Last week, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the Brooklyn Nets are prepared to trade each of their star players, including Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. It’s still not clear whether each of these players will be dealt this season, but it seems likely that at least two out of the three will be traded.
The most talented and accomplished player of the bunch is point guard Deron Williams. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice (2008, 2010), is a three-time All-Star (2010–2012), and has career averages of 17.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. For several seasons, Williams was considered to be one of the two best point guards in the NBA, along with Chris Paul. However, since being traded to the then-New Jersey Nets in early 2011, Williams has struggled through injuries, inconsistent play and has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in New Jersey.
Since his first season with the Nets, Williams’ production has, for the most part, declined each season (though Williams is playing better this season than last). For this season, Williams is averaging 16.5 point, 6.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He may not be the dominant player he was early in his career, but Williams is still an impact point guard with playoff experience that can be the third best player on a true contender, or a catalyst for a team failing to meet expectations.
Williams is set to make $19,754,465 this season, $21,042,800 next season, and $22,331,135 for the 2016-17 season (early termination option). This is a hefty price tag for a 30 year old point guard, especially in a league littered with talent at the position. Nevertheless, Williams is still a very good player and teams looking for help at point guard and are willing to make a bold move will call Brooklyn for his services.
Considering all of this, here are some potential trade scenarios for Deron Williams:
Outgoing Players: George Hill, Luis Scola, Chis Copeland.
The Indiana Pacers have struggled this season without Paul George (broken leg) and Lance Stephenson (signed with Charlotte Hornets last offseason). The Pacers are currently 8-17 (11th in the Eastern Conference) and have lost eight of their last ten games. However, the Pacers are still within reach of the eighth seed and are certainly scouring the league for help via a trade.
Williams is a clear upgrade over the Pacer’s current point guards, George Hill, C.J. Watson and Rodney Stuckey. The Pacers are currently ranked 27th in offensive efficiency (97.5 points per 100 possessions), and are in need of a playmaker and scorer. Williams is still both of those things, even if he is no longer among the NBA’s elite. This trade would prevent the Pacers from bringing back Stephenson, who has reportedly been made available in trade discussions by the Hornets. However, at age 30, Williams could be a nice piece for a Pacers team that is waiting for the return of George (unlikely to play this season), and is struggling to keep pace for a playoff berth in the East.
The Nets may entertain the deal since they are trying to remain competitive while unloading long term salary. Hill, Scola and Copeland can all contribute to varying degrees, and only Hill’s contract goes past this season (two years, $8 million). It’s not a slam dunk trade for the Nets, but with so many impact point guards on rookie contracts, and reasonable contracts (e.g., Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry), the Nets can’t really expect to get a king’s ransom in return for Williams.
New Orleans Pelicans-
Outgoing Players: Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette.
The Pelicans are currently 12-12 (8th in the Western Conference), and are just a half-game ahead of the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder for the final playoff spot. Anthony Davis has emerged as one of best three players in the NBA this year (if not the outright best), and the Pelicans front office may feel pressure to win now.
Eric Gordon has been a disappointment since arriving in New Orleans from Los Angeles, and recently suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder. However, at age 25, Gordon is still young enough to rediscover the player he was earlier in his career with the Clippers (or something close to it), which was one of the best up and coming two-way shooting guards in the league (see Gordon’s 2010-11 stats).
Gordon has two years left on his deal, and will be 27 by the time he is up for a new contract. Assuming he gets past the worst of his injury issues, Gordon could be in line for a reasonable contract moving forward with the Nets as their new shooting guard. The Nets would also get a look at Austin Rivers and Jimmer Fredette, who have both fallen short of expectations since entering the league. Rivers in particular would be a low-risk investment who could either exceed expectations or simply be let go after next season if he doesn’t show significant improvement.
