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The Rockets had an excellent off-season this winter

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Could we talk about The Rockets Great Winter?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers
The best in-season addition of the off-season.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Part I is a recap - probably very well known to regulars here.

Part II is the Summer In Winter Celebration

Part III is a summary

Part I

It is an article of faith when talking about the Rockets 2018-19 season that they had a Bad Offseason. It’s a trope at this point. The Rockets Bad Off Season has become a recurring character on this blog and in the national conversation. You can’t talk about the Rockets early struggles without an obligatory mention of The Rockets Bad Offseason.

Trevor Ariza departed for greener dollars, Luc Mbah a Moute wasn’t retained. Instead the Rockets signed Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis III, and Michael Carter-Williams.

People complained at the time, but I urge you to refer to this list, and see who was actually available, and what they signed for, and also note the Rockets thin to nearly non-existent spending power after the Paul and Capela signings. Did the Rockets end up getting the best veteran minimum players? No.

But we’re still talking about a very small practical performance difference on a list of largely bad players, or players remaining where they were with their teams. There’s a very small number of players that were truly desirable to the Rockets. All of them would command much more than the Rockets could offer. So I’d say the off-season was no better than it should have been.

The risks of the off season largely didn’t pan out. Carmelo didn’t embrace a new role. James Ennis III showed why a guy who could look so good at times only played a limited number of minutes. Michael Carter-Williams, sadly, was Michael Carter-Williams.

But, even if all these new players had worked out wonderfully, perfectly, and exceeded all expectation, the odds are they would not have been Rockets in 2019-2020. Keep this in mind for later.

Then there was the trade. Off went De’Anthony Melton and Ryan Anderson. In came Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss. How did it work? It’s difficult to say on a basketball basis. No side of this trade appears to have worked for any player involved.

Brandon Knight seems physically unable to play basketball anymore. There were moments where he shook off the rust and showed glimpses of the explosive offensive player he once was. Then he became the Phantom Knight again, disappearing with health, or other, issues.

Marquis Chriss showed flashes of the promise that got him drafted early, and even more of the clueless play that got him sent out of Phoenix. (And why keep Marquis Chriss, when you can have the original, Terrence Jones?)

But as bad as those guys were, they weren’t worse than The Ryan Anderson Deal. Which is gone. It was costly, but it’s done.

In the autumn the only players showing signs of being useful were Gary Clark and, later, Danuel House (who could be signed now, if not for the MCW fixation). But then some wonderful things happened.

Part II

Austin Rivers, a guy I’ve previously loved to hate, was traded from a flailing and expensive Washington team to the Suns. He had previously opted into his Clippers contract for a trade to the Wizards. Washington might have suited him, but Phoenix didn’t. Rivers and the Suns parted ways, and the Rockets signed Rivers off his buyout on December 23rd.

Rivers is on a $12.6 million dollar deal. The economics of that contract might be somewhat nepotistic, but it’s difficult to see Rivers going for less than eight million anyway. Rivers has proven to be one the Rockets best backcourt and wing defenders. He’s a high-motor on ball defender who doesn’t take plays off. His weaknesses off-ball seem to be correcting themselves with time spent with the Rockets and their defensive scheme. Rivers has a streaky, but effective (when its on) offensive game. In his career he’s lately been about a 2.5 win share player. (Win Shares may not be the best measure, but it’s not the worst, and it offers a point of comparison with weight given to defense.)

Let’s compare him Rockets blog and twitter Object of Lust, Kent Bazemore. Bazemore is rated over the last two seasons at around 2.1 win shares. Most of his great reputation comes from a splendid 15-16 season where he notched 4.5 WS. Lately Rivers has compiled better numbers, overall. While not the defender Bazemore is, Rivers offers value on both sides of the ball.

Rivers has won me over. He’s a pest on defense, and always give a good effort. When his shooting is on, the Rockets become an nearly insurmountable offensive problem for opponents.

Rockets could not have dreamed of acquiring Rivers in the summer, but he’s on the team now.

Then the Rockets signed Kenneth Faried on January 19th. Faried seemed to be a misfit toy in Denver and Brooklyn. No real minutes, no real opportunity. Brooklyn was paid to take him, and Denver didn’t see him in its plans for the New Nuggets (though as to why, I’m not sure, he seems a great change of pace from Jokic).

Despite being unwanted, however, he’s never been unproductive. Yes, most of his value is offensive, but that value is pretty high. While averaging around 25 minutes a game in Denver, before his relegation he notched 4.5, and 5.5 Win Shares. To put that 5.5 number in perspective, that’s .7 below Joel Embiid last season, and Faried puts up better numbers than nearly any backup C/PF in the NBA by the Win Share measure.

For the Rockets style, he’s basically the perfect back up to Clint Capela, and he held the position down with aplomb while Capela missed 17 games.

Mike D’Antoni even tried playing Faried, a natural power forward, at...power forward. With Capela on the court. Faried even shot three pointers. Guess what? It worked. But now he’s hurt, of course.

All that said, there was no one of Faried productivity, or who could fit the system so well, on the market last summer. Certainly no one the Rockets could afford.

Rivers and Faried would represent a great offseason’s work. Yes, the Rockets likely can’t keep both, maybe not even one, but are they better than Ennis, MCW and Melo combined? Emphatically, yes. Again, if anyone of the latter group had been good on the Rockets, odds are they couldn’t have been retained either.

That leaves Iman Shumpert. He’s been a cipher to me throughout his career, on other teams. He remains a cipher to me now. I can see that he might be a good player, but he rarely seems to be healthy. Perhaps he will be, and we’ll discover what he’s good at. Career-wise, from a WS perspective, he’s a kind of inverse Austin Rivers - about the same value, but almost all of it defensive. If healthy he offers another guard and wing defender, with a compatible offensive game.

As an asset, a first round pick and some seconds brought Shumpert aboard and sent Knight and Chriss out of town. That marks the official end of The Ryan Anderson deal, except for seeing who the pick becomes, or doesn’t become (that pick is getting worse as the Rockets get better, as well - I peg it around 25th.)

Part III

Let’s rewind the summer and look again with the winter in mind. Now the Rockets look like this:

Losses

Trevor Ariza

Luc Mbah a Moute

Ryan Anderson

De’Anthony Melton

2019 First Round Pick

Additions

Austin Rivers

Kenneth Faried

Iman Shumpert

Gary Clark

Possibly Danuel House

Terrence Jones (for a few more days, anyway)

Out of Luxury Tax - Repeater Reset

It’s a sad fact that exactly zero of the players who were once on the Rockets are doing well. Ariza seems a shell of himself. Anderson has been disappeared. Melton looks like a rookie with a lot to learn. Mbah a Moute basically hasn’t played. No one will sign Carmelo. MCW remains MCW. Ennis isn’t getting minutes. The best of the bunch to leave Houston? Marquese Chriss. But that isn’t saying much.

In conclusion:

The Rockets had a very good summer, it just happened this winter.

Poll

Did the Winter Redeem The Summer?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Aye, blossom.
    (181 votes)
  • 4%
    Nay! My grudge is evergreen, like the fir trees!
    (10 votes)
  • 19%
    Two Words. Latvian Unicorn.
    (46 votes)
237 votes total Vote Now