The Rockets have won their contract standoff with restricted free agent center Clint Capela. Four weeks after he balked at Houston’s five-year, $90 million offer at the start of free agency, Capela made the decision to not sign the meager one-year qualifying offer, and inked a long-term deal in Houston. The terms?
This was always the likeliest scenario. Capela could’ve played for one year on the $4.3 million offer that kept him in restricted free agency, but there’s enormous injury-related downside risk to that kind of move, especially for a big guy whose value comes from his springy athleticism. A screwed-up effect of the NBA’s restricted free agency is that young players have to weigh the risks of playing out a crucial year for just peanuts against locking themselves in place for a sizable chunk of their prime years at a salary they may view as beneath their value. $90 million is a far cry from the most Capela could’ve gotten in free agency, but his position is heavy on supply and light on demand, and there’s no reason to expect he’d do so much better in unrestricted free agency next summer, increased league-wide salary cap space be damned.
There’s a case to be made that Capela is one of the more valuable defensive players in basketball—he finished sixth in the NBA in defensive win shares, per Basketball Reference, and was second in the NBA in blocks per game—and his value as a nimble lob threat makes pick-and-rolls with James Harden and Chris Paul almost unfair. For all the defensive versatility the Rockets lost this summer, they retained the most important parts of a core that was all but unbeatable during the regular season:
So while this is ultimately a capitulation by Capela, and one forced in large part by broader circumstances beyond his control, it’s a move that keeps Capela in one of the best pure basketball situations in the world, and allows him to get back into free agency as a 29-year-old, before his athletic decline would be expected to become most pronounced.
The most important part of what made the Rockets terrifying last season—two dominant guards and a deadly rim-running big man—are now locked into place through the 2022 season. The basic shape and formula of their 65-win team from last season—that core plus Eric Gordon, and a couple tough swingmen (James Ennis and P.J. Tucker) who can shoot and defend enough to stay on the floor against the Warriors—is intact for another run at a title. The last piece to fall into place will presumably be the addition of Carmelo Anthony. Who can say whether he’ll make them any better, but based on last season’s success, when the key Rockets are healthy they may not need to be any better at all.