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The Houston Rockets should not trade Clint Capela

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you’re going to say.

“But AK, he was terrible against Golden State! How can the Rockets win if they’re playing 4-on-5 in the playoffs?”

Admittedly, Clint Capela was at his worst at the most important time of the season for the Houston Rockets. After making a leap during the 2017-18 season and getting paid, the Swiss big man underachieved for Houston in the playoffs. Therefore, get rid of him, right?

However, that line of thinking is short-sighted and discards the improvements of a player that fits perfectly in Houston’s system. Capela has come a long way since his rookie season and even got better after his big payday. He played 34 minutes per game and averaged 16.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, all career highs. He even improved his free throw shooting to a respectable 63.6%.

Losing Capela would have huge repercussions not only in the regular season, but in the postseason as well.

It’s easy to look at Golden State Warriors or any other contender and say, “We need to beat them.” It’s another thing entirely to get to those teams.

Take the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example. Over the last two seasons, they have had the same stated goal as the Rockets: knocking off the Warriors and winning a championship. They went all-in by trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but in back-to-back seasons they couldn’t get past the first round. Part of the problem was their poor regular seasons where they ended as the fourth and sixth seeds, respectively.

The Rockets will need Capela to get past the multitude of contenders in the West. Not only is he a great rim-protector, but he has had success against most of the great big men in the West.

Here are some of the teams that Houston has to get past in the West, along with their best big man:

  1. Golden State (Draymond Green)
  2. Denver (Nikola Jokic)
  3. Portland (Enes Kanter)
  4. Utah (Rudy Gobert)
  5. Oklahoma City (Steven Adams)
  6. San Antonio (LaMarcus Aldridge)
  7. LA Clippers (Montrezl Harrell)
  8. LA Lakers (Anthony Davis)
  9. Minnesota (Karl-Anthony Towns)

In the past three seasons, Capela has outplayed Adams, Towns, and Gobert. He’s owned Jokic over that time period and he’s either outright better than or can hold his own against anyone else on that list besides Green, who’s a matchup nightmare for everyone.

If the Rockets trade Capela, there is no easy replacement that combines his defense and rim-running threat. DeAndre Jordan is a pipe dream because he would probably be asked to sign for the veteran minimum or mid-level exception at best and his market seems more robust than that. Maybe someone like Willie Cauley-Stein has to settle for a small deal, but how much do you trust a center that will be available for a veteran minimum? And much more likely is signing someone like Tyson Chandler or moving Isaiah Hartenstein to the starting spot. If that doesn’t terrify you, I’m not sure what does.

So while it’s easy to imagine that bringing in Jimmy Butler would alleviate all of Houston’s woes, losing Capela could be disastrous for this squad. Trading Capela would be an overreaction to one series against one of the greatest teams ever and would ignorantly disregard his success against the other 28 teams in the NBA.