There's Still Time, But Houston's Had A Rough Offseason So Far

By Salman Ali on June 10, 2018

After losing Luc Mbah a Moute to the Clippers Monday night, the Houston Rockets find themselves in murky waters after coming off a wildly successful 2017-18 campaign. Mbah a Moute was a vital part of Houston's switching scheme that led to the 6th best defense in the NBA last season. To compound matters, the Rockets had already lost out starting small forward Trevor Ariza on the opening night of free agency and keeping Luc Mbah a Moute had become a priority to fill a need that was once a strength for Houston; wing depth.

Mbah a Moute is a top flight perimeter defender that the Rockets had managed to pick up on the cheap ($2.1 million) last summer. While Trevor Ariza is generally not as good defensively as his reputations suggests, losing him for what would have essentially been a luxury tax penalty is a tough blow. Houston liked to switch every ball screen and having the length of Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute really forced even the best offenses in the NBA to make difficult decisions. Without two of those defenders, it will be incredibly difficult to repeat the kind of success the Rockets had last season as their defense was the primary reason the Rockets jumped from 55 wins and a 2nd round out to 65 wins and a Western Conference Finals out the following season.

To make matters worse, the Rockets have yet to re-sign restricted free agent center Clint Capela. Capela was also a big part of Houston's switching scheme on defense and had made a significant improvement in rim protection the past two seasons. Capela was also a dynamic run runner and consistent pick and roll threat that fit perfectly alongside guards Chris Paul and James Harden. The Rockets extended a qualifying offer to Capela before free agency and apparently opened negotiations with a 4-year, $60 million offer, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon. Capela and his agent can either take the qualifying offer and enter free agency next summer or come to a deal with the Rockets this summer.

To be fair to the Rockets, there's still plenty of time to turn this around. Regular season basketball doesn't tip off until late October and the Rockets still have avenues to improve the team. They can still offer their taxpayer mid-level exception and veteran's minimum contracts to round out their roster through remaining free agents and are reportedly determined to sign forward Carmelo Anthony as soon as he is waived, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. They also have all of their future draft picks moving forward (aside from their 2019 2nd round pick) to make trades.

Also, few general managers in the league are as creative and patient with roster moves as Daryl Morey. He's bounced back from tough starts to offseasons before and often has contingency plans for everything that could go possibly go wrong in a summer. He's built up enough trust equity to give him the time and patience to work through this. It would be unwise to completely dismiss the Rockets this summer considering their track record.

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