AS Carmelo Anthony formalized his deal with the Rockets yesterday, not a few quarters wondered whether the 2018 Western Conference finalists took a step back. After all, they got to within two quarters of upending the mighty Warriors on the strength of hearty defense last May, and their new acquisition has been anything but stout on that end of the court throughout his 15-year pro career. Yet, nothing but optimism oozed from the red and white, with general manager Daryl Morey, a staunch supporter of the same advanced analytics that seemed to question the fit of the 10-time All-Star, noting that it’s “easy to find highlights for him.”
No doubt, the Rockets’ positive outlook stems from Anthony’s relatively low cost. His addition puts them on the hook for a mere $2.4 million, what with the Hawks, who hitherto got him off the hands of the very-willing Thunder, footing the rest of the $27.8 million salary stipulated for the last year of his previous contract following an amicable buyout. And, having just come oh-so-close to dethroning the gold-standard Warriors, they gladly accepted the risk. The potential rewards carried by the former scoring champion proved too much to resist.
Needless to say, the Rockets are hoping that Anthony’s down season with the Thunder is just a fluke, and that his rocky past with head coach Mike D’Antoni won’t translate to an iffy future. For critics, though, it’s hoping against hope, especially since he’s envisioned to play the same catch-and-shoot role he did through his 2017-18 campaign, to middling results. The key is for him to be more receptive to a supporting role, at best third in he packing order behind reigning Most Valuable Player James Harden and point god Chris Paul.
Will Anthony warm up to coming off the bench? Based on previous statements, he doesn’t seem keen on being a passive partner. That said, the Rockets most certainly would have briefed him on what they want him to contribute, and to what extent, and his presence should, if nothing else, signify that he’s on board with the plan. Still, it’s not hard to see why pundits view their outlook in a less-favorable light, what with the departure of defensive stalwarts Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Under the circumstances, Anthony may well be unfairly viewed as a poor replacement for the departed wings. As avid followers of the National Basketball Association know, there is no causal relationship between the roster changes. Besides, the fate of the Rockets will not be dependent on his contributions, or, as the case may be, lack thereof. Bottom line, they’ll go only so far as Harden and Paul will take them. And if he winds up to be anything but subtraction by addition, then he will have been a good pickup in the final analysis.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.