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NBA Free Agency Diary: The Rockets Don’t Have Superstar FOMO Anymore

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Dear NBA Diary,

Time for a do-over. On Thursday morning, I wrote that the Houston Rockets would be just fine running things back with their existing core of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and company, despite the narrative that they were falling behind in the Western Conference’s superstar arms race.

Then Thursday night happened. Daryl Morey and the Rockets offered up what feels like the millionth earth-shattering transaction of the NBA summer by dealing Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Just like that, Houston had created an entirely new star combo in Harden and Westbrook — and we needed a new breakdown of their full-strength CARMELO rating:

Whoaaaa, look at this Rockets team now

Projected full-strength regular-season depth chart for the 2019-20 Houston Rockets, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
James Harden 8 25 4 0 0 37 +7.4 +0.9 +8.3
Russell Westbrook 31 5 0 0 0 36 +3.5 +0.5 +3.9
Clint Capela 0 0 0 2 29 31 -0.3 +2.3 +2.0
Eric Gordon 0 3 26 0 0 29 +1.1 -1.2 -0.1
PJ Tucker 0 0 3 25 0 28 -1.2 +1.1 -0.1
Austin Rivers 9 12 5 0 0 26 +0.1 -1.3 -1.2
Gerald Green 0 0 9 8 0 17 -0.7 -1.9 -2.6
Tyson Chandler 0 0 0 0 15 15 -2.9 +2.1 -0.9
Danuel House Jr. 0 3 1 10 0 14 +0.0 -0.4 -0.5
Deyonta Davis 0 0 0 1 4 5 -1.7 +1.0 -0.7
Isaiah Hartenstein 0 0 0 2 0 2 -1.7 +1.4 -0.3
Gary Clark 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.9 -0.4 -2.3
Chris Chiozza 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.9 -1.6 -2.5
Michael Frazier 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.6 -1.3 -2.9
Trevon Duval 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.5 -1.4 -3.9
Chris Clemons 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.7 -1.0 -1.7
Team total 240 +6.8 +1.8 +8.4
Expected record: 58-24
CARMELO team rating: 1716

In the short term, this deal improves what was already a surprisingly strong-looking Rockets roster. Houston’s CARMELO rating was 1693 (good for a 56-win projection and a 19 percent championship probability) before the trade; now, that rating is 1716, to go with 58 projected wins and a 25 percent chance of winning the title. Morey paid two first-round picks (and two pick swaps) to make those marginal gains, but in a 2019-20 season that looks wide-open, every little bit could make all the difference.

Certainly, Westbrook (age 30) is younger than Paul (34) and projects to be better over the next few seasons, according to CARMELO’s wins above replacement metric, though he is coming off a worse season in 2018-19:

There are still plenty of questions about how the members of Houston’s new star pairing will coexist with each other. And the trade feels at least in part like a deal done just so the Rockets can say they made a big offseason splash on par with the West’s other heavy hitters. But it certainly further bolsters Houston’s case as the favorite in a loaded Western Conference.

UPDATE (July 12, 2019, 2:40 p.m.): This diary entry has been updated to reflect the signing of Tyson Chandler. Houston’s Elo didn’t change.

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Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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