On the other side, the Pelicans get to pair up Williams with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Both players are big enough and physical enough to play together (like Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in Phoenix), and both are good enough shooters to play off the ball and spread the court. Also, both Williams and Holiday are good playmakers that can run pick-and-rolls with Davis, and find easy scoring opportunities for other players like Omer Asik. If the Pelicans aren’t convinced that this would be a good pairing, they could simply swap Holiday in the deal for Gordon, though it’s doubtful that would be their preference.
Outgoing Players: Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.
Stan Van Gundy took over the Pistons as both the team president and head coach last offseason. Van Gundy didn’t get to shake up the roster the way he might have liked to, and it is clear that this current group of players is not constructed to win at a high level.
By trading away Josh Smith, the Pistons open up the logjam in the frontcourt and can play Greg Monroe big minutes next to Andre Drummond. Williams would be in charge of finding easy scoring opportunities for Drummond and Monroe near the basket, and shooters like Jodie Meeks and Kyle Singler on the perimeter. It may not help the Pistons make the playoffs this season after starting 5-20, but it gives Van Gundy a point guard that can run the offense without playing out of control as often as Jennings does (though Jennings has improved this part of his game over the last few seasons).
The problem with this deal is that it leaves Detroit vulnerable to losing Monroe after the season with no one to replace him. Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent after accepting Detroit’s qualifying offer last offseason, rather than signing an extension. However, Monroe has stated emphatically to the media that he is not itching to leave Detroit. Assuming that is true, trading away Smith, and creating a core with Williams and the improving Drummond may prove enough to keep Monroe in Detroit.
Also, the Nets may not be too high on the prospect of having Smith on the team through the 2016-17 season. Smith is clearly talented, but his shot selection is still atrocious and his focus fluctuates on any given night. However, Smith had some of his best seasons in Atlanta playing with Joe Johnson. Assuming Johnson remains in Brooklyn, the two may find some of their old chemistry from their time with the Hawks.
The Nets would also benefit from two seasons with Jennings, who at the end of his current contract will be 27 years old. Similar to the aforementioned deal involving Eric Gordon, the Nets could determine over the next two seasons whether Jennings is worth committing to long term, or instead dangle him in a later deal.
Outgoing Players: Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, Derrick Williams, Carl Landry
The gamble on Darren Collison has worked out so far this season for the Sacramento Kings (though keeping Isaiah Thomas should have been more of a priority for the Kings last offseason), but Williams would represent a major upgrade here. Boston point guard Rajon Rondo has been linked to the Kings several times in the past, and though Williams is seemingly on the decline, and is owed more money than Rondo, he helps them meet ownership’s high expectations better than Collison.
Consider that the Kings front office just fired Mike Malone since they are currently slipping out of the playoff picture in the West (with DeMarcus Cousins sidelined with viral meningitis), and we see just how desperately they want to compete at a high level immediately. This is the same front office that wanted to take a chance on Josh Smith last offseason, so it’s clear that they are open to making bold moves for veterans.
In this scenario, the Kings have to give up shooting guard prospect Ben McLemore (you could swap in Nik Stauskas here hypothetically), who has played well this season after an underwhelming rookie season. Losing McCallum may hurt as well, but with Williams, Collison and Sessions on the roster, there wouldn’t be much need for him in Sacramento. Derrick Williams, the former number two pick in the 2011 draft, has failed to meet expectations, but at age 23 still has upside. But, in return for a nice haul of talent, the Nets would have to eat the remaining three years of Landry’s four-year, $26 million deal (fully guaranteed).
The Nets get nice prospects at shooting guard, point guard and power forward, and a useful veteran in Landry. Of the deals so far mentioned, this one brings back the most young talent for a rebuilding effort.
There are other teams aside from the Pacers, Pelicans, Pistons and Kings that could be interested in William’s services. The Miami HEAT is currently relying on Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier to man the point guard position. While each player is talented, none is on the level of Williams.
