A KEY PIECE
Paul Muth: Carmelo signing is a win-win for Rockets
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.