The Warriors are wounded. Battered and broken the NBA’s most feared superpower will limp into next season more vulnerable than ever before.
Kevin Durant will miss all of next season with a ruptured Achilles and could be gone forever if he chooses to bolt in free agency. Klay Thompson (torn ACL) will be out until at least February and also has the option to find a new home this summer.
With the weakened Warriors hobbling into next season, the West’s other teams are salivating at the opportunity to knock off Goliath. First, the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis, Then, the Utah Jazz landed Mike Conley.
Now, the Houston Rockets, looking to fix their gluttony of issues, reportedly are hoping to add a third star to the seemingly fragile James Harden-Chris Paul core.
With Jimmy Butler hitting free agency Sunday, the Rockets reportedly are trying to “recruit Jimmy Butler” to get the Philadelphia 76ers to agree to a sign-and-trade, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday, citing league sources.
Since the Rockets don’t have the salary cap space to sign Butler outright or absorb his contract in a trade, Houston would need to send two of the following players out in a deal: Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker.
Daryl Morey is one to take risks. Two summers ago, the Rockets general manager was confident Houston had something up its sleeve and the Rockets landed Paul.
Now, with rumors of discontent between his two stars, Morey is looking to add a third star to the mix in order to calm the waters and vault Houston to the top of the conference pecking order.
But would landing Butler be the home run the Rockets think it is?
A deal for Butler would zap Rockets of their depth. Gordon arguably was their second best player in the second-round NBA playoff loss to the Warriors, giving them deadly 3-point shooting a tough-minded defender on the wing.
Capela is an important piece of what Houston does, especially on the defensive end. With Paul aging and Harden being relatively disinterested in playing defense for long stretches, Capela’s rim protection was a vital part of the Rockets’ team. His absence would be one that could be exploited by teams during a playoff series.
Losing Tucker might be the biggest blow. Tucker’s versatility, toughness and defensive acumen have been a key to the Rockets’ run over the past two seasons. His role as the Rockets’ Draymond Green in their “South Beach 5” lineup allowed Houston to matchup with the Warriors’ “Hamptons 5” lineup better than any other team. There aren’t many P.J. Tucker’s floating around the NBA landscape.
Butler no doubt is a talented offensive player and would give the Rockets second-star insurance as Paul continues to slip into the next phase of his career. But the addition of Butler also would give Houston another ball-dominant player in an isolation-focused offense, something that already has caused friction between Harden, Paul and head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Butler also isn’t captain chemistry, so adding his abrasive personality to the mix feels like a recipe for disaster.
Morey is dreaming big, and acquiring Butler could push the Rockets past the hobbled Warriors next season. But the move also would lock the Rockets into a roster that would be expensive and highly combustible.
There’s also no guarantee a core of Harden, Butler and an aging Paul, with little bench support, would be able to beat the Warriors once they are fully healthy.
Even if Durant leaves in free agency — which seems more likely than not — the Rockets still wouldn’t be seen as heavy favorites over the Warriors. They’d have sacrificed their depth, especially on the wings, and their best defensive players in the name of star power. Star power that still would struggle to bother Steph Curry and Thompson. Star power that hasn’t proven it can win when the lights are brightest.
If Durant does return to the Warriors then Golden State will find their once-feared rival has turned into a trio of bickering superstars and a host of veteran minimum contracts. With Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and two of Capela, Gordon, and Tucker gone, the team that was built to beat the Warriors would be no more. Another what if in the history of NBA teams that bungled their shot at the title.
In their pursuit of the crown, the Rockets are looking to take a team that was primed to take down the Dubs, and turn it into an entity that might only be championship-worthy if the EA Sports theme song played before opening tip.
Houston is swinging for the fences, but adding Butler might not be the home run it thinks it is. In fact, adding Butler could be the final nail in the coffin for the Harden-D’Antoni Rockets as we know them.