The Rockets are currently missing all of Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon, three players who together make up roughly 99.9 percent of all the difference-making talent Houston has around James Harden. By rights the Rockets should be dead. That they are not is mostly a testament to Harden’s insane, world-historic shot-making brilliance.
Several of Harden’s overburdened supporting players deserve a measure of credit, of course, and among them is Danuel House Jr. House is with the Rockets on a two-way deal, which means he occupies a designated roster spot that permits the organization to move him between the Rockets and their developmental league affiliate, as needed, so long as he keeps his time with the big club under a prorated 33 total days on the season. He started the year with the Rio Grand Valley Vipers and moved up on November 26; in the time since, he’s played about 25 minutes a night and produced a sparkling 63 percent true shooting mark on a role-player’s 14 percent usage. He’s started each of the last 12 games for the Rockets, of which they’ve won nine. All in all, House has been an unexpected feel-good story in what has otherwise been a surreal and utterly Harden-dominated season in Houston.
All of which makes Tuesday’s news surprising, and a bit of a bummer. House has used up the maximum number of days his two-way contract permits him to spend with the Rockets, but rather than join the team on a new deal commensurate with the rotation role he’s earned (or fallen into) with the team, House will now go back to the damn Vipers.
Per Feigen’s reporting, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey reportedly preferred to land House on a cheap multiyear deal, instead of converting his two-way contract to a standard deal for just the remainder of the season. Tim MacMahon says the Rockets offered House a non-guaranteed minimum contract for three years, and later improved the offer by making it guaranteed, but still for the minimum. House is 25 years old and has been playing efficient, meaningful rotation minutes for a playoff team in major need of his services—it’s understandable if he and his agent consider that contribution to be worth something more than the minimum, especially when a three-year contract would take him well into the meat of his prime years.
On the other hand, House is a fill-in starter with the bare minimum of offensive responsibilities, operating in the orbit of one of the NBA’s most dynamic offensive players, and during a period of hilarious, unprecedented ball-dominance. It speaks to both his prominence in Houston’s schemes and Houston’s financial picture that the Rockets are reportedly hunting for 10-day contract veterans to fill House’s minutes now that he’s headed back to the minors. Gordon will be back before too long, and there’s always the underwhelming James Ennis. Point is, the Rockets aren’t crazy to think they can get by without House, even if that kind of sucks and diminishes what he’s contributed to their wacky season.
It sounds like House wants either a bigger long-term deal or the opportunity to cash in on his sudden prominence in free agency this summer. There’s still plenty of time for the two sides to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement and pull House back into Houston’s rotation, where he’s proved he belongs. In the meantime, this is yet another destabilizing blow to the Rockets’ brutally diminished roster, and it will remain fascinating and a little frightening to see just how much more of Houston’s nightly production can be heaped on Harden’s shoulders. Sooner or later there’s got to be a limit.