2018 Offseason In Review: Houston Rockets

Hoops Rumors is breaking down the 2018 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2018/19 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Houston Rockets.

Signings:

  • Standard contracts:
    • Chris Paul: Four years, maximum salary ($159.73MM). Fourth-year player option. Re-signed using Bird rights.
    • Clint Capela: Five years, $87.5MM. Includes likely and unlikely incentives. Re-signed using Bird rights.
    • James Ennis: Two years, minimum salary. Second-year player option. Signed using minimum salary exception.
    • Carmelo Anthony: One year, minimum salary. Signed using minimum salary exception.
    • Gerald Green: One year, minimum salary. Re-signed using minimum salary exception.
    • Michael Carter-Williams: One year, minimum salary. Partially guaranteed for $1.2MM. Signed using minimum salary exception.
  • Two-way contracts:
  • Non-guaranteed camp contracts:

Trades:

Draft picks:

  • 1-52: Vince Edwards — Signed to two-way contract (converted from Exhibit 10 contract).

Draft-and-stash signings:

  • Isaiah Hartenstein (2017 draft; No. 43): Signed to three-year, minimum salary contract. First year guaranteed. Second year partially guaranteed for $708K. Signed using taxpayer mid-level exception.

Departing players:

Other offseason news:

  • Exercised 2019/20 option on Mike D’Antoni‘s contract.
  • GM Daryl Morey rebuffed Sixers’ efforts to hire him.
  • Associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik announced retirement.

Salary cap situation:

  • Remained over the cap.
  • Carrying approximately $131.14MM in guaranteed salaries.
  • Projected tax bill of $14.66MM.
  • $4.5MM of taxpayer mid-level exception still available ($838K used on Isaiah Hartenstein).

Check out the Houston Rockets’ full roster and depth chart at RosterResource.com.


Story of the summer:

It happened a year later than expected, but Carmelo Anthony is finally in Houston. He tried to get there for most of the summer of 2017, telling Knicks management that the Rockets were the only team he was willing to waive his no-trade clause to join. However, no deal could be worked out and Anthony expanded his list to include the Thunder shortly before training camps opened.

He never seemed fully comfortable in Oklahoma City, forming an awkward Big Three with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. His scoring averaged dipped to a career-low 16.2 points per night and he sat through the closing minutes of playoff games as OKC opted for a stronger defensive lineup.

An offseason trade to Atlanta and subsequent buyout cleared the final hurdles that kept him from Houston. Now Anthony is being asked to assume a reserve role and become a complementary shooter rather than a primary ball-handler. Playing alongside elite passers in James Harden and Chris Paul should provide plenty of open opportunities and help him improve on a shooting percentage that hit a career-low .404 in Oklahoma City.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni appreciates Anthony’s willingness to become a sixth man after starting all 1,054 of his previous games. “I know it’s not the ideal situation for him, because he’s a Hall of Famer and all that,” D’Antoni told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter links). “I know it’s a big adjustment, but you know what? He’s true to his word. He said he’d do anything for the team. We think that’s best today. It might not be best later – we don’t know – but having him is something that we didn’t have last year. Obviously, it’s really good.”

Key offseason losses:

Part of the Rockets’ success last season stemmed from having a group of tough defenders who could switch easily on screens. Two key members of that group were lost early in free agency with Trevor Ariza signing with the Suns and Luc Mbah a Moute rejoining the Clippers.

Ariza had spent the past four seasons in Houston and developed into a veteran leader as well as a versatile defender. He was also a cog in the Rockets’ 3-point arsenal, especially from the corners, sinking 170 treys in 67 games last season while shooting 37% from long distance. Mbah a Moute also bought into Houston’s 3-point philosophy during his only season with the team, making a career-high 63 3-pointers at a 36% success rate.

Another key departing player, Ryan Anderson, was known more for his salary than his performance on the court. After more than a year of searching, the Rockets found a taker for Anderson in August when they shipped him to Phoenix in a four-player trade. The veteran stretch forward saw his role in Houston decline throughout last season and averaged just 8.6 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Key offseason additions:

The Rockets tried to replace some of the defense they lost in Ariza and Mbah a Moute by signing former Pistons forward James Ennis. Houston is his fifth stop in five NBA seasons, but team officials are confident that he can take over Ariza’s role.

Michael Carter-Williams, whose career has taken a sharp downturn since he was named Rookie of the Year in 2014, is another under-the-radar signing who might pay dividends. He is coming off his worst season last year in Charlotte, but has reportedly played himself into the Rockets’ rotation.

Brandon Knight, who was acquired from the Suns in the Anderson trade, could be in the best possible situation once he recovers from offseason surgery on his left knee. Knight was an explosive scorer and proficient 3-point shooter early in his career and should be a perfect fit with the Rockets’ philosophy. Marquese Chriss, the eighth selection in the 2016 draft, is hoping to jump start his career after two disappointing seasons with the Suns and may challenge for a role as the backup center.

Outlook for 2018/19:

More than any other franchise, the Rockets have been outspoken about their desire to take down the Warriors. Last year’s team was assembled to match up with Golden State’s abundance of wing scorers and nearly got the job done, falling in seven games in the Western Conference finals after losing Paul with a hamstring injury late in Game 5.

Houston will have to prove that this year’s team is on the same level. Ennis and Carter-Williams aren’t the established defenders that Ariza and Mbah a Moute were, and it’s an open question how well Anthony will fit in after not finding a comfortable role in Oklahoma City.

Still the talent is in place to produce something very close to last year’s 65-win campaign. The Rockets could consider their offseason a success just based on new deals for Paul and Clint Capela. Finding someone willing to take Anderson’s contract was a bonus, and GM Daryl Morey will be in the running for back-to-back Executive of the Year awards if Ennis and Carter-Williams can solve the concerns on defense. The Rockets have also been among the most aggressive suitors to pry Jimmy Butler away from Minnesota, which would make them an even greater title threat.

A summer of change hasn’t affected Houston’s status as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The key pieces remain in place and a playoff rematch with the Warriors feels almost inevitable.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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One thought on “2018 Offseason In Review: Houston Rockets

  1. x%sure

    I think Houston will wind up with Jimmy Butler, once MIN gets off to a slow start, and reservations about making a top western team even better start to fade. It’s a good fit and will ease Carmello Anthony’s mind… at some point he will wonder… PJ Tucker is starting ahead of me? Whaaat
    Gotta get Tyus too

    Miami extended Winslow, for good or bad. It seemed like that was a response to giving up on getting Butler.

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