The Rockets and Suns finalized a deal late Thursday that sent Ryan Anderson and rookie De’Anthony Melton to Phoenix in exchange for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss. At this stage of the off-season it’s a significant move, with Houston shedding a bit of salary and at long last unloading Anderson to hedge bets on two former first-round pick. Let’s grade the deal.
The Rockets’ desire to deal Anderson, a veteran stretch-forward with defensive deficiencies, had been a poorly kept secret over the past couple summers. While Houston initially relied on him to space the floor after he signed a hefty deal in 2016, it became apparent quickly that he was ill-suited to chase around more athletic forwards, despite being one of the league’s elite three-point shooting big men.
Previous attempts to move his salary and clear cap space were unsuccessful, and the addition of Carmelo Anthony this summer turned Anderson into even more of an auxiliary piece. There should be no remorse in dealing him here, as Anthony and P.J. Tucker should initially handle the majority of Houston’s minutes at power forward.
Knight missed the entire 2017-18 season due to ACL surgery and is now a year removed from the procedure as he joins his fourth NBA team at age 26. His history of leg injuries and underwhelming career shooting percentages don’t spark major excitement, but this Rockets team is the most talented group Knight has been a part of to date, and he should benefit from less pressure and having shots created for him.
One concern for Houston as constituted will always be managing heavy workloads for James Harden and Chris Paul, and the hope would be that a healthy Knight can provide supplementary ballhandling and playmaking throughout the season. It’s a reasonable chance to take on a former lottery pick that comes at a lesser salary number than Anderson’s, and one that could be traded more easily later in the season if need be. His presence could mean a short stay in Houston for recently-signed Michael Carter-Williams.
Chriss was the eighth pick in the 2016 draft and is still just 21 years old, but his NBA future is murky at best after two oft-frustrating seasons in Phoenix. Despite his athletic gifts, his lack of feel for the game and slow progression create cause for concern. He’s still a low-risk dice roll for the Rockets and a simplified role in their system could be a useful reset for his career. Houston can simply decline his team option next summer if things don’t work out.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the price of business here was losing Melton, who was solid at Summer League and looked like one of the early steals of the draft after falling to Houston at the 46th pick. Some viewed him as a first-round caliber talent, and his defense acumen, athleticism and inexpensive, team-controlled services give him strong value on the market. While it would have been nice to develop him as a potential bench piece, the Rockets understand that their window to contend in the West can close quickly, and being able to save a bit of money while restructuring the roster sensibly appears to have been the priority. This deal won’t massively alter Houston’s outlook, but it does make sense from a business perspective.
It appears the Suns made out pretty well here, adding Melton for the long-term, dealing two players who had little place in their long-term plans, and bringing in Anderson, who actually fits with their team and comes at a lesser financial cost than expected. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Anderson agreed to a reduced salary guarantee for 2019–20, the final year of his deal, which makes him easier to trade or waive if they choose (and matches what Knight was owed).
He’s expected to start at power forward, and most importantly will create much more room for No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton to operate in the paint as he begins his career, and for Devin Booker to slash to the basket. At minimum, Anderson should enable a better stylistic offense and create a better opportunity for the future of the franchise.
While Phoenix likely won’t be a playoff team in the crowded West, Anderson helps stabilize their rotation alongside summer signing Trevor Ariza (whom the Rockets will surely miss). This should mean a better environment for Ayton, Booker and a host of young players to continue developing as the Suns chart a course for the future. They go into the fall rostering an talented group of young players: Josh Jackson, rookies Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo and now Melton, plus whatever they can still get out of Dragan Bender. The Suns have the Bucks’ traded first in addition to their own, and are now positioned to offer substantial trade packages to try and bring in a star if they want to try and accelerate their rebuild.
Phoenix’s position is contingent on the successful evolution of their talent into a coherent unit, and as with all long-term projects, flexibility is king. Given that, eliminating some roster clutter for next season and creating playing opportunities for young talent while essentially maintaining their overall salary structure makes a lot of sense. There shouldn’t be many immediate dividends from this deal, but it inarguably puts the Suns in an incrementally better spot for the long run. When you’re playing the waiting game, you take what you can get.