Analyzing the Rockets-Suns trade
You don't see big NBA trades in late-August, but that didn't stop the Rockets and Suns from coming together on one Thursday night. The motivations of this trade are pretty clear for both sides: Phoenix wanted to get rid of two distressed assets while Houston wanted to save significant luxury tax money.
The Rockets have reportedly searched out trades for Ryan Anderson for nearly a year now. The 30-year-old forward is two years into a massive 4-year, $80 million contract and had become both a financial and on-court liability for Houston. Anderson had seen his role diminish slowly over the past year from starter to eventual reserve who didn't see much playing time in the postseason. He had effectively become close to dead salary for a contending team like the Rockets.
By trading Anderson and rookie De'Anthony Melton to the Suns in exchange for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, the Rockets will be saving $3.4 million in salary and $7.9 million in luxury tax for a total savings of at least $11.3 million. This is assuming Melton would have signed with Houston for his rookie minimum. If he had planned on signing for more, that's even more in savings. It's easy to see why this sort of trade was attractive to the Rockets.
Houston will also have a noticeably bigger amount of their taxpayer mid-level exception to sign players this season as they were due to pay Melton his rookie minimum and they no longer have to do that, leaving up to $4.5 million to spend. The Rockets will have the option to save the money, use the exception this summer or spend it midseason to make roster upgrades (the most likely scenario).
Unfortunately losing Melton is a blow to Houston. Melton had shown real promise of being a second round steal after his one year at USC and in Summer League with the Rockets. Defensively, Melton has the tools to be a swiss army knife in the backcourt and is a fine pickup for Phoenix.
As for what Houston got in the trade, Brandon Knight is a player that might be able to crack the rotation right away. Houston has needed another point guard since they traded Patrick Beverley away in the Chris Paul deal last summer and Knight fits the mold of a guard can can succeed in Mike D'Antoni's offense. Defensively, he has some real warts and may struggle to see the floor in key moments, but he can be a nice off-guard and injury replacement if called upon. It should be noted that Knight is coming off a serious ACL injury and will take some time to regain form.
Marquese Chriss on the other hand, is more of a project for the Rockets. Although he was the 8th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Chriss has yet to show promise in the NBA as an impactful player. He isn't particularly efficient, he can't shoot, and often gets lost on defense. However, his age, size, and athleticism makes him a tantalizing project for Houston.
Chriss can battle with Isaiah Hartenstein for Houston's coveted third center spot, which often gets used when backup center Nene Hilario takes rest days. The Rockets have always had confidence that certain players develop and play better in their organization than others and this is a prime example of that. Houston also has a player option with Chriss that they can choose to not exercise and save an additional $4.1 million should he not work out.
There are several ways to view this trade and a lot of it depends on what you think of Melton. However that may be, it was still good asset management on Houston's part to unload Ryan Anderson's salary without having to forfeit a first round pick. Even if both Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss don't work out for the Rockets, they save a ton of money in luxury tax at the cost of Melton, who they got for just a 2nd round pick. It's not a home run deal per se, but it's definitely a solid one - textbook Daryl Morey.