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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The Texans and Rockets are disasters, so bring on the Astros! Even if they weren't disasters, bring on the Astros! Their spring training opener is Sunday, their regular season opener one month from Monday. Alexander Pope wrote "hope springs eternal." I hear he played a pretty decent shortstop. All 30 Major League Baseball teams can be hopeful in March. The Astros have plenty to be hopeful about and plenty about which to be wary. A couple of early storylines: 1. Yuli Gurriel admitted he was unacceptably overweight last season. It would be great for the Astros if that explains most of Gurriel's pathetic performance as opposed to age catching up with him. 2. Jose Altuve is in great spirits and health. His MVP level days of 2016 and 2017 are likely gone for good, but getting the Altuve of 2018 or 2019 would be a tremendous boost. The Altuve of 2020 was one of the worst players in MLB.

And now to the dueling debacles…

Rough stretch for the Rockets

The Rockets are awful. They sit with 11 wins and 19 losses. Just three seasons ago they lost 17 games the entire season. They are routinely non-competitive. They lug a nine game losing streak to the court Friday night in Tampa against the Toronto Raptors. Among the losses are blowouts by 20, 22, 25, and 29 points. All of those routs came against teams with losing records. By NBA standards the Rockets' roster stinks. The injured Christian Wood is the only player they have who is or projects to be an average or better starter. John Wall's contract is an anvil.

That they are this bad is actually one of the few silver linings to the Rockets' near term future. The Rockets only retain their first round pick this summer if it falls in the top four of the draft. The Rockets currently have the fourth worst record in the NBA, just one half game ahead of third worst! Where the pick falls comes down to which draft lottery ping pong ball combination is drawn, but the worse their record the better shot the Rockets have of being in the top four. If not in the top four, the Rockets settle for the lowest of their own, Oklahoma City's, or Miami's first rounder. That's probably the Heat pick, and probably not in the top 15.

The longest losing streak in Rockets' franchise history is 17. During their expansion season the San Diego Rockets lost 17 straight. The longest losing streak in Houston Rockets' history is 15 games during the 2001-02 season. They finished the season 28-54. How many of their five most frequent 2001-02 starters can you name? Answer below.

The worst team in Rockets' history was the tanking and awful 1982-83 club that finished 14-68. Longest losing streak that season? 10. The first 10 games of the season.

Releasing JJ Watt might have been a mistake

The Texans are poised to add yet another feather to their dunce cap if J.J. Watt signs with the Packers, Bills, Titans, Roughnecks, Inmates (The Longest Yard) or anybody else for 15-plus million dollars per season. Such a deal would indicate at least one team would have been willing to give up a decent draft pick (say a third rounder) for Watt and the one year 17.5 million that was left on his contract. If the Texans think they score points for doing Watt "a solid" in setting him free they are absurdly mistaken. The Texans need all the draft capital they can get. J.J. Watt will always have a hallowed place in Texans' lore but they owed Watt nothing. Over the last five seasons he played just three seasons worth of football and was paid 82.5 million dollars for them.

More Deshaun Watson drama

Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson reportedly directly told new Texans Head Coach Edward Smith that Watson has no interest in playing for him. It's nothing personal against David Culley (Edward Smith captained the Titanic) but Watson wants the Texans' organization permanently in his rearview mirror. We'll see if Cal McNair and new General Manager Nick Caserio have the stomach to not trade Watson through the draft. If the Dolphins offer Tua Tagavailoa, the third and eighteenth picks in the first round, the fourth pick in the second round, and their first round pick in 2022, the Texans should make the trade and move on.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Rockets' starters by most starts in 2001-02: Cuttino Mobley (74) Kelvin Cato (73) Kenny Thomas (71) Steve Francis (56) Moochie Norris (26).

2. It can't soothe Rocket fan nerves that the best bet for the Eastern Conference Final matchup is James Harden's Nets vs. Daryl Morey's 76ers.

3. Most frustrating 2021 Houston-visiting player appearances: Bronze-Harden the Net Wednesday Silver-George Springer the Blue Jay in May Gold-Watt the Titan this fall? Would he really sign with the Titans?

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