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Report: Rockets signing James Ennis

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Interrupting all the handwringing about the Rockets losing forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, Houston is adding a combo forward.

Not Carmelo Anthony (yet).

James Ennis.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Houston might have dipped into its mid-level exception for Ennis. This might be a minimum contract. The player option – which makes Ennis more expensive next season (in direct salary and luxury tax) due to the NBA’s policy for one-year minimum contracts – and the Rockets’ strong team could have set them apart from other minimum-offering suitors.

The 6-foot-7 Ennis is big and athletic enough to handle several defensive matchups. He’ll fit right into Houston’s switching scheme. He’s a capable 3-point with enough off-ball activity to get some easy looks set up by James Harden and Chris Paul.

Ennis isn’t as good as Ariza or Mbah a Moute, and at 28, Ennis doesn’t have major upside. But Ariza and Mbah a Moute are already gone, and at this point, Ennis is a decent fallback.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says luxury tax not influencing Houston’s offseason

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The Rockets gave Chris Paul a four-year max contract.

But they lost Trevor Ariza (to the Suns on a one-year, $15 million contract) and Luc Mbah a Moute (to the Clippers on a one-year, $4.3 million contract). Houston isn’t rushing to pay restricted free agent Clint Capela, either.

Those departures are major blows to a team trying to compete with the Warriors. Risking Capela signing his qualifying offer, which would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer, could also undermine the Rockets’ long-term future.

These hard-to-swallow decisions all make sense through one lens – money.

Yet…

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

First-year owner Tilman Fertitta adamantly stated that the NBA’s luxury tax is not influencing the Houston Rockets’ offseason decisions.

“We know we’re going to be in the luxury tax, and if you want to compete for a championship, I feel like unless you get real lucky, you’re going to be in the luxury tax,” Fertitta told ESPN before the Rockets’ summer league game Monday against the Clippers. “So it is what it is. … It never even came up in any discussion.”

Sources told ESPN that the Rockets’ initial offer to Capela was in the four-year, $60 million range, with the blossoming star center seeking a deal similar to Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams‘ four-year, $100 million contract. The Rockets plan to pursue forward Carmelo Anthony after his expected departure from the Thunder via being waived or bought out, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

If Tillman’s quote is accurate, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is doing a terrible job. Ariza and Mbah a Moute are far better than any replacements Houston could sign, and with those two proving their willingness to take one-year contracts, there would have been no adverse long-term effects for Houston. Re-signing Ariza and Mbah a Moute would have maximized the Rockets’ performance next season and not at all limited them beyond.

But of course Tillman’s quote is inaccurate. Houston lost Ariza and Mbah Moute and is in greater danger of losing Capela next summer because of the real-dollar costs of assembling such a team.

The Rockets probably won’t escape the luxury tax entirely, though if Capela accepts his qualifying offer, there’s at least a chance. But it’s a matter of degrees, and Fertitta clearly deemed Ariza and Mbah a Moute too expensive to keep. That’s fair. He can run the team as he sees fit, and after sinking so much money into purchasing the franchise, his spending power might be limited.

But it’s silly of him to misrepresent the obvious situation.

Report: Clippers sign Luc Mbah a Moute for one-year, $4.3 million

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Houston’s defense got a little worse.

Last season they leaned on the versatility and switchability of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute on the wings to counter teams such as the Warriors. In the opening hours of free agency, Ariza grabbed the cash — $15 million worth — and signed with the Phoenix Suns.

Now Mbah-a-Moute is gone, too. He’s going back to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets is almost a certainty at this point.

The Rockets defense was 4.3 points per 100 possessions better last season when Mbah a Moute was on the court. He also shot 36.4 percent from three on his way to 7.5 points a night, although he did miss 21 regular season games plus some of the playoffs due to injury. He was a good fit as a role player on a contender.

He will be tough to replace.

As for the Clippers, they have some potential at the forward spot. Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris will start, with Mbah a Moute, Montrezl Harrell (once he is re-signed), Wes Johnson, and Sam Dekker off the bench. Overall the Clippers have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot, but it needs to stay healthy (something they could not do last season), and even then it will not be easy in the ring of fire that is the Western Conference.

Rockets remain clear frontrunners to land Carmelo Anthony

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LAS VEGAS — There’s very little everyone seems to agree on at the NBA’s annual convention in the summer heat, disguised as Summer League. For example, as a combination of 15 executives, scouts or media members about what is up with Kawhi Leonard and you will get 15 different answers. To a lesser extent, the same is true of opinions on rookies here such as Trae Young or Deandre Ayton.

But there is one thing everyone seems to agree on:

Carmelo Anthony is going to be a Houston Rocket.

