After a series of moves at the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets were left with two open roster spots and plenty of room under the luxury tax. The Rockets had to fill at least one of these roster spots by Wednesday, February 19th.
To do so, they could have called up two-way player, Michael Frazier, but instead they elected to make a huge splash. The Rockets are bringing in journeyman Jeff Green on a 10-day contract and forward DeMarre Carroll on a veteran’s minimum.
This was likely the best-case scenario for the Houston Rockets. The only other better potential buyout options are Moe Harkless and Tristian Thompson, both of which are unlikely to get bought out as both want to keep their bird rights heading into free agency.
Everyone is well aware of the famous super small ball the Rockets have been playing as of late. While it is entirely possible both Green and Carroll are both washed (Utah and San Antonio certainly believe they are), it is just as possible they can play in Houston’s system.
Houston has a knack for simplifying the game for role players and allowing them to excel in a simplified role. For example, Houston has been able to get quality production out of Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, and Gary Clark, after other teams failed to do so (or had already given up on them).
Both Carroll and Green fit the system and the only things that will be asked of them is to play a switchy defensive system, defend their ass off in short stints, and then shoot the ball when James Harden or Russell Westbrook passes it to them – it’s a pretty simple gig. This is all they will be asked to do for about 10-15 minutes a night, so they should be able to put maximum effort towards this because of the small workload and the fact that both will have fresh legs.
One of the other benefits of these signing is the specific potential playoff matchups they can help the Rockets with. P.J. Tucker is one of the best defenders to go against Kawhi Leonard because he can match his strength. The more big and bulky wing defenders the Rockets have, the better prepared they are for Kawhi. If Carroll can provide 10-12 minutes of quality defense on Kawhi a night in a potential Rockets-Clippers matchup, this signing is automatically worth it. The same logic goes towards LeBron in a potential Rockets-Lakers matchup.
While LeBron and Kawhi are better players, Anthony Davis is probably the one player that the Rockets would have the most trouble with in their super small lineups. AD is an elite pick and roll finisher, and he is probably the best lob threat in the league. Taken together with plus his offensive rebounding and his quality perimeter and interior defense, the Lakers will likely beat the Rockets in a playoff series. However, if Jeff Green can be at least close to an average primary defender on AD, that could be HUGE in giving the Rockets a real chance to win a series against the Lakers.
The Houston Rockets didn’t need a big who would stop AD from posting up. They want bigs to post up against them – the math is 100% in the Rockets’ favor if teams try to beat them by posting up. What the Rockets needed was a big enough body that could stop the super easy lob pass the Lakers were getting last time the two played. They just needed someone who is mobile enough to fit into their scheme and can disrupt passes and offensive rebounds that would lead to easy layups/dunks. If Jeff Green can just do an average job, and the elite help defense of P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington can help enough to slow everything else down, the Rockets are in business.
There are a lot of “ifs and buts” about how these signing can actually work. As mentioned before, Utah and San Antonio already gave up on the two; they could be washed. However, the Rockets are not asking much out of them; they are simplifying the game and asking them to do the things they already do best at full intensity, for very short periods a night. I would consider it likely that they both are able to give positive contributions.