• Trevor Ariza’s second stint with the Houston Rockets will be remembered far more for how it finished on the court than the shocking way he decided to end it altogether. Barely a month after missing all 12 of his shots during that deflating Game 7 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Ariza agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns in the opening hours of free agency. The most indelible images of his four-year run with the Rockets, at least to many league followers, will always be open jumper after open jumper he clanked against the Warriors with the defending champions’ back against the wall at Toyota Center. Ariza misfired on all nine of this 3-point attempts in Game 7, six of them coming during Houston’s record stretch of 27 consecutive misses from deep – the type of sustained futility Daryl Morey’s numbers game is designed to avoid.

    “Just, we go 7-for-44 [on threes],” Mike D’Antoni said, “it’s just going to be a tough night.”

    Lost amid the Rockets’ depressing shooting performance and the ease with which Golden State went on to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals is that the champs trailed 54-43 at halftime of Game 7. It’s also hard to believe a healthy Chris Paul doesn’t find a way to blot Houston’s bleeding, just like he did a few days earlier while willing his team to a series-changing Game 5 victory. But a hamstring injury forced him to watch to the final two games of the Western Conference Finals from the bench, robbing the 14-year veteran of his best chance yet to compete for a Larry O’Brien trophy.

    The Rockets expressed nearly as much hope for the future as disappointment for the present after their season ended in late May, and why not? Missing 37 threes, many of the makable variety, at home with the Finals on the line is a textbook case of result belying the process. There’s no reason to believe Houston would befall the same fate under the same circumstances next May. Lightning doesn’t strike twice.

    Unfortunately, the realities of that phenomenon represent a problem for the Rockets, too. The expectation they would be nipping at the Warriors’ heels again a year from now hinged first and foremost on the assumption of staying the course. Golden State won’t ever be dethroned by star power alone, but the combination of talent, scheme, chemistry and continuity Houston managed to conjure in 2016-17. It will be very, very hard to come by again next season, and not necessarily because the Rockets are any worse off on paper.

    James Ennis is a steal at the minimum. He’s an active, aggressive defender of both guards and wings, and should thrive playing in an uptempo system that limits his offensive responsibilities to sprinting the floor in transition, attacking close-outs and sneaking behind inattentive defenders for basket cuts. Ennis isn’t a knockdown shooter, but it’s not like he’s Tony Allen or Andre Roberson, either. He shot 35.3 percent on catch-and-shoot triples last season, per NBA.com/stats, and should find better looks playing next to James Harden and Chris Paul than he did with the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies a season ago. If Ennis can forces defense to respect his jumper, there’s no reason why he won’t thrive with the Rockets.

    “I think James Ennis could be really good,” D’Antoni said last week. “I think people are downplaying him.”

    It’s the fact that Ennis, for all intents and purposes, has to replace both Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, back to the Clippers on a one-year deal worth half the mid-level exception, in Houston’s two-way attack that looms so potentially large. Carmelo Anthony, officially bought out by the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, isn’t as washed up as his brief stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder made him look. His jump-shooting struggles, so costly last season, seem more like a one-season blip rather than the new normal at this point, and there’s certainly something to be said for his ability to beat switches by bullying smaller defenders on the block – a wrinkle Houston lacked in its first season with Paul despite putting up the highest non-Warriors offensive rating of the decade.

    Offensively, the Rockets should be better in 2018-19 whether Anthony embraces the diminished role he was so reluctant to accept with the Thunder. D’Antoni’s only obligation is to wins and losses; he’ll bench Anthony if the future Hall of Famer’s usage proves problematic. Worse is that cutting his minutes is the only way to mitigate the impact Anthony’s presence is primed to have on Houston’s defense.

    It won’t matter all that much in the regular season. D’Antoni can stagger Harden, Paul and Anthony to ensure at least one of them is on the floor at all times, and toggle his rotation in crunch time to avoid slotting the latter on a dangerous opposing guard or wing. Of course, those determinations would be much easier to make if Anthony would drop his stubborn resistance to coming off the bench. Even if Anthony opens at small forward next to P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela up front, it’s highly unlikely Houston finishes most games with its starters. There are just too many places for the opposition to attack with both Harden and Anthony on the floor in winning time, and the reigning MVP certainly won’t be losing minutes to a thirty-something scorer who no longer has a position. It’s entirely plausible that Ennis, playing for his fifth team in as many seasons, is the one closing games at Anthony’s expense.

