The 24-year-old restricted free agent remains unsigned, and according to ESPN.com's Tim McMahon, Capela and the Rockets have been as much as $40 million apart in their negotiations. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relayed one rejected offer, noting Capela turned down a five-year, $85 million deal.
If we invoke comparisons, Capela is right to hold out for at least $100 million. Steven Adams, then 23, inked a four-year, $100 million extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder just before the 2016-17 season started. He got that money after putting up 8.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Andre Drummond signed his own five-year, $127 million contract just a month before his 23rd birthday in 2016.
The way NBA basketball is played today, Capela is likely more valuable than both Adams and Drummond.
At 24, Capela is coming off a season in which he averaged 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while leading the league in field-goal percentage. His defensive versatility—you won't find many bigs better equipped to defend guards on switches and protect the rim—made him an integral component to Houston's sixth-ranked defense. When factoring in how Capela fits into (and perhaps enables) Houston's scheme, he's worth even more to the Rockets than he would be to the rest of the market.
But the market is the problem.
Few teams have the available cap space to make Capela a significant offer, and because the Rockets have matching rights on any deal he signs, they have no urgency to fork over a hefty contract preemptively.
This is rotten timing for Capela, and Houston is exploiting it.
There's a downside, though. Capela could grow frustrated, perhaps so much so that he'd give less than full effort upon signing a lowball deal with Houston. Just as worrisome from the Rockets' perspective, he could cut off negotiations entirely and sign a one-year qualifying offer that would enable him to hit unrestricted free agency in the cash-rich summer of 2019.
It'd be shocking if fewer than a half-dozen teams approached Capela with max offers a year from now.
Houston's leverage is considerable but hardly boundless. Mess around too much, and the Rockets could alienate an elite young center—one of the only conventional bigs capable of staying on the floor against the Golden State Warriors.
Houston can credibly cite the math and defend an offense that bricked 27 straight threes in a closeout playoff game. Those triples it missed in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State were statistically favorable propositions. The math said they were good shots.
Similarly, playing Capela's free agency this way is objectively smart. It's good process. The economics are sound: Don't pay more than you have to.
This is different, though. There's a human side to consider, and it's beginning to seem like the Rockets aren't appreciating it enough.
At this point, if Capela scraps sentiment and adopts Houston's calculating approach, his best move might be sticking it to the Rockets by accepting the qualifying offer and collecting $100-plus million from someone else next summer.