John Hollinger sees ‘one-year overpay’ path for Kelly Olynyk, Rockets

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After landing the No. 2 overall draft pick in June, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said that Houston is more likely to operate above the NBA’s salary cap during the 2021 offseason. That path could boost the odds of a reunion with free agent big man Kelly Olynyk, since operating above the cap would allow the Rockets to retain their Bird rights on Olynyk and exceed the cap to give him a new contract.

Even so, it’s far from a given that a deal between Olynyk and the Rockets gets to the finish line. While the Rockets certainly liked what the 30-year-old did in Houston this past season, he’s not a star — and they aren’t likely to give him the type of long-term contractual commitment that could limit their ability to pursue elite free agents in future years. As a rebuilding team, the short-term boost that Olynyk would provide the roster wouldn’t be worth significantly limiting long-term flexibility.

However, it’s certainly possible that the sides could find a happy medium. As one example, perhaps Olynyk signs a multi-year deal with a low enough average annual value — perhaps even declining as the years progress — that Stone is confident in Olynyk retaining positive trade value. That would make him easy to offload, if cap room is needed.

Another path could be paying Olynyk will above his market rate in exchange for him taking a contract as short as one year. For example, if Olynyk was offered something in the range of $30 million over three years by another team, the Rockets could bid $20 million for one year — and it’s quite possible (and perhaps likely) that Olynyk would eventually exceed the three-year offer, when you factor in the one-year balloon payment and whatever deal he receives in 2022 free agency. From Houston’s perspective, that would retain their desired flexibility, as well.

In his latest free agency preview article for The Athletic, former NBA executive John Hollinger is pointing to such a scenario.

After the Heat traded him for Victor Oladipo, Kelly Olynyk was low-key quite good for a Rockets team that otherwise was quite bad. While he’s not for everybody given his defensive limitations, Olynyk takes charges, can play some four and has the offensive versatility to function either as a role player with starters or as a fulcrum with the second unit.

The teams that are likely to value him most, however, are also good enough that they aren’t using cap room to sign a player like Olynyk. That could cap his functional market at the midlevel exception unless he goes the route of signing a one-year overpay in Houston and volunteering himself as a midseason trade chip.

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In short, Hollinger’s logic is that the limited teams with major cap room in 2021 will likely view Olynyk through a similar lens as the Rockets. In other words, while he’s a good player, it’s not worth it for a non-contender to diminish its future flexibility for a non-star who is now 30. As for contenders, most (if not all) will be limited to offering the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which started at just over $9 million per year last offseason. That could provide a strong financial incentive for Olynyk to consider a bloated one-year proposal, if Houston is willing to offer it.

In 27 games with the Rockets, Olynyk averaged 19.0 points (54.5% FG, 39.2% on 3-pointers), 8.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 31.1 minutes. Statistically, it was by far the best production of Olynyk’s eight-year NBA career, which has featured stints in Houston, Boston, and Miami.

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