As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Rockets are officially open for business this offseason. In the week since, numerous conflicting reports have emerged, attempting to inform fans what that loaded statement might actually entail.
The day following ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s report, Basketball Insider’s Steve Kyler tweeted that any Rockets trade will likely center around Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, or Chris Paul. And, surprisingly, that Houston’s front office wants into this year’s draft lottery.
However, in following days, Houston’s general manager Daryl Morey took to Instagram to clear the air and confirm that both Chris Paul and James Harden are here to stay. Unfortunately, Morey’s public interaction didn’t quell all the rumors surrounding his team, as he elected to ignore all comments asking if Capela has the same security.
So with Morey subtly hinting that Capela’s days in Houston might be numbered, it’s only right we analyze teams that may seek to acquire him. Unfortunately, finding trade partners for Capela is harder than one may think for a number of reasons.
For one, rim-running centers just aren’t at a premium in this NBA anymore. Outside of Houston, the center position has evolved to a point where paying a long-term premium for a center with limited offensive ability is a competitive disadvantage. This rules out potential suitors such as the L.A. Clippers or New York Knicks, as they either have a similar caliber player on a much cheaper deal already (ie. Montrezl Harrell) or intend on filling the position with a cheaper, shorter-term option (ie. DeAndre Jordan).
Second, at 25 years of age, Capela falls into a bit of a grey area from a timeline perspective. Sure, Capela is yet to enter his theoretical prime, but with a game predicated so heavily on athleticism, it’s only logical he’d peak earlier than expected. Additionally, it’s hard to see any room for improvement left in his game outside of minor tweaks, so front offices are essentially trading for a finished product. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of a rebuilding team trading for Capela, but it certainly depresses his value to them.
Lastly, and most importantly, most teams with a young core already have their big man of the future. With as limited of a skillset as Capela has, pairing him with another center is a non-starter. This hard truth likely rules out Atlanta, Phoenix, Minnesota, Chicago, Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, Memphis, Dallas, Detroit, and Orlando as potential suitors.
So taking all that into account, there are six teams I can plausibly see trading for Capela based on their current roster and accumulation of assets.
If I had to choose a destination for Capela, this is it. Capela’s speed and athleticism would be completely unlocked playing at Sacramento’s pace. The amount of easy baskets he’d get off of rim-running and setting transition screens is immeasurable. Sure, the fit alongside Marvin Bagley in the front court is awkward, but there likely isn’t a better center to pair with De’Aaron Fox than Capela.
A potential deal between the two teams would look something like Capela, Nene, and Gary Clark in exchange for Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles, and a second-round pick. Bogdanovic and Bjelica would fill Houston’s voids at backup small forward and power forward, respectively, while Giles acts as the ‘young-guy sweetener’.
Cleveland loosely falls into the age-related grey area I discussed above as Capela is five years older than the franchise’s only building block, Collin Sexton, and this upcoming season will be the franchise’s first from-the-start tank in this era. Still, unless there’s a big man in the draft they’re infatuated with, they really can’t do much better than Capela. They won’t win anything this year by acquiring Capela, but it’d give Sexton another year to develop chemistry with his big man of the future.
A potential deal could be Capela, Hartenstein, Clark, Nene, and some other salary filler for Kevin Love and the 26th pick in this year’s draft. Love’s fit in Houston is undeniably shaky, but its unlikely a Capela-centric package could net a better player. Additionally, the 26th pick gets management within spitting distance of their stated goal of finding a way into the draft lottery.
With Jusuf Nurkic expected to miss most of this upcoming year and the team too capped out to resign Enes Kanter or sign a serviceable replacement, it’s possible they see Capela as their path to salvaging one of the final years of Damian Lillard’s prime.
Lillard is a pick-and-roll savant. Per Synergy Sports, this past year, he finished in the 92nd percentile for pick-and-roll efficiency (passes included), despite nearly leading the league in volume. If any organization thinks they have the system in place to approximate the value Capela brings to the Rockets, it’s Portland.
A potential deal could haul Maurice Harkless, Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, and Gary Trent Jr. in exchange for Capela. Harkless and Collins would fill noted vacancies at small forward and center, while Trent Jr., and Simons give the exterior of Houston’s rotation an upside its lacked in recent years.
In the event the Lakers don’t win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, they’ll need to get something of worth before July 1 if they want to save face and convince a star to join LeBron James. Enter Clint Capela.
The Lakers’ desperation would likely give the Rockets the upper hand in negotiations in this scenario, so a return of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart for Capela isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Lonzo and Hart fit perfectly into Houston’s defense (if they elect not to change it this summer), while Kuzma provides a frontcourt scoring option the Rockets haven’t had in years.
Cody Zeller, Malik Monk, and the 12th pick for Capela, Clark, and Nene or Hartenstein in a last-ditch attempt to convince Kemba Walker to re-sign?
Coty explored a potential Davis to Houston scenario earlier this week. But even if the All-Star ends up elsewhere, the Rockets could still get involved as a third team. New Orleans lacks a young big man to pair next to Zion Williamson, so the possibility of sending Capela to NOLA in exchange for Soloman Hill’s contract and draft assets from the team acquiring Davis is worth monitoring.