The Miami HEAT went all in on this roster after LeBron James took his talents home to Cleveland, so we know the HEAT is looking to win now. Miami is currently 12-13, which is good for the seventh seed in the East. But Miami is just 4-6 in their last ten games and would certainly benefit from pairing Williams with Dwyane Wade in the backcourt. The issue for the HEAT is they don’t have the salaries to make an easy deal with the Nets, and would likely need a third team to facilitate any potential deals involving Williams.
The Houston Rockets are another team that could be interested in Williams. The Rockets, like the Kings, have been linked to Rajon Rondo in the past and it’s not hard to understand why. As good of a defensive player as Patrick Beverley is, he can’t create many scoring opportunities for his teammates and he isn’t a great shooter (though he is currently shooting what is likely an unsustainable 45.7 percent from beyond-the-arc this season). This leaves James Harden with the heavy task of being the Rockets best playmaker and scorer. A player like Williams should be able to let Harden play off the ball, and ease his burden on offense. But the Rockets, like the HEAT, lack the contracts to make a swap for Williams and would likely need a third team to help facilitate a deal.
Another team that may be interested is the Dallas Mavericks, who are currently relying on Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea to man the point guard position. Williams grew up in Texas and would be a big upgrade for the Mavericks, who currently have one of the best offenses in the league. But the Mavericks don’t have players with salary that they would be willing to include in a deal to net Williams and would likely need to get another team involved as well.
These proposed deals can all be adjusted to better meet each team’s needs, but they provide a foundation for moving Williams to a team that is in need of help at point guard. Also, these deals, were any to be actually executed, would likely include the exchange of one or more draft picks. However, these are just some examples of what the market currently looks like for Williams, and what teams may be willing to offer in exchange for Williams, who has been one of the elite point guards in the NBA over the last decade.
Let us know what deals you think teams should make for Deron Williams in the comments section below!
NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role
Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.
After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.
And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting
Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.
Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.
For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting
After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.
On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.
Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.
Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three
Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.
While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.
For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.
On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.
Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.
Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three
Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.
The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.
Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.
With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?
NBA Daily: Poeltl Looking Forward To New Beginning With Spurs
Spencer Davies looks at the under-the-radar portion of the DeMar DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard trade and how Jakob Poeltl is already embracing the change.
One month ago, a superstar-swapping trade between the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs was agreed upon.
The deal—which once again sparked a national debate about player loyalty—sent a reportedly disgruntled Kawhi Leonard to The North in exchange for Masai Ujiri’s franchise cornerstone, DeMar DeRozan.
Longtime Spur and veteran sharpshooter Danny Green was also moved to Toronto, while San Antonio acquired a protected future first-round draft pick and 22-year-old big man Jakob Poeltl.
Remember, Poeltl was an integral piece of a talented Raptor bench that produced a better net rating than their starters, as well as nearly all five-man groups in the league.
While the majority of pundits have gone back and forth about who won the trade, few have mentioned the ninth overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Being involved in the transaction admittedly caught Poeltl “a little bit off guard.”
But entering his third year as a pro, the seven-foot Austrian is embracing the change and a brand new start with one of the most well-respected organizations in sports.
“That’s one of the things I’m most excited about, just the fact that this program has such a big history in developing players,” Poeltl told reporters in his first media appearance since the move. “I’m really excited for the process. Gonna be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it.”
From what he has heard from players who have been a part of the Spurs in the past and those who are currently there, it’s an unselfish group of people. They consider it a family environment.
“Everybody is just in it together,” Poeltl said. “From the very top to the very last guy on the bench or in the gym. It’s really like a great atmosphere, at least from what I’ve heard. So I’m looking forward to actually experiencing it myself.”
As soon as Poeltl got to San Antonio, he gazed at the championship banners hanging inside of the gym and quickly realized the expectations he’ll have to fulfill this season are a little higher than where he came from.
“It’s crazy, it’s different,” Poeltl said. “Obviously in Toronto, we didn’t have banners like that. Like we’re on a good way there, but this program here has some tradition to it. Over the last 20 years been a great basketball team. Obviously, you can tell by the championships and all the accomplishments.
