Make no mistake: Daryl Morey is not done this summer. If he had his way, there would be another Banana Boat Crew-member making his way to Houston, too.
Gone is Patrick Beverley, who has played more than 28 minutes per game in each of the last four seasons. That’s a huge percentage of rotation minutes that will now be filled almost entirely by Chris Paul and Eric Gordon. Bev is fantastic and will be missed dearly — his first game back in Houston, the reception better be deafening — but that’s a huge offensive upgrade and a defensive break-even.
With P.J. Tucker in town, the minutes that went to Corey Brewer, Lou Williams and Sam Dekker last season will now go to one of the league’s toughest perimeter defenders and someone who shot 40 percent from deep in his 24 games in Toronto (although he went 32 percent in 10 playoff games).
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony seems to be opening to joining the squad, which would be another on-paper fit, and yet-to-be-determined personality fit.
As it stands, here is how the Rockets’ roster will fill out. Because of the way of the modern NBA and the Mike D’Antoni offense, traditional positional definitions are kind of pointless for this exercise, so bear with me:
Guard: Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Isaiah Taylor, Bobby Brown
Wing: Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Troy Williams, Jared Uthoff
Big: Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Nene, Zhou Qi, Chinanu Onuaku
The starting five: Paul, Harden, Ariza, Anderson and Capela. Gordon, Tucker and Nene will play the vast majority of bench minutes, with Zhou Qi (GET READY) and probably a yet-to-be-named shooting guard.
That’s a damn good team. Remember: Corey Brewer was playing lots of minutes when the Rockets won 20 games in December. Last year’s Rockets were more than a sum of their parts because their engine was so powerful. That engine is still there, except there’s another, almost-as-good engine in the same car and the parts around them make even more sense.
D’Antoni’s offense works if the 1 and the 5 on the floor are in perfect harmony and at their peaks in running the pick and roll (see Nash/Stoudemire; Lin/Stoudemire; Harden/Capela). The Rockets’ bench offense collapsed when Nene went down. Well, he’s back, and he is better than any other bench center in the league, as he showed in the playoffs. Now 23, Clint Capela is going to improve even more. Onuaku might take the Capela leap after an encouraging D-League campaign, but he didn’t get to play in the Western Conference Finals as a rookie like Capela did.
Ariza, Tucker, Anderson and Gordon are all good to great from deep. Melo is lethal on the catch-and-shoot. He’d be an offensive improvement over any of them, and Tucker is the only one of the three who can’t be moved. Based on reports from around CP3, Ariza probably isn’t going anywhere either.
It’s frankly Melo or low-impact players at this point. Even Morey has said as much.
Rockets next step? Bargain hunting. GM Daryl Morey said today he'll likely hang on to NG contracts, exception. Could add 1 minimum contract.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 3, 2017
If last year’s Rockets, a flawed, incomplete team, won 55 games, this year’s squad, even in a stacked Western Conference, should win more. They are still flawed, but the flaws are smaller and the pitfalls have everything to do with fit, rather than a lack of talent. That’s a good position to be in, all things considered.