    The answer should be much more simple in the playoffs, as Ryan Anderson learned the hard way last spring. Golden State isn’t going anywhere. Even if the Rockets are able to out-score opponents en route to a Western Conference Finals rematch, it won’t be enough to match the Warriors’ raw offensive fire power. Ariza was absolutely critical to Houston taking Steve Kerr‘s team to seven games in May. He guarded Durant and Curry for a combined 322 possessions in that series, nearly twice as many as the total of any other Rockets defender, according to Second Spectrum tracking data.

    “There is no way we can do what we do without him,” assistant Irv Roland told ESPN’s Zach Lowe of Ariza midway through the Conference Finals.

    Ennis is gritty enough to take that challenge head-on, but even doing so successfully wouldn’t mask the deficiencies met by Houston’s offseason. The Rockets found their most lasting means of success on defense against Golden State by downsizing, taking Capela off the floor, making Tucker their nominal center and switching across five positions. Without Ariza and Mbah a Moute, limited by lingering effects of a shoulder injury throughout the playoffs, getting to that lineup configuration could become a real chore for D’Antoni – and not just because Anthony lacks the lateral quickness to be included among them.

    The only similar lineup that comes close to replicating the two-way effectiveness that posed such a real threat to the Warriors is Paul-Harden-Eric Gordon-Ennis-Tucker. Ennis is a less-reliable shooter than the notoriously-streaky Ariza, though, and Gerald Green, inspiring as he was last season, is hardly the kind of player a coach wants to count on come May. Even the newly-acquired Michael Carter-Williams is more playable in switch-everything situations than Anthony.

    No matter. The loss of Ariza and Mbah a Moute always meant the Rockets would be forced to play differently going forward. Capped-out and with wings coming at a premium, Houston was never going to be able to replace them seamlessly. It’s not just the loss of two key contributors that stings, though; the addition of Anthony brings its own headaches, and compounds existing ones. Does that change the Rockets’ standing in the Western Conference? Probably not. Against the Warriors, though, their already-slim margin for error seems even thinner.

Fantasy News

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the Anthony Davis trade on July 6.

    July 6 is the first day that trades can be processed and it will drastically impact the Lakers' cap space. The Lakers would rather process the trade in late July, at least 30 days after the draft, so that they will have $32.5 million in cap rather than $23.4. Wojnarowski also reported that Davis is unlikely to waive his $4 million trade kicker which will also hamper LA's cap space. If the Lakers can't put together enough for a max contract player, it'll throw a big wrench into free agency. With this story constantly evolving, stay tuned for updates.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets are considered to be the two main teams exploring trade scenarios for Clint Capela according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.

    With the biggest trade chip of the summer in Anthony Davis off the table, Capela figures to be next in line to draw significant interest around the league. In the Celtics scenario, Capela could either play alongside Horford or become his replacement depending on what Horford decides on his player option. However, seeing how reluctant they were to include some of their big assets in the AD trade, the same could be the case here. For the Brooklyn side it would be tough to imagine them pulling off a deal for Capela that doesn't involve moving Jarrett Allen, as the two have too similar of games to really play them together. This is all obviously very much in the speculation stage, but it is worth keeping an eye on both of these teams in regards to the Rockets' big man as the summer's arms race heads into full swing.

    Source: Steve Kyler on Twitter

  • Jayson Tatum - F - Boston Celtics

    The Celtics were unwilling to include Jayson Tatum in negotiations for Anthony Davis according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

    It appears that the Celtics were never truly players in the AD sweepstakes, as it's tough to imagine talk went very far without Tatum in the fold. In the wake of this deal, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Celtics are prepared to pivot to handing Tatum the keys to the franchise, especially considering their chances of resigning Kyrie Irving appear to be dwindling by the day. Tatum did not have the breakout campaign many were hoping for in his second year, but if he goes into next season as Boston's clear cut number one option perhaps he could be in line for said breakout in year three.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • David Griffin - Team - New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that multiple teams are already indicating significant interest in acquiring the No. 4 pick in next week's draft, which now belongs to the Pelicans.

