A KEY PIECE

Paul Muth: Carmelo signing is a win-win for Rockets

Carmelo Anthony is a great pickup for the Rockets, especially at the price. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Monday New York Times basketball insider Marc Stein tweeted that Oklahoma City Small Forward Carmelo Anthony intends to sign with the Houston Rockets once he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Anthony is still waiting to be formally traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who then intend to waive 10-time all star.

The Rockets, who were one win away last season from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995 entered the off-season deep at the small forward position. Being an integral cog on a 65-win team will get you noticed by the league, however. By the time the initial free agent scrum dust settled, Houston's starting small forward, Trevor Ariza, had cashed in out in Phoenix and his backup, Luc Mbah a Moute had returned to the Clippers. Having lost out on both the LeBron James and Paul George sweepstakes, the Rockets had suddenly gone from a team that was a piece away from true contention to a team looking to round out it's starting roster.

Meanwhile, the Thunder had spent their offseason letting Carmelo Anthony know that they weren't interested in a future involving him. Anthony simply didn't fit what the Thunder were trying to do, something that was dreadfully apparent to even the most casual basketball fan. Anthony's numbers dropped dramatically as a result. Once OKC had secured Paul George's return, Anthony became very expendable.

Roughly this time last summer, Rocket GM Daryl Morey was wiping the sweat from his brow at a white board trying to find the right trade formula to convince the Knicks to trade Anthony to the Rockets and Houston fans were overcome with anticipation. This time around, however, Morey's pursuit of the same player has been received with far less excitement and much more skepticism. Instead of seeing us possibly trading for the Knicks’ star centerpiece like last season, Rockets fans perceive Anthony as an aging, overpaid third set of hands that need to ball to be productive. There seems to be little buzz surrounding this all but certain upcoming acquisition as a result. It's a narrative based off of what was witnessed last season.

It's also false. Here’s why.

He’s the best small forward available

The Rockets were quick to stop the bleeding at the wing position with the signing of defensive specialist James Ennis, but Ennis was not on anyone’s “must grab” list. After striking out on LeBron and George, Houston immediately turned its focus toward trading for Nuggets wing Wilson Chandler, but were quickly outbid by Philadelphia. Suddenly the 3-spot market was all but barren. Now seemingly out of nowhere, the Rockets have gone from searching for possible trades to picking up a legitimate starting small forward that, even last season when he was at quite possibly his worst since his rookie year, can still average at least 16 points per game. It’s hard to luck out like that in the NBA. Speaking of scoring…

He can still shoot

Despite averaging just over 16 points per game, Anthony’s scoring ability has suddenly come into question. Yes, it was a significant decline from his previous season’s 22 ppg performance, but that was also on a team with very few other scoring options. Both his three-point and two-point field goal percentages have remained relatively identical throughout his career and last year was no exception. He was simply relied on less because he was playing with George and Russell Westbrook. And if you play with Westbrook, you are guaranteed to lose touches. Expect Anthony to be much more involved in the Rockets’ offense, with head coach Mike D’Antoni weaving his minutes into a beautifully efficient tapestry much like he did last season with James Harden and Chris Paul each having isolated floor time. And with the subsequent increase in open looks he’ll receive playing with Harden and Paul, it’s safe to expect a bounce back season.

He’s absolutely zero risk

If the Rockets were taking on some crazy super-max contract, this article would have a much different tone. The Hawks plan on waiving Anthony, however, so he’s guaranteed $27 million dollars whether he touches a basketball court next season or not. The Rockets plan to sign him for a league minimum $2.4 million dollars which still gives Houston the ability to use their mid-level exception to sign yet another player. If it works out, the Rockets will have deftly maneuvered the 2018 offseason and once again look like the smartest kids in the room while Morey buffs his second consecutive Executive of the Year award. If it implodes and Anthony looks like his OKC self, the Rockets can send him packing next offseason having lost nothing.

The bottom line is that, while Anthony isn’t LeBron or George, he’s an upgrade not only to what they have, but also what they lost. The Western Conference may have gotten stronger this offseason, but a lineup with James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Carmelo Anthony, and Eric Gordon is definitely a capable team that has the potential to set off more fireworks than last season’s 65-win team.




 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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