Free agency wasn’t an hour old before Trevor Ariza turned his back on the best team- record wise- in the Western Conference during the 2017-18 season, the Houston Rockets. Ariza committed to another Western Conference team, a lottery dweller and the perpetually confused front office of the Phoenix Suns. For the Suns, it was a huge get. The veteran Ariza won a title with the Lakers and is a perfect floor spacer and three point shot maker and he can defend. He is 33 years old so there are only so many jump shots in the Ariza legs. The money the Suns offered him was numbing considering the market. Very few $15 million salaries were tossed around so of course he jumped before they took it back.
Six weeks after the Ariza run away from Houston without malice, the Rockets inked Carmelo Anthony to a one year deal, $2.4 million.
It feels as if something is wrong in Houston. When you are in the Western Conference Finals and lose to the NBA champs your first thought isn’t to leave and get paid like Ariza did. It is to stay and get your title, you were this close. If nothing else, the culture demands you stay, take less money and join immortality.
When you lose to the NBA champs you do not consider a “fix” a defensive black hole, 40% scorer who is 34 years old and is so much of a team player he has zero interest in doing anything that has him not in the starting lineup, even if that helps the team. Oh, yeah. His 12.4 PER was lower than Ryan Anderson’s 12.6 who had a crappy year in 2017-18.
Let’s start with the bad feelings. After Ariza bolted, Clint Capela took a meeting with Magic Johnson. Capela and his pick and roll game and defense was a reason the Rockets took off last year. Capela’s improvement was significant. If not for the incredible year by Victor Oladipo, Capela would have won Most Improved. But there he was talking with Magic Johnson when he knew Magic didn’t have the money to sign him to an offer sheet that would make it impossible for the Rockets to match. It was a political move by team Capela, a message/threat to Daryl Morey. Look at what may happen if you continue to lowball me. I’ll sign the qualifying offer and next season as a free agent take the Lakers max salary contract (if Kawhi is elsewhere). It was a threat. Capela ended up signing but pouted along the way.
Luc Mbah a Moute, a 6-8 defender who helped the Rockets close the gap from barbaric defense to not-so-bad defense, left the island and signed with the Clippers who are a vague playoff contender, 8th seed at best. He was willing to forgo a title shot to play in Los Angeles where he used to play for Doc Rivers with the CP3-Blake Rivers bunch. He took the Clippers mid-level exception and said goodbye to Houston and MVP James Harden and Chris Paul.
Bad Feellings Pt. II. It’s a non secret how much Mike D’Antoni hated Carmelo Anthony when he coached him in New York and how leaving New York meant leaving Carmelo which made D’Antoni rejoice. Forget the window dressing. Carmelo has not changed. He still holds the ball too much. Correction. Carmelo has changed. He is a mediocre shot maker, a pretty good three baller and pathetic at defense. When Melo goes iso, D’Antoni is going to lose his lunch.
Melo wants to win and he wants things the way he wants them. He has yet to walk back from the idea that he is not who he used to be. Matching up against the Warriors, he is a disaster. He can’t guard Durant and he can’t match Durant offensively, not anymore. The Rockets are not a Strength In Numbers culture, not with the way GM Daryl Morey adores superstars like Melo and caters to them. So not much about Melo is going to change.
The Rockets did not have a good summer if Carmelo Anthony is your prize, your way of getting closer to demolishing the Warriors. If Carmelo Anthony is the Rockets big get, haven’t they failed the off-season?
Carmelo is a descending player. An offensive star in his heyday but he is nothing special anymore. He had the same stats last year as second year player Brandon Ingram except Ingram averaged more assists than Carmelo. Surprise, surprise. Good luck D’Antoni trying to do what he couldn’t do in New York, get Carmelo to be a playmaker.
Plugging Melo into the Ariza role means the Rockets defense is going to be atrocious. His offense isn’t much better. Carmelo’s offensive rating hadn’t been in the 104 territory since his first two NBA seasons. It was 104 last year.
Anthony was the 43rd ranked power forward last season (Real Plus-Minus). His All-Star days are way behind him. I’ll re-emphasize: has anyone forgotten how much Mike D’Antoni hates Carmelo? Carmelo’s game doesn’t fit into the D’Antoni shoot it or move it philosophy.
No one in their right mind thinks Carmelo can impede Kevin Durant. No one in their right mind thinks D’Antoni will have the guts to tell Carmelo to come off the bench. No one expects Carmelo to do anything but grind the Rockets into a 5th seed. The Rockets lost on defense and are possibly replacing it with a waning offensive player. It is not equal.
It’s bad math, this hotter than hell Houston Rockets summer. I suppose there is a moral to the story though.
Being the Warriors is hard. Beating them with Melo and a sub-par defense will be impossible.