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Perhaps Rockets general manager Daryl Morey deserves some benefit of the doubt. With the doubt left in the wake of this mostly fruitless summer for Houston, he is going to need it. Last year’s Rockets nearly pulled off t
Perhaps Rockets general manager Daryl Morey deserves some benefit of the doubt. With the doubt left in the wake of this mostly fruitless summer for Houston, he is going to need it.
Last year’s Rockets nearly pulled off t
Rather than running back the same group, the Rockets instead lost two key role players in free agency, starting small forward Trevor Ariza and key reserve Luc Mbah a Moute, both of whom were vital to the Rockets’ turnaround on defense. Houston jumped from No. 18 in defensive efficiency to No. 6 in one year.
Replacing those guys with Carmelo Anthony, as the Rockets are poised to do once Anthony clears waivers, hardly appears to be the ideal path forward. Anthony has never been much of a defender, nor has he been much of a ball-sharing wing fit for a high-tempo offense. The Thunder dumped Anthony after just one season with him, and the Hawks will pay him nearly $28 million in buyout money to not play for them.
MORE: NBA free agency tracker
Worse, Anthony has a history with Mike D’Antoni, who revived his coaching career in Houston after a flop with the Lakers that came on the heels of his flop in New York. It was with the Knicks that D’Antoni and Anthony butted heads frequently. Chemistry has been a touchy issue in recent Rockets seasons, but was mostly smooth last year. The Anthony-D’Antoni dynamic threatens that.
It’s easy to ding the Rockets for all this, and we’ve partaken in that criticism. But looking at the way events have unfolded in Houston, there was not much other choice for Morey, and perhaps it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt as the team comes together.
The Rockets had little choice from the start of free agency but to re-sign Paul — who agreed to opt in to the final year of his old contract last summer to facilitate his trade to the Rockets — to the four-year, $160 million contract he got early this month. The Rockets have yet to finalize a deal with restricted free agent Clint Capela, but that deal figures eventually to come in at around $22-25 million per year.
That will put the Rockets deep into luxury-tax territory, paying in the neighborhood of $40 million in tax. Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Suns. Matching that contract would have cost the Rockets about $50 million in tax dollars. Ariza was a key part of the team, but he is also a 33-year-old role player, and we can all agree it makes little sense to dole out more than $60 million for him.
The same can be said for Mbah a Moute, a good defender and locker-room presence, but a guy who turns 32 and fell out of the rotation in the playoffs. He got $4.6 million from the Clippers, a contract that likely would have cost the Rockets an additional $15 million or so in taxes.
MORE: Will Carmelo embrace new role with Rockets?
The Rockets will miss those guys. But they hardly would have been worth the outlay the Rockets would need to make to keep them.
The problem is that the Morey’s Plan B has been underwhelming — so far, at least. Anthony can score, and there’s some hope he can massage his game into fitting better with the offense that the Rockets and D’Antoni employ. There might be less hope that Anthony can fit into the defense installed by assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, who was Anthony’s original coach in Denver in 2003-04 and (surprise, surprise) had some clashes with his budding young star back then.
The Rockets could find other ways to fill out the depth chart, though. They expect that second-round rookie De’Anthony Melton, who impressed in summer league as an open-floor player capable of becoming a lockdown defender on the wing, will be a rotation player in his first season. There’s also the possibility that the frontcourt gets a boost from youngsters Isaiah Hartenstein, a defensive center who played in the G-League last year, and 7-2 perimeter forward Zhou Qi.
And don’t count out Morey’s ability to get creative. He has a good record of unearthing NBA-quality players where no one else is looking, even if they don’t stick with the Rockets — Patrick Beverley, Garrett Temple, Ish Smith and Robert Covington are examples.
Morey has been in charge of the Rockets for 11 seasons, and the team has gone to the playoffs eight times, winning 50-plus games in the West six times. The team has made the conference finals twice, one of only five teams to make multiple West finals appearances in that span.
This was not the ideal summer for the Rockets, no doubt. But on further consideration, there was logic in Houston’s decisions, and things may still work out for Morey in the end.