Everyone I have spoken to in Vegas sees this as bordering on inevitable. This note from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin added to that.

With the Bulls matching the offer on Zach LaVine, there is no reasonable trade destination for Anthony, so it’s only a question of what combination of buyout and stretch the Thunder and Anthony agree to. Once that happens, Anthony will start negotiating. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer put it this way.

Any other team I’ve heard mentioned usually came after something like “if things fell apart with Houston…”

There’s also a lot of questions about fit.

Anthony can still get buckets, and in that sense Houston can use him. He hit 35.7 percent from three last season, he can space the floor as a shooter, and the Rockets are am isolation heavy team, and isolations/post-ups accounted for 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season. He’s still reasonably efficient on those.

But Anthony still stops the ball on offense (Chris Paul and James Harden like isolation but pass out of it), and ‘Melo can’t defend well enough to just be plugged in for the Phoenix-bound Trevor Ariza or Clippers-bound Luc Mbah-a-Moute. Anthony will get targeted on switches and played off the floor at the end of games (as well as the playoffs).

Houston’s margin for error against the Warriors was already small, and it just got smaller.

Where will Carmelo Anthony play next? Bet on banana boat buddies.

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When you wonder where Carmelo Anthony is going to play next, you need to think back to his buddies on the banana boat.

As had been expected, Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder are working toward a parting of the ways — via trade, buyout, stretch or some combination of all of it. This was the right move for both sides: the Thunder will save $80 million to $100 million in luxury tax (depending on how a deal is put together); ‘Melo doesn’t want to play a shrinking role in Oklahoma City, and that’s all that would be available to him.

Once this all gets worked out, where will Anthony sign next? On a veteran minimum deal (most likely, maybe a small exception) he can fit financially on any elite team in the league. Let’s break down the contenders, and it all starts with the teams who have his banana boat buddies.

• The Houston Rockets (and banana boater Chris Paul). We know the Rockets like Anthony, they worked very hard to get him last summer before a trade with the Knicks just fell apart (because someone in New York sobered up and thought “we don’t want Ryan Anderson and that contract”).

We also know there’s a natural fit in the roster because Trevor Ariza bolted to take Phoenix’s cash. Anthony can space the floor as a shooter, he hit 35.7 percent from three last season and was solid on spot-up jumpers. The Rockets are an isolation heavy team, and isolations/post-ups accounted for 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season. And he can still get buckets at a fair rate that way.

The problems are Anthony is not a three anymore — he played either no minutes or just 250 there last season for OKC (depending on how your ranked him with certain lineups), he was always a four — and he is a defensive liability, he can be targeted on the switches that are the heart of the Rockets’ defensive strategy (Anthony did better on switches statistically than you would think during the regular season, he wasn’t bad, but in the playoffs the Jazz targeted him and played Anthony off the court.

• The Los Angeles Lakers (and banana boater LeBron James). The Lakers are trying to amass some veterans and playmakers/scorers to go around their young core and LeBron so they can win games this season, yet remain flexible going forward. Anthony could fit in with that, plus the Lakers’ roster is nearly devoid of shooting and Anthony can still do that.

The challenge with the Lakers is fit. The Lakers don’t want to take the ball out of the hands of LeBron or Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma, and those are the guys who will split time at the forward slots for L.A. next season. Put simply, the Lakers would be slowing the development of their best young talent if they bring in and lean on Carmelo, and that is just not smart. Still, never say never to this as a one-year experiment.

• Miami Heat (and banana boater Dwyane Wade). This actually makes some sense on the court, Anthony could step in and fill the shooting big role that Kelly Olynyk filled for the Heat last season. During the regular season the Heat can hide Anthony defensively thanks to the versatility of James Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow.

Miami’s medical staff and conditioning focus have extended the career of many a player, that could be good for the 34-year-old Anthony. But Erik Spoelstra and staff will want to keep Anthony in a specific role and will be blunt with him about it. Is that what Anthony wants to sign up for?

• The Golden State Warriors. If Anthony really wants to ring chase, he can lob them a call. However, talk about a team that wants to play fast, move the ball, defend hard, and put Anthony into a very small role, this would be the pinnacle of that. Golden State can play Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Jordan Bell key minutes at the four, Anthony would be a luxury. After what Anthony said following the playoffs last season when the Thunder shrunk his role during the playoffs (he didn’t like it one bit) it’s hard to imagine he signs up for this.

• Other teams may jump into the mix. The question Anthony needs to ask himself is what he wants most? Touches and a big role? A title? Those two things are not coming in one package, so where is that line? Only Anthony can answer that question.