Clint Capela is a Most Improved Player candidate.
The Rockets center has advanced his defensive awareness, and he’s crashing the glass harder and showing more touch inside. Importantly, he has also improved his conditioning so he can handle more playing time.
He’s in line to get paid in restricted free agency next summer after Houston didn’t sign him to a rookie-scale contract extension.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
“We’ll have him here as long as he’ll have us,” Morey said. “He couldn’t price himself out.”
“The only way [to overcome the Warriors] is to develop near-elite two-way players,” Morey said. “I think Clint has that potential. He’s on the way. He took a big step forward last year. It’s a lot to put on one guy, but we need one more step, at least.”
Did Morey run that by Tilman Fertitta? The new Rockets owner has said he’ll pay the luxury tax only to reach the Finals, and that’s a high bar to clear with Golden State around.
Houston already has nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). Three starters – Capela, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza – will be free agents next summer.
Maybe Morey is just trying to scare off other Capela suitors. It’ll already be a tight market, and centers have been especially squeezed. It might not take much to convince other teams to look elsewhere, allowing Houston to re-sign Capela at a discount.
Paul is probably the priority. If Houston is as invested in Capela as Morey indicates, that could leave Ariza as the odd man out.
Or the Rockets could make the Finals or at least convince Fertitta it’s likely next season, and he could greenlight enough spending to keep this core together.