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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Rocket Fuel: Out with the old, in with the new


James Harden is fifth in scoring in the NBA with 25 points per game. | Wikimedia Commons

James Harden will be leading a new-look Rockets team into the 2018-19 season.  | Wikimedia Commons

With a Game 7 Western Conference Finals defeat still fresh on its mind, the Houston Rockets are re-tooled and ready to go for the 2018-2019 NBA season.

“We have new math,” said general manager Daryl Morey to the Houston Chronicle when asked about the organization’s offseason financial plans.

Houston lost forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute after other teams offered them contracts the Rockets chose not to match, given the team’s financial constraints after veteran guard Chris Paul inked his new 4-year, $160 million deal.

Instead, Morey pursued a series of low-risk, high-reward type players to fill out the roster.

Guard Michael Carter-Williams is the first player on that list. Carter-Williams was a stud right out of college with the Philadelphia 76ers, even winning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Since then, however, he has bounced around a handful of teams and not found much success. Under the tutelage of superstar guards Harden and Paul , it is possible Carter-Williams will experience a career revitalization here in Houston.

The next Rockets summer acquisition is forward James Ennis III. Ennis looks to be the assumed Ariza replacement: both players are long athletic defenders who like to spot up and knock down wide-open threes on offense. While he does not have the longstanding reputation of a lock-down defender like Ariza, Ennis’ youth and energy should prove useful to a team that plans on making a deep post-season run.

Last, but certainly not least, is forward Carmelo Anthony, whose desire to play for the Rockets has been public since last summer. Anthony provides the Rockets with another dynamic scoring option as someone who can get buckets from anywhere on the court. In Houston’s up-tempo offense with two of the top point guards in the league, he should have no shortage of wide-open looks this season.

Houston signed these players using various salary exception rules, but their combined payroll cost is just shy of $6 million. By comparison, Ariza is now making $15 million with the Phoenix Suns and Mbah a Moute is earning just over $4 million with the Los Angeles Clippers, coming to a grand total of about $19 million in salary. 

Not only will Carter-Williams, Ennis and Anthony cost the Rockets significantly less than Ariza and Mbah a Moute, they may even out-play their contracts.

In addition to these established free agents, the Rockets have also picked up a few young prospects looking to make a name for themselves, including University of Houston alum guard Rob Gray.

Like Carter-Williams, Gray will have the chance to learn and study up close with two of the best playmakers in the game, Harden and Paul.

Keeping in line with the low-risk, high-reward signings, Morey orchestrated a trade with the Phoenix Suns that sent Rockets forward Ryan Anderson and the draft rights of guard De’Anthony Melton to the desert in exchange for guard Brandon Knight and forward-center Marquese Chriss.

Anderson was relegated to riding the bench during the second half of last season and the playoffs, in large part due to his inability to fit into the Rockets’ “switch everything” defensive scheme, which made him a huge liability on that end of the court.

Knight and Chriss from the Suns give the Rockets two more players with very high ceilings, and with a coach like Mike D’Antoni who knows how to get the most out of his players, they have a chance to meet those ceilings.

Along with team leaders Harden and Paul, the Rockets have still retained the services of many of the players that helped secure the best record in the NBA a season ago. Guards Eric Gordon and Houston native Gerald Green, center Clint Capela and forward P.J. Tucker all played integral parts in the Rockets’ 65-17 season and will be relied on heavily again the coming months.

The Houston Rockets and its cast of new players open the 2018-2019 season against the New Orleans Pelicans at home in the Toyota Center on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

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