On Carmelo and the Rockets

The buzz around the basketball world the last few days has been focused around one man–Carmelo Anthony. This is no surprise, since Carmelo is probably just a little jealous that this summer didn’t feature any discussion around his name because he chose to prematurely sign a contract extension during his first few seasons in the NBA. Now, he apparently doesn’t want to wait one year to hog the limelight all to himself but is creating waves by trying to get traded away from the Nuggets. The Rockets have come up over and over again because of Daryl Morey’s wealth of trade assets–ranging from expired contracts (9 of the players on our roster will be coming up for new contracts next year) to young talent (Hill, Budinger, Brooks) to two New York Knicks draft picks that could be pretty high if the Knicks don’t gel with their new-look team.

Rockets fans over the entire interwebs have been chiming into support several different trade scenarios–ranging from giving them bench pieces that we don’t really need to trading away most of our starting line-up. I am on the more conservative end of this spectrum. My opinion: Carmelo would be a nice add, but we shouldn’t wreck the team just to get him.

Last season, people did not expect the Rockets to be a team that won more games than it lost. Admittedly, we shaved it close finishing the season 42-40, but in doing so we demonstrated that you don’t need a superstar talent to be successful in the NBA–at least not in the regular season. In fact, our mid-season trade to unload McGrady at the expense of Carl Landry, thus fetching Martin in return, although a very savvy trade executed by Morey, probably ended up keeping us out of the playoffs. Our team chemistry was pretty good, Landry and Scola were monsters off the bench at the PF and the rest of the team was contributing pretty well. When we traded Landry away, K-Mart came in and wasn’t immediately explosive and didn’t start producing at his expected levels immediately. Given that the Western Conference playoff race is always this tight, this was a dealbreaker for us that prevented us from qualifying to the playoffs. Martin getting injured shortly after joining didn’t help us, either.

We’ve now got the same core from last season that are great playing with each other and we’ve added a superstar talent–Yao Ming. People tend to take a lot of credit away from Yao just because they expect him to be a lot better since he is a lot bigger than every one else. This is unfair to Yao. Shawn Bradley, for example, was 7’6″ and the second overall draft pick but ended his careers with extremely average numbers (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG). Unless Yao loses an arm or something, his numbers won’t drop that low because he is a solid basketball player, not just a tall one. We have to give Yao a shot with this team. One of our major weaknesses last year was at the center–we had 6’6″ Chuck Hayes starting, backed up on the bench by 3-point sharpshooter David Anderson. Scola/Hill sometimes played the center spot but they were out of their comfort zone. Teams could play our guards tight and yet we shot through the roof–or at least AB did.

With Yao, we’ve now got a legitimate post players who may require two defenders when he’s playing well. We’ve got perimeter sharpshooters galore in the form of AB, K-Mart, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Shane Battier. Heck, even Brad Miller can knock down a corner three. These guys will be getting a lot more open looks if Yao can get the ball to them. We now have the flexibility to play both big (Yao, Scola, PP + 2 guards) as well as small (3 guards + Scola + Hayes) lineups depending on whether we need to run and gun or slow down the clock. Trading away key pieces to this flexible offense to get Carmelo seems foolhardy to me, especially if the trade is going to happen before the season gets underway.

To summarize, I’m not against a trade for Carmelo but I don’t want to do it for the core of our team, and especially not if it must be done now rather than closer to the trade deadline. Carmelo, although matured, isn’t the most stable person and he’s coming from a culture where players are more reliant on their own talent (J.R. Smith is a trigger shooter and Billups is a former SG turned PG). The Nuggets, for example, were 18th in the NBA in assists per game, compared with the 11th that the Rockets were. The only notable teams below them on the list were OkC (23), Orlando (25) and Miami (28).

Darly Morey has shown a good track record of making decisions that both help our team out strategically as well as financially. Let’s hope he continues this trend and doesn’t fall into the trap other GMs have fallen into in the past, of thinking that you can simply drag and drop a player from another environment and expect the production level to be the same or better, immediately. Carmelo over a few months would probably make up for trading a bunch of our best players away since he is that good, but we’d probably be burning the season in exchange for someone who could take off and leave for NY as soon as the season is over.

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