When Chris Paul went down late in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets’ championship dreams went down with him. Even with league MVP James Harden, the Rockets were no match for the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Now, it appears that Carmelo Anthony will be joining one of his banana boat partners in Houston. Also, Trevor Ariza has fled to the desert in Phoenix and Luc Mbah a Moute is back in Los Angeles. The makeup of this roster will be much different next season. Can Mike D’Antoni have more success with Carmelo in Houston than he did in New York?
The Warriors grabbed much of the league’s attention, so it’s easy to forget the Rockets finished with the NBA’s record. Houston won a league-best 65 games in 2017-18, led by MVP Harden. With Chris Paul free of Blake Griffin and Lob City, and having the ability to play off the ball, the squad narrowly missed the NBA Finals.
Next season, the Rockets expect to be at the top of the Western Conference once again. With the Warriors retooling, LeBron James in Los Angeles and Utah and Portland hanging around, are the Rockets expectations realistic?
Are the Rockets Still the Best Team in the West?
Here’s the thing, we know that the regular season doesn’t really matter. Not for championship level teams anyway. Were the Rockets truly the best team last year? The regular season matters for young teams learning to be contenders and bad teams trying to tank. For the others, the regular season is merely about survival. Injuries happen, and usually at the most inopportune time. The goal is to minimize the risk as much as possible during the regular season.
Yes, the Rockets won 65 games last season. However, we have to remember that Steph Curry missed 31 games, nearly half the season. Kevin Durant sat out 14 games while Draymond Green missed 12. All this to say, who knows whether the Rockets will have a better record, but it really doesn’t matter anyway. If Steph plays in 20 more games, I’d think the Warriors would have challenged for the best record.
But who cares really? In Houston, I’m sure they still believe they have the better squad, and they should. The Rockets were this close to being NBA Champions. Contenders like the Warriors and Rockets feel like they can win a Game 7 anywhere, so being the best in the regular season is unimportant.
The loss of Trevor Ariza to Phoenix cannot be understated. It’s one of the bigger losses any team has suffered this offseason. Ariza was a glue guy for the Rockets last year, both defensively and hitting big shots on offense. Replacing him with Carmelo Anthony and expecting Houston to carry on like normal is unrealistic.
So Why Carmelo Anthony?
I’ll say this, Carmelo Anthony is a hall of famer. There should be no debating this. The man is one of the best scorers of his generation, really of all-time, without question. Having a name like his on any roster will boost media attention and of course, scrutiny. But, if in fact, he signs with the Rockets, will Anthony boost Houston’s chances of beating Golden State?
From my view, I just don’t see this ending well. 1) It never ends well for Anthony. Just ask fans in Denver, New York and now Oklahoma City. 2) While Chris Paul and James Harden are much different from Russell Westbrook regarding playing style, they still may reduce Anthony to mostly a catch and shoot player. 3) Anthony has to accept something he has yet to do at this point, accept the fact that he isn’t what he once was. It’s not easy for any player to do this, but it’s been especially hard for Anthony to do so.
It doesn’t hurt the Rockets to bring in Anthony. He’s not a bad guy in the locker room, and he’s not a bad teammate. He still has a lot to give to the game, maybe just not as much as he believes.
With Such Little to Lose, the Gamble Could Be Worth It
Let’s give Mike D’Antoni some credit here. I’m sure he will find uses for Anthony that Billy Donovan simply didn’t or wouldn’t. Anthony has to be part of the action each possession, not a casualty of each trip down the floor. The Rockets clearly love pounding the rock so that Anthony won’t have any troubles there.
Instead of isolating him from the corners and waiting for bailout 3-pointers, D’Antoni should utilize Anthony from the high post. Let him survey the defense and then break it down. Carmelo still has the athleticism to score on most 4’s in the league. With Harden and Paul demanding so much attention from the defense, Carmelo still should be able to get going most nights.
Another positive for the Rockets is timing. It was nearly October when Carmelo was traded from New York to Oklahoma City last year. Assuming Anthony to the Rockets is official soon, the chemistry building will happen at once, almost two months ahead of when Carmelo arrived in OKC.
What to Expect for 2018-19
In the end, the Rockets will be good. Very good. Champions? I don’t think so. However, that’s not their fault. The Warriors are just a juggernaut. It’ll be an upset if anyone but the Warriors is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in mid-June 2019. The thing is, as I said earlier, injuries happen and usually at the worst time.
The Rockets will be right there with the Warriors, fighting and clawing all season. If Steph Curry tweaks his balky ankle, or Klay Thompson twists a knee, or DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t fully recover from his Achilles injury, the Rockets will be ready to pounce.
There are only a few times that can knock off the two-time defending champs and the Rockets certainly head that list.