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Dumping Anderson's contract makes off-season a win for the Rockets

Brandon Knight came back to the Rockets in the Ryan Anderson trade. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

OK I said it—if the Rockets were somehow able to unload Ryan Anderson’s contract,  the off season would be a success. At the end of the day the team added a proven scorer in Carmelo Anthony, who will take Anderson's minutes and is not lacking in confidence—regular season or playoffs. Although I still have a few concerns regarding what the Rockets gave up in this trade and what the roster looks like right now, I will stay true to my word and give credit where credit is due. Here's my take on the trade and the off season moves the team has made preparing for the upcoming season.

At first glance, the trade looks like a huge win for Houston. After courting Ryan Anderson for years and the organization saying he was the ultimate stretch 4, it all went south in a hurry. First, they had to overpay him in free agency and $21 million dollars a year is not going to be a popular move when it's a 4 year contract. If you doubt me, look no further than the Brock Osweiler contract. A year into the deal, the signs were there that he was never going to be able to live up to the billing.

Anderson is an above average 3-point shooter, but he showed a weakness in the mental aspects of the game. When his shot wasn’t falling he was quick to pass up open looks or worse than that, continue to shoot deep 3s with absolutely no confidence the shot was going in. In the playoffs, not only was he still erratic with his shot, his role as a starter was a distant memory and his defensive liabilities made him virtually impossible to keep on the floor for any length of time. In short, the writing was on the wall that Anderson would not be a member of the Rockets next season.  Of course there was always the possibility of a buyout, but I don't think that would have flown inside the Toyota Center walls.

The biggest problem I have with the trade is the fact that Houston had to part ways with their second round draft pick, De'Anthony Melton. Melton slid in the draft due to his name being linked to the NCAA recruiting scandal of a year ago, but strictly from a basketball perspective, this kid has a ton of talent and a huge upside. He quickly showed in summer league that he belongs in the NBA, and given the right situation, with hard work and a team that has patience, he could develop into an above average player in the NBA. Obviously with the talented roster that the Rockets have and the additions that the team has made, they felt like he was expendable. If giving up Melton was the price you had to pay to get rid of Anderson, then tht price was right and the deal was a no brainer.

The only other concern I have with the move is the fact that the Rockets did not recoup any cap room, as they were forced to take back veteran point guard Brandon Knight, as well as underachieving, former lottery pick Marquese Chriss. Chriss is a 6'10" big man that is known more for his attitude than his ability, as he has squandered most of the opportunities he has been given. He has let his emotions get the best of him during his time in Phoenix to the point where patience was wearing thin. Phoenix had seen enough and was ready to move on, especially after drafting Deandre Ayton.

Knight has had his moments in the league, as he has been an above average player with both the Pistons and the Bucks. Unfortunately, in Phoenix he had the double whammy of having attitude problems as well as eventually tearing his ACL, which ended his stint as a Sun. He also comes with a hefty price tag as he is making over $15 million dollars a year for the next 2 seasons, which Houston is on the hook for. So fans that had high hopes of getting salary cap flexibility in any Anderson trade, have to be content knowing that at least they unloaded his ridiculous contract and prolonged shooting slumps to free up minutes for Melo and others.

Heading into training camp, the biggest issue on the roster is defensive. Whether you want to admit it or not, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were huge for them and will be missed. Of course they will be forever labeled by Rockets fans as failures, based on their inability to come up big at the biggest moments of the playoffs, including Game 7 against the Warriors. Fact is, they were two of the five best defenders on a team that ranked in the top handful of squads in the NBA.

Morey and his staff have added several players this off-season, but none come close to being able to defend and rotate like the two guys they lost. It remains to be seen if they will be able to maintain their status as an elite defensive team in the wake of their off season departures, as James Ennis and Michael Carter Williams are not exactly defensive stoppers by league standards.  Let's also keep in mind Carmelo Anthony has never been known for his defense or his desire to get stops, but alas, now is the time for optimism and hope across basketball, so why not dream big and expect the unexpected? Regardless, you can put it on the board for this off season, it's a "W" in my book.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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