Last offseason, Rockets fans were pining for Daryl Morey to make the push to unload Ryan Anderson’s hefty contract and, in return, receive the even heftier contract of Carmelo Anthony. The team wanted a third star to compete with Golden State’s four-headed monster, and Anthony was the most accessible.
Instead, they found the 10-time NBA All-Star being held hostage by the Knicks organization and eventually traded to one of his second options, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rockets fans were distraught and in disbelief that they had once again lost out on a top target.
Fast forward to this offseason, and it seems like many of those same fans (Rockets and otherwise) are in disbelief about losing athletic, defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute and the signing of Anthony in an effort to fill the hole at forward.
When he left New York, we knew that he didn’t always get along with staff, and we were aware of his style of play, but many thought of him as a good fit then. What changed?
Well, in OKC, Anthony had the worst statistical season of his career, averaging a career low in points (16.2 PPG) and field goal percentage (.404). In the playoffs he was, well, bad- let’s leave it at that.
So why should anyone believe that he will be any better in a Rockets uniform? Simply put, this is what Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets do.
When D’Antoni came into Houston, he adopted a team that was in the wake of James Harden’s least successful season as a Rocket and the fallout of Dwight Howard. The team then added career injury-plagued free agents Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to pick up the slack.
Despite the criticism that Harden would never be successful as the starting point, he led the league in assists with a career-high 11.2 assists a game. Gordon was healthy and dynamic enough to win Sixth Man of the Year, and D’Antoni won Coach of the Year after leading the team to a suprise 56 wins.
The narrative changed again when the Rockets added Chris Paul for the 2017-2018 season. It was widely believed that “there weren’t enough balls to go around,” Harden wasn’t mature enough to share the spotlight, and Paul was a career choker.
Houston went on to win a franchise-high 65 games, won the West, and were possibly an injury away from the NBA Finals after going up 3-2 on the Warriors. Not to mention, with his most help ever, Harden finally got his MVP.
If you already know these things, then you know where this is going. If you don’t know, then should have figured it out by now.
The Houston Rockets defy the odds. They’re narrative beaters.
The Melo situation should be no different given the circumstances and assuming Anthony has something left in the tank.
He’s pairing with a proven coach, the reigning MVP, and a championship caliber leadership. This team is simply better than the Thunder team he joined last year.
Aside from a Conference Finals visit with Kevin Durant, Billy Donovan has underwhelmed, getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. D’Antoni, meanwhile, has shown he can make adjustments and lead a high-caliber, title-contending team.
And as difficult as it can be to measure player leadership, more people than not would agree that Anthony should have better chemistry next to Paul and Harden than with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. In fact, it’s a much different player relationship.
During the Good ‘N Plenty podcast this summer, NBA Insider Shams Charania said that he “[didn’t] know how familiar (Anthony) was with Russ.”
“I think they had a relationship, but I don’t think his relationship with Russell Westbrook and Paul George was to the level that him, James Harden and Chris Paul are, especially Chris,” Charania said.
Then there’s all the emotional and personal factors that go into this season. Anthony wants to prove to his naysayers that’s he’s still a formidable presence in the NBA. He’s also aware of the type of personnel and winning mentality that he will be working with this season. Houston is looking to win, and, hopefully, at this stage in his career, Melo understands how important it is to buy into a system to do so.
Just keep in mind that there’s still a lot of kinks to work out. Anthony isn’t coming into last year’s team. Not only do the Rockets have to integrate Anthony, but they also must replace two prominent rotational players and work in a slew of new additions.
This isn’t a guarantee of another 65-win season or the return of Olympic Melo. It’s just an opportunity to gain perspective.
The Rockets unloaded Ryan Anderson’s contract, added some key players for cheap, and got Carmelo for the veteran minimum instead of paying him $27.9 million. In any world, this should be a huge win.
Instead of being complacent and writing off the season to Golden State’s All-Star lineup, the Rockets are being aggressive and taking a chance. It’s a low-risk-high-reward situation, and the Rockets are banking on it.