“It’s a little bit of pressure, too. Like we’re trying to live up to that. There’s obviously a very high standard here, so we’ve gotta come in and put the work in and really show what we’ve got on the court as a team.”
Poeltl hasn’t wasted any time in immersing himself into the culture. In fact, he’s been working out at their practice facility since he arrived and feels like there’s a “natural chemistry” already with his new teammates.
In the weight room, Poeltl came across the forever face of the Spurs and future Hall-of-Fame forward, Tim Duncan. The conversation between them was short, sweet and casual. Basketball wasn’t brought up, as that will likely be saved for another time when the season approaches.
Duncan still sticks around and helps in practices from time-to-time, but he won’t be there every day. Somebody else who will be, however, is Pau Gasol, a fellow international center that Poeltl looks forward to learning from.
Though those two will be able to give veteran advice and priceless pointers, Poeltl’s most crucial teachings will come from the Spurs lead general—Gregg Popovich. Like with Duncan, on-court discussions were not the focus of their first interaction.
“We went to dinner,” Poeltl said. “We didn’t really talk too much basketball. It was more just like trying to get to know each other, like a first impression. I think there’s more than enough time for us to talk basketball and really learn what the Spurs are all about on the basketball court.
“But it was a really good conversation. Like I really enjoyed it. He’s a very down-to-earth type guy for if you think about what he’s accomplished in his career. He’s really cool.”
Once training camp comes and the dialogue does take a turn towards the hardwood, Poeltl will be all ears. As it stands now, Poeltl’s niche is the hustle guy. He picks up the scraps, corrals offensive rebounds and dives after loose balls, but don’t pigeonhole “role player” to his name. He plans on doing more in San Antonio.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Poeltl said. “I think I do a lot of the little things out there—set good screens, be in the right places, making good reads off of my teammates and making plays for my teammates at the same time. Obviously like for me, that’s my role right now and I’m really enjoying that.
“I’m working on my game every single day in practice and I’m trying to develop more offensively and defensively so I can take on more responsibilities in the future.”
Moving on from the team that drafted you to another can be difficult. Luckily, Poeltl isn’t coming alone.
“Obviously it helps to have a familiar face like a guy that I’ve played with over the last three years,” Poeltl said of DeRozan. “Like I know how he plays basketball, he knows me. I think we play well together.”
In the two years they have played together, Poeltl has noticed DeRozan fine-tune his game. Although he is first and foremost a pure scorer, his all-around offense is getting better.
DeRozan’s reads on the opposition are crisper, as are the adjustments he makes due to that. He understands when to take games over and has involved his teammates more and more with each season.
It’s no surprise that the four-time All-Star guard is coming to the Spurs with a statement to make. All he’s done since being drafted is improve and devote himself to his second home in Toronto. He hasn’t uttered one favorable comment towards the front office he feels betrayed him.
Witnessing the kind of player DeRozan is when he’s pushed, Poeltl expects we’ll see a whole other side of him unleashed this year.
“It’s a little bit scary, to be honest,” Poeltl said. “Because I know what he can do when he has a chip on his shoulder, when he gets that extra motivation. I think he’s gonna be ready.”
Poeltl doesn’t have quite that big of a score to settle with the Raptors.
He’s just ready to give his all to an organization in a blue-collar town that matches the kind of work ethic he’s had since he started playing the game.
“That’s kinda how I’ve been for my whole basketball career,” Poeltl said. “Just get the work done.”
NBA Daily: Can an Anthony-D’Antoni Marriage Work for Houston?
Shane Rhodes lays out how the Carmelo Anthony-Mike D’Antoni pairing could work this time around in Houston.
It’s official: Carmelo Anthony has joined the Houston Rockets after putting pen to paper on a contract. In doing so, Anthony will join a gifted offensive team helmed by former Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.
Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Back in 2011, when Anthony joined the New York Knicks via a blockbuster trade with the Denver Nuggets, a younger D’Antoni was in the midst of his third year with New York. While he didn’t exactly have a sterling record with the Knicks prior to the acquisition (89-129 before), things improved little upon Anthony’s arrival in the Big Apple (31-38 after). The two butted heads constantly and, after just a year (and an ultimatum forced on the Knicks by Anthony), D’Antoni was out the door; he resigned from his position and pursued work elsewhere.
Now, together once again, questions remain about how their relationship and, ultimately, their offensive styles will mesh in Houston. D’Antoni has already come out and said things will be different this time around, but nothing is so certain in the NBA; what is stopping things from going south as they did for the Knicks, who, despite a bevy of talent, just couldn’t make things work?
It’s important to understand where things went wrong in New York in order to look at where they could go wrong in Houston.
From the jump, the two weren’t exactly the best fit. Anthony wanted to play the way he had his entire career — heavy isolation, high usage basketball — while D’Antoni’s offense was spread out, predicated on ball movement, and closer to what we see in the modern offense.
Those two styles aren’t exactly conducive to the success of one another.
The Knicks finished the season 42-40, going just 13-14 in Anthony’s 27 games with the team. The two continued to be at odds with one another into the next season until, after leading the Knicks to an underwhelming 18-24 start, D’Antoni resigned. While things improved under Mike Woodson in 2012 — Anthony posted the highest usage rate of his career while the Knicks won 52 games — they quickly devolved into disaster and the Knicks, once again, found themselves in a hole that they are still trying to climb out of.
Now, on to Houston. This isn’t the same D’Antoni; he has changed and so has his offense. While ball movement still plays an integral role, D’Antoni has put much more of an emphasis on isolation plays in order to better fit the profile of his current roster.
The Rockets posted historic offensive numbers with James Harden and Chris Paul running the show, but did so unlike D’Antoni teams of the past. Gone are the days of the seven-seconds-or-less offense; the Rockets played at a pace (97.4 possessions per 48 minutes) that was middle of the pack, while their assist total came in at just 26th in the league, third worst among teams that made the postseason last year. Despite that, Houston managed to post the highest offensive rating (114.7) in the league.
While those stylistic changes should aid Anthony as he looks to rebound next season, they alone don’t make this the perfect fit for the Rockets. Anthony will never see the touches that he was once accustomed to in New York or Denver. He isn’t the same player he was five years ago, either; as his athleticism has declined, so too has Anthony’s ability to get past his defenders, leading to tougher, lower percentage shots that could sink the Rockets come the postseason.
The only thing that really holds Anthony back now is his own stubborn ignorance of those facts. He refused to adjust last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder because he still has “so much left in the tank.” Anthony posted some of the worst numbers of his career last season and, while Billy Donovan isn’t the offensive wizard that D’Antoni is, things should only get worse as Harden (36.1 percent usage rate) and Paul (24.5) dominate the ball if Anthony remains unwilling to change.
So, while his words may hold true, Anthony is no longer in a position where he needs to put the team on his back in order for it to be successful. Houston already has a well-established hierarchy, and Anthony is merely a column meant to buttress what is already in place. If he can’t come to accept that, the chance Houston is taking on him could backfire tremendously.
Still, Houston needs someone to eat the minutes vacated by the departure of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency. While he may not be able to match their defensive exploits, Anthony is still more than capable of filling their shoes, or even providing an upgrade, offensively. That potential upgrade alone could make the move a worthwhile one for the Rockets, who came just minutes from dethroning the Golden State Warriors despite the loss of Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.
For things to truly work out, however, Anthony must be willing to accept a change in his role, a diminished one in an offense that isn’t hurting for star power or shot takers, but one that desperately needs role players. If Anthony can adapt, he could be exactly what they need to challenge the Warriors. If not, Anthony’s arrival could blow up in D’Antoni’s face just as it did with the Knicks.