefolosha to a deal that will presumably be for the veteran’s minimum. Sefolosha played a career-low 609 minutes for the Utah Jazz last season, but the Rockets are likely interested in his improved jump shot. He made 43.6 percent of his long-range attempts last season, and while that number may be inflated due to a small sample size, his reputation as a poor shooter has largely been debunked. He has made 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers over the past eight seasons.
Sefolosha’s role in Houston will likely be similar to Shumpert’s. The Rockets have four guards ahead of him in the pecking order in James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers, but they like to play small, so he should see a decent amount of action for Houston next season. Sefolosha played with both Harden and Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder and had reportedly been working out with the team informally in the lead-up to this deal.
Interestingly, the Rockets made this move despite a very tight financial situation. Houston had less than $400,000 in room below the luxury tax line prior to signing Sefolosha. There are ways that they can duck back below the line, and they will almost certainly make a meaningful move of some sort prior to the season just by virtue of their roster makeup. Houston seemingly had 15 players likely to make the roster prior to signing Sefolosha, but now players at the bottom of that pile like Anthony Bennett, Isaiah Hartenstein and Michael Frazier will need to earn their place on the team.
Cutting one of those players with non-guaranteed contracts, even with Sefolosha’s minimum figure on the books, would push the Rockets back below the tax line, but doing so would remove a bit of flexibility for in-season moves. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has claimed that he is willing to pay the luxury tax, but last season’s mad dash to get below the line before the trade deadline was telling.
The Sefolosha addition will help the Rockets on the perimeter, but it does not come cost-free. He’ll need to be a steady contributor for this deal to make sense for Houston.