When the Houston Rockets brought in Victor Oladipo in the aftermath of the three-team James Harden trade, the question was whether Oladipo would remain in Houston long term. We still don’t know the answer. On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Oladipo turned down Houston’s two-year, $45.2 million extension offer, all but ensuring he will enter this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
The two years, $45.2 million was the most the Rockets could offer prior to the summer. Once free agency starts, Houston would be eligible to offer Oladipo as high as $151 million over four years or $195 million over five, per Wojnarowski, while another team would be eligible to offer as high as four years, $145 million.
Given that the Rockets traded Caris LeVert, a good player under team control through 2023, for Oladipo, you would think they wouldn’t want to lose him for nothing this summer. But perhaps that’s not true. Maybe they’d rather the money just come off the books. The Rockets could get to around $20 million in cap space this summer if they renounce Oladipo, Dante Exum and P.J. Tucker, the latter of whom they could trade before the March 25th deadline for an expiring contract.
If the Rockets decide they want more than just cap space for Oladipo, they could trade him over the next few weeks and try to get a pick and/or a good young player plus expiring salary back. They could hang onto him and try to work a sign-and-trade in the summer, which has recently become a more popular move than it used to be. Or, again, they could get into a bidding war to keep Oladipo long-term.
It’s hard to imagine Oladipo, who is shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from 3 in his time with the Rockets, getting anywhere near a max offer from anyone. Despite those offensive struggles, you will hear Oladipo’s name a lot as the trade deadline approaches. Paying him long-term is a dicier proposition than a contender taking a short-term shot on him with an expiring contract. He’s shown flashes of his old self offensively, and he would help anyone on the defensive end.
If Oladipo is traded to a playoff team and he performs well on a big stage, something in the range of $100 million over four years feels like a rough ceiling in terms of what he could command this summer — $20 million less than the Hornets gave Gordon Hayward, another former All-Star who never regained his pre-injury form prior to hitting the open market.
Would the Rockets offer that kind of money? It’s been reported that Oladipo has long wanted to end up with the Miami Heat, who would be able to generate more than enough cap room to sign him assuming he doesn’t command a four-year max. The Knicks will have money and have been rumored to be monitoring the status of a number of win-now veterans — CJ McCollum and Zach LaVine, notably — as they’ve suddenly become a playoff contender under Tom Thibodeau.
Whatever happens, it’s not surprising that Oladipo turned down this two-year deal on Monday. Whether it comes from Houston or someone else, he’s almost certainly going to get a decent long-term offer this summer, when the list of free agents will be relatively thin.