Rockets add Carmelo in quest to stop Warriors dynasty

Jul 24, 2018 3:06 AM

Carmelo Anthony made his long-awaited move to the Rockets official on Monday, reaching an agreement to join the team on a one-year deal for $2.4 million. Not only will this make his earnings for the 2018-19 season top $30 million, it also figures to be the final significant move in an offseason that has featured seismic shifts in player movement.

LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland, a blockbuster trade that sent Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, and the addition of DeMarcus Cousins to the roster of two-time defending champion Golden State rank among the biggest moves, but every roster saw some tweaks, even those whose biggest splashes were made solely through the draft.

The Warriors remain the team to beat and got stronger through Cousins’ reaction to his snubbing in free agency. Although the Pelicans were interested in bringing him back, a significant offer was never made and most other teams were still waiting to see how the market would shake out after LeBron made his decision.

Cousins contacted Draymond Green, got in touch with Golden State GM Bob Meyers and strengthened the league’s best team in a move widely panned by those frustrated by the NBA’s lack of competitive balance.

When July opened, the Westgate Superbook listed the Warriors as 5-to-4 favorites to become the first team in 16 years to pull off a three-peat. Last week, they were 5/9 (-180), while this week’s odds update have them at 1-to-2. For every dollar you want to win on Golden State, you’ll have to bet two.

I love Boogie’s move for both himself and Golden State but wouldn’t recommend betting on the Warriors to secure a third straight title at this time. They’ll likely be better at some point between now and next June, even if it takes them falling behind in a playoff series.

Before he’s healthy enough to join the team and play himself into shape, you may hear about how Cousins’ move won’t matter too much since he’ll actually be a liability defensively and won’t be as effective next to Golden State’s other four All-Stars as “Death lineup” as Andre Iguodala is.

When you hear that, remind yourself the only thing the team that won consecutive titles since adding Kevin Durant has lacked is a post presence they can comfortably dump the ball inside to. Imagine the possibilities. Now, a team whose greatest vulnerability would be a shooting slump that comes at the worst possible time, no longer has to feel like it is tied into playing that way. Cousins provides an alternative that can help take the pressure off perimeter shooters.

With most teams’ money dried up and New Orleans unwilling to invest heavily on potentially damaged goods after his Achilles tear, Cousins had to look out for No. 1. Watching buddy Rajon Rondo leave for L.A. while failing to get long-term security from a Pelicans franchise that performed extremely well without him after trading for Nikola Mirotic once he was injured, really limited Cousins’ options.

Had he not been injured, perhaps the Lakers would’ve come calling to make him a max player alongside James. New Orleans, a market that typically can’t land top free-agent talent, likely would’ve bent over backward to keep his partnership with Anthony Davis in play.

There were a few other teams who likely would’ve taken a gamble if he’d remained patient for a few more days, but the fact is, Cousins had already decided Plan B could stand for brilliant if he played things right.

“This is my ace of spades,” said Cousins. “This is my chess move.”

He’ll do more winning in Oakland than he’s ever done in his career. He won’t be the focal point, the guy with the target on his back. This is every bit as much about boosting his reputation as it is about getting a ring.

The other part of this equation that favors Cousins, who is absolutely right to selfishly look out for No. 1 and not your entertainment value, is the lack of pressure he now faces in attempting to get back to action. Although he said in May he hoped to be back for training camp, look for Golden State to tweak that goal in an effort to ensure the 6-foot-11, 280-pounder doesn’t rush back.

An Achilles tear is considered tougher to come back from than a torn ACL, especially for big men. I’d be surprised if the four-time All-Star participates in whatever Christmas Day contest the Warriors are called on to play since there is no reason for him not to take a full calendar year off following his injury.

Leonard could turn the Raptors into a Finals contender if healthy, while James makes the Lakers relevant again, but it’s Cousins’ who can play the ultimate x-factor in next season’s title chase.

The Celtics are the favorite in the Eastern Conference with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning from injuries that prevented them from participating in the playoffs, while the Rockets will look to fare better with Anthony than Oklahoma City did as they seek to build on last year’s success.

The Thunder kept Paul George, get Andre Roberson back from a season-ending injury and add Dennis Schroder as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, so they’ll be in the mix too. It remains to be seen whether we’re talking about Cousins signing a long-term deal in a new city after winning himself a ring in Oakland, but the fact he’s put himself in that position is the best decision anyone has made in this offseason. If he’s healthy, that will become quite clear in less than 11 months.