NBA Daily: How Valuable Is Clint Capela?

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The Houston Rockets don’t offer extensions on rookie contracts, but the emergence of center Clint Capela might be reason enough to reevaluate this unofficial team policy in the future. Capela is a candidate for the Most Improved Player award after becoming a key cog on a 65-win team that reached the Western Conference Finals and pushed the defending champion Golden State Warriors to seven games in the process.

In a free agency market with very few potential suitors projected to have more than $10 million in cap space, Capela will be a priority for the Houston Rockets but could also become the focus of an opposing franchise’s rebuilding plans as well.

Capela didn’t allow his looming free agency status to become a distraction throughout the season and instead posted averages of 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in 74 appearances.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about it,” Capela told SB Nation prior to the start of the campaign. “I’m looking just forward to the season, stay healthy and we’ll see what happens next summer. I just move forward, try to do the best for the team.”

Move forward is exactly what the 24-year-old big man did with maturity, which is a testament to the work he’s put in since entering the league as a seldom used role player to possibly one day receiving All-Star consideration.

But entering the offseason, Capela isn’t even the Rockets’ top priority. That honor would go to All-Star Chris Paul, who is eligible for a five-year, $200 million deal this summer. The 33-year-old point guard has battled numerous injuries over the past few seasons as his games played per year has declined since 2015.

While Paul is fighting off Father Time, he is still widely considered to be a top 20 player in the league so expect the lion’s share of the Rockets’ finances this summer to go toward retaining the future Hall of Famer.

Most project the market for Capela to approach the $15 to $20 million per year territory. It’s important to note, the Rockets will be able to match any contract offer received for his services, however, there are some rebuilding teams that could make things really interesting if Capela is indeed on their radars.

The Dallas Mavericks are still in the hunt for a young core and preparing for the post Dirk Nowitzki era. The team has been desperately seeking a bona fide starting center for their rotation for years. From the failed DeAndre Jordan signing to the failed Nerlens Noel experiment, the Mavericks haven’t been able to effectively address their hole in paint. Dallas could clear up to $31 million of salary cap space which would make them a heavy player in the free agency market this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are another team to watch this summer. While most predict the Suns will use the No. 1 overall pick on University of Arizona standout center Deandre Ayton, the franchise could always pivot and decide to roll the dice on international sensation Luka Doncic, especially with his good relationship with new Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov.

The Suns are projected to have up to $21 million in cap space this summer and will certainly be in the market to improve their depth during this rebuilding project.

The most likely scenario, however, is the Rockets working diligently to get Paul re-signed early in the free agency process and then going into luxury tax territory in order to retain Capela with a mega deal.

Capela is an integral part of what the Rockets do and serves as their rim protector and one of the team’s primary sources for scoring in the paint. Smart money would place Capela returning to the Rockets next season a wealthier man, but there are no guarantees when it comes to NBA free agency.