My first reaction when the Rockets completed their trade of Ryan Anderson for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss was purely selfish: I was on vacation and glad that I no longer had to deal with it.
My second reaction is that it’s a puzzling move considering the odds seem low that either Knight or Chriss would see the floor in a playoff matchup against the Warriors. The Rockets would, with everyone healthy, go with their three guards, and young players like Chriss are not usually part of Mike D’Antoni’s postseason strategy.
Now that I’ve had some time to digest, what struck me about this deal were some parallels to a move Morey made around this time three years ago, one that failed spectacularly and has been somewhat lost to the annals of history: the Ty Lawson deal.
A player of Ryan Anderson’s caliber didn’t go out the door in that deal — in fact every player in that transaction is currently out of the NBA, including Lawson — but a similar type of gamble is taking place. The Suns have given up on Knight and Chriss, and the Rockets are betting they can ignite their talent.
It flamed out spectacularly with Lawson. He was ineffective when he played with Houston, disrupted chemistry when he sent Patrick Beverley to the bench, and never quite ingratiated himself with the team. By the time the 41-41 Rockets limped into the playoffs against Golden State as the eighth seed that year, he was long gone from the roster.
Kevin McHale was the coach Morey trusted to handle enmeshing Lawson into the team. Eleven games into that experiment, McHale was fired, and J.B. Bickerstaff tried after him. Neither succeeded, and neither came particularly close.
After two full seasons with the clipboard, Mike D’Antoni has shown, with total freedom, he can make anyone work.
Keep aside for a moment integrating one of the greatest point guards of all time instantly last year. When he got to Houston, D’Antoni had to enmesh Eric Gordon, Anderson and Nene into the team while installing his system and philosophy. The team won 56 games and he was Coach of the Year.
Then to turn over half the roster and add Paul, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and win even more games — the most in franchise history — proved that he was a master of adjustment.
So while the concerns about whether Knight has anything left to give or Chriss has anything upstairs are valid, I implore you to look at D’Antoni’s recent and historical track record. He maximizes talent. The same can be said for Jeff Bzdelik on the defensive end. Earl Watson is not coaching these guys. Gurus on both sides of the ball will be.
Am I positive it will work out perfectly? Of course not. But to take what Knight and Chriss have done in recent years and to assume that they will be used the same, and perform the same, is foolish. Chriss will be placed in perfect positions by backing up Capela — basically the best-case scenario for his career anyway — and playing with James Harden and Chris Paul. Knight will be playing under the greatest point guard coach of all time.
These guys will be given real chances to succeed because of who they are playing with and for. The same cannot be said for Ty Lawson, and it certainly can’t be said for their last two season in the NBA. I don’t know much, but I know they’ll be better in Houston than they were in Phoenix. D’Antoni will see to that.