It took a few years, but the Houston Rockets finally punched it in from the two-yard line.
Having come up short multiple times in the last few years, the Rockets will sign Carmelo Anthony, according to a New York Times report. Anthony, once he clears waivers after being traded to the Atlanta Hawks, will sign a one-year, veteran minimum deal ($2.4M) with the Rockets.
The Rockets pursued Anthony as a free agent in 2014, calling him the “Key To A Championship Formula” and inadvertently creating the infamous stir with Jeremy Lin and his jersey number. The Rockets also pursued Anthony in a trade with New York last summer that was so close, Knicks beat reporters described the deal as being “at the two-yard line.” The deal never happened and Anthony was ultimately traded to the Thunder where he never quite fit in. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.2 points on just 40.4% shooting (35.7% from three) to go with 5.8 rebounds in his single season in Oklahoma City.
This move is very reminiscent of the Josh Smith signing in 2014-15: Overpaid, considered washed up, comes to a contender because of a friendship connection. There are justifiable reasons to be pessimistic. Anthony is 34 years old. His field goal percentage has declined in each of the past four seasons. He expressed an unwillingness to come off the bench this offseason.
But there’s a lot to like about this deal as well, starting with the price. There is zero risk here. There wasn’t a trade so it cost nothing from an assets standpoint. This is a veteran minimum salary. In fact, the NBA is paying part of that salary. If the OKC Thunder had Carmelo Anthony on a one-year, $2.4M deal, he would still be on the Thunder. The Rockets kept their full taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3M) intact, which could make them a very strong free agent destination for the top available ring-chaser later in the summer or (more likely) in the buyout market during the season.
Too many people are looking at Carmelo as a Trevor Ariza replacement. He’s not. This is a Ryan Anderson replacement — or at least a replacement for what Anderson once brought to the team. Both Anderson and Anthony struggle defensively as stretch fours and aren’t ideal fits in Houston’s switching system, but Anthony doesn’t have a problem getting a shot off like Anderson now appears to have. 2017 Anderson or 2018 Gerald Green are good examples of players with defensive deficiencies that filled roles here because of their ability to stretch the floor.
I expect Chris Paul and James Harden to have a very positive impact on Carmelo. Paul has known Anthony since their AAU days and their friendship grew in college. They became even closer friends after being teammates on the U.S. Olympic team in 2008. Both of these guys are elite table-setters and they know Melo and his game. They just may be able to tap into that “Olympic Melo” that has been elusive in the NBA. Carmelo’s long-range efficiency is not where I’d like it to be, but Houston’s guards could create more catch-and-shoot opportunities, where Carmelo shot 37.2% from distance.
Much has been made about Mike D’Antoni resigning as coach of the Knicks in 2012 because of Carmelo. That was an entirely different situation. Carmelo, unwilling to change, was the lead dog — he won’t have that power here. He’s coming to a 65-win team that has two unquestioned leaders ahead of him, and both fully support the coach and system. D’Antoni doesn’t have to get Carmelo playing the right way… Paul and Harden will. Both D’Antoni and Anthony know the situation and are on board.
Can the Rockets limit the damage of Carmelo’s defensive weakness in their switching system and can they create a golden opportunity for him offensively, given that he will face less defensive pressure with the Rockets? Those are the key questions and it will be interesting to see how this plays out on the court, but there’s very little to dislike here as the Rockets make yet another move that has become the trademark of the Daryl Morey era — low risk, potentially high reward. Yes, Anthony was largely blamed for the Thunder’s woes last year as the “Russ has no help” media tour continued, but don’t be terribly surprised a few months into the season if the Rockets find a way to make Melo work and they’re talking again about how many weapons Houston has.