    In case you missed it, the Pelicans have agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a package that includes the fourth selection in the 2019 draft, which the Pelicans may flip to get a quality roster player or another young asset. David Griffin stood firm in his requests on a Davis deal, and although he was unable to get Kyle Kuzma included in the trade, the Pelicans came away with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, two future first-rounders and the No. 4 pick in next week's draft, which could lead to more picks or additional players. Expect New Orleans to be at the center of plenty of rumors over the next few days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    Despite being traded to one of his only preferred long-term destinations, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Anthony Davis will still enter free agency next summer.

    Davis could sign an extension this summer but he will play out the string and try to maximize his earnings. The Lakers have a year to sell Davis on remaining in Los Angeles, and one imagines that playing with LeBron James and whichever other stars that duo can lure to Staples Center is a pretty good pitch in and of itself. Davis has earned the right to test the market as one of the top players in the game but it would go down as a mild surprise if he didn't end up happy in the one place he's been clamoring for since the start of the saga. Not that unexpected things haven't happened in the NBA before, of course.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Josh Hart - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    Josh Hart will be traded to the Pelicans, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Hart gives the Pelicans a third young asset to go along with three first-round picks, joining Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram in the deal. He battled knee injuries throughout last season but proved to be one of the more versatile and effective players on a laughable Lakers roster. A jack of all trades and master of none, expect Hart to fill multiple roles off the bench for a Pelicans team that hasn't gotten consistent wing production in the recent past. It's a tough spot for fantasy value, however, as he's now blocked in the backcourt by Ball and Jrue Holiday.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker - G - Charlotte Hornets

    Following Saturday's blockbuster acquisition of Anthony Davis, Marc Stein is reporting that the Lakers will make Kemba Walker one of their top targets in free agency.

    It makes sense, as point guard is a major position of weakness on the roster with Lonzo Ball headed to New Orleans. Walker and Kyrie Irving are the top of the PG class, and though Charlotte can offer Kemba a boatload of money on a supermax deal, it's impossible to argue that they give him the same shot at winning that the Lakers do now.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Brandon Ingram - F - New Orleans Pelicans

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Brandon Ingram is included in Saturday's Anthony Davis trade.

    Ingram will step right into a prominent role for the Pelicans, who have struggled to find production out of the small forward slot in recent years. His fantasy game still has plenty of holes but he should make a decent late-round flier if you're hunting for someone who can bring some points, rebounds and the occasional defensive stat. Be wary of his percentages, but a young, rebuilding squad with an eye on the long-term future is a nice spot for Ingram to land. Keep in mind that Ingram's season was cut short by deep vein thrombosis in his right arm, though he is expected to be ready for next season.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Lonzo Ball - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Lonzo Ball will be headed to the Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis trade.

    Ball will be joined by Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks. There were reports last season that the Ball camp doesn't feel New Orleans is the best basketball fit for his career, though a pairing of Ball and Jrue Holiday would provide elite defense. With Ball presumably headed to a roster that will actually build around him rather than make him a role player, it's possible that he turns in a big bounce-back fantasy season. His health looms over everything, but a healthy Ball in a featured role could still deliver on all his pre-draft hype.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    The Pelicans have agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 selection in next week's draft, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This is the big domino to fall in what's expected to be a crazy offseason, and Davis heading to the Lakers will have a ripple effect that changes things drastically for numerous other teams. A Davis-LeBron James duo is about as good as it gets, and the Lakers have to be considered title contenders as they shift their attention to filling out the rest of the roster. They've now become one of the most attractive destinations for free agents and have to feel good about retaining Davis long-term, all while retaining Kyle Kuzma. New Orleans can start fresh around presumed top pick Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday, and it's possible that they dangle the No. 4 pick in the draft to help acquire a player that can provide immediate help to the roster. Getting three young players and three first-rounders is nice business for a team dealing a player who was hammering away at their leverage.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter