When Mike D’Antoni announced his intentions of coaching a then-underachieving Houston Rockets team one year ago, everybody in the NBA knew changes were in store.
A Coach of The Year award and meaningful playoff run has nearly solidified his status as a made man in Clutch City. In his very first season with the team, the Rockets have completely bought into what the veteran basketball mind was selling: Run-And-Gun.
It doesn’t rhyme, but we’ll have to add “And-Defend” to that mantra.
After running roughshod through the postseason, the Golden State Warriors have essentially retained every meaningful member of their squad. They’re certainly paying for it with a somewhat heavy luxury tax bill, but they’ve got their team constructed to be together for at least the next two years.
Knowing that Bob Myers kept his franchise’s ultra elite roster together, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wasn’t going to sit around and wait to make an impact. So what did he do?
Morey rounded up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts through trades, plus an unsatisfied Patrick Beverly, an underused Montrezl Harrell, sharpshooter Lou Williams and a sophomore wing Sam Dekker. He then shipped them off to the Los Angeles Clippers to land a bona fide superstar in Chris Paul.
James Harden got himself a running mate in what is sure to be one of the, if not the, best backcourts in the NBA. Offensively it will be interesting to see how the two play off one another, especially considering Harden’s extremely successful switch to point guard last year, but the versatility it offers could be exceptionally rewarding for D’Antoni.
More importantly, Houston is clearly addressing its other needs by bringing Paul into the mix. As Doc Rivers’ floor general, the 32-year-old led Los Angeles in defensive and net rating.
When he was on the court, opponents scored 101.3 points per 100 possessions. While he was sitting, the Clippers allowed 110.1 using the same scale. The nine-time All-Star also averaged two steals per game as he continues to be one of the smartest defenders in the league today.
Outside of the colossal trade, the Rockets have quietly put together a nice offseason.
Their first course of action was re-signing Nene to a three-year, $11 million deal. The length of the contract can be in question, but what can’t be questioned is the impact the veteran big brought to D’Antoni’s club. He’s a spark off the bench, a key presence in the locker room, and he played a huge role in the playoffs before going down with an injury.
Over the course of the last few weeks, Houston has gone all-in on the infamous “3-And-D” prototype, and for good reason. They’ve brought in two hungry veterans who will add a new dimension to the roster.
P.J. Tucker agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract on July 2. The 32-year-old is a physical player who takes no nonsense. He can defend all five positions, whether in the post or out on the perimeter, and he’s a viable three-point threat, mostly from the corners (40.5 percent from left, 37.7 percent from right) — where Harden found most of his guys last year.
Sunday afternoon, it was reported that the Rockets signed Luc Mbah a Moute, one of Paul’s old teammates from Los Angeles, to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. At that value, it’s a steal for Morey. It’s a cliché saying, but the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward truly flew under the radar last year.
Already one of the league’s most under-appreciated wings, Mbah a Moute turned in the most efficient season of his career last year. Playing both small and power forward, he wasn’t as hesitant to take shots and it resulted in a 58.1 true shooting percentage. Defensively, he has always been a consistent presence guarding on-ball. Similar to Paul, the 30-year-old had a positive net rating (10.3) and the Clippers were seven points worse when he wasn’t playing.
These two forwards will either spell or compliment Trevor Ariza in the front court, and the lineup possibilities seem to be endless.
Having lost youth and depth, Houston also took a flier on former Los Angeles Lakers big Tarik Black as well. He’s undersized for the center position, but he plays a rugged style and uses his size to his advantage underneath. Black will be backing up Clint Capela, another hungry, up-and-coming five who is becoming one of the league’s best rim protectors at just 23 years of age.
Now that the prolific offense in Houston is adding an extra solid core of defense to its arsenal, D’Antoni will have the opportunity to institute some fresh principles to a team that was already well on its way in the near future.
This slew of moves, plus the all-so-popular rumors of a Carmelo Anthony trade, prove that the Rockets are not lying down and waiting for the Warriors dynasty to come to an end.
Morey is being as proactive as he’s ever been to try and take down the juggernaut of the NBA with an elite roster of his own, and as a fan of competitive basketball, it’s refreshing to see a franchise won’t settle on just being great.
It’s about being the best.
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