Clint Capela is the key to the Rockets' Championship Aspirations

After drawn-out negotiations with his representatives, the Rockets have finally inked the Swiss center to a long-term deal – though it is not the contract or the dollar value that Capella valued himself at. Regardless, it speaks volumes to how Morey is able to reach a deal that benefits his franchise – both in their success on the court and to save his owner millions of dollars.

The NBA is a business. Plain and simple. We’re constantly reminded of this fact given some of the “cold-hearted” trades of players who have given their all and more for a franchise. Teams have more money than ever before to spend on players but only the ones who have a long-term and forwarding thinking approach experience sustained success. The Kings, the Magic, and the Hornets have been the laughing stock of the basketball world for years. The Rockets though, a patented model that underlines innovation and modernization – a staple of Silicon Valley. They have pioneered in shot selection. Morey is an analytics savant to say the least. He’s revitalized their G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Vipers, into a seamless cog that develops the ideal role-players. Though, has Morey stretched the limits of their genius? Houston is not just shooting an unprecedented number of shots from beyond the arc, but are now shooting them from farther than ever before. Taking deeper 3-point shots has stretched defense out, but has it overextended their ability to hit them at an efficient rate?

Mike D’Antoni completely reversed his offensive philosophy for the 2017-18 season. His created a seven second or less offense to get the best out of his Suns’ teams. He’s best known for a run-and-gun stratagem with plenty of passing and movement. With Harden and Paul playing side-by-side, D’Antoni did the unthinkable to implement an iso-heavy offense that exploits matchups through the pick-and-roll. All the while, D’Antoni maintained one of the best defenses in the league with an offense that was historically efficient. Clint Capela, was then was the underappreciated cog for the Rockets. The ideal young center, he fits the profile of the perfect big man for their system. He’s a phenomenal athlete and the perfect partner for either Chris Paul or Harden. His wingspan and lateral movement makes him both a rim protector and a solid defender on the perimeter. He does not require the ball to have an impact and is amongst the best rim-running centers in the NBA. The Rockets also had the versatilely to play small-ball lineups with Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute both leaving in free agency. The repercussions of free agency have now left with a lack of depth in the wing department and a possibly disgruntled center returning for training camp.  

Capela validated himself as a third star in Houston during their playoff run. He spent much of July being torn between either taking his $4.7 million qualifying offer or his multi-year contract that he feels devaluates his services. He’d likely command close to – if not – a max contract were it not for the incremental increase of the salary camp or if Chris Paul and Harden were not signed to massive deals. Capela instead agreed to a 5 year deal paying him $90 million. That’s a bargain for a player of his calibre. While he is the bona fide third star in Houston, he’s the third wheel behind Harden and Paul. Maybe this is why Trevor Ariza chose to move Phoenix as a free agent. While there is a team spirit and mentality around Houston, superstars will always receive special treatment. At this point in time, Capella is just not a superstar.  

This is not news for anybody, though is still rubs player wrong they realize their star peers have the perks and treatment that they don’t receive. Houston had three tiers in regards they instituted their offensive system of isolation basketball. James Harden, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon initiate literally everything everyone else is expected to be ok with that and fall in line. Clint Capela, Nene, P.J Tucker, and Tarik Black take the role of being the sole big-man Houston field. They draw defenses with their physical presence and benefit from linking up with their guards. The lowest tier comprises of the spot up shooters. It can be a struggle to try and stay engaged on the weak side. Remaining stationery for the bulk of their team’s possession can be tedious at best. It shows how D’Antoni and Morey treat their 3-and-D players. Expendable.

The NBA is currently on the pinnacle of positionless basketball with teams desperately trying to find athletic wing players to create a graceful and smooth offense. The final piece, and possibly the most crucial to the modern NBA offense, is the Unicorn. A Swiss Army Knife. A Jack of all trades and a master of all. A 7-footer who can shoot 3s, run plays through, protect the rim, switch out onto the perimeter, and can handle the ball. There’s an excessive demand for the Unicorn with a select few in the league who are capable of role. Most teams choose instead to build around their teams to complement their core players. Paul and Harden are ball dominant guards who can break down any player or team. For this duo, their ideal foil are players who stay out of their way. It’s not surprising that some current or former Rockets feel less valuable.

Houston’s front office is a reflection of their style of play. Neither of them like to wade into the middle ground. Their roster is mostly composed of max-contract players or veterans on minimum deals. The exception to his is Ryan Anderson who can be best described as a burden on the Rockets payroll. Most teams have payrolls that steer towards the mean, where a majority of their players are on salaries are a happy middle between the two extremes. Interchangeability is increasingly becoming more and more crucial to how teams operate. Ariza and Mbah a Moute were seen as essential to the Rockets. Though it’s their replaceable skillset that was more important to the franchise and not the player itself. Harden and Paul and generational talents while 3-and-D wings get changed as often as the average person changes profile pictures. Capela finds himself in a grey zone. He’s neither a player who is easily replaceable but simply is not valuable enough to move heaven and earth to keep content.  

The Swiss Center was picked late in the first round of the 2014 draft. He was originally tasked with a substitute for Dwight Howard who had just completed his maiden season in Houston. Morey then drafted Montrezl Harrell a year later in what would be Dwight’s final season with the Rockets. Capela has since been the starting center for the Rockets whenever healthy and has certainly proven that he is worthy of a massive payday. His peers in Rudy Robert and Steven Adams all appear to command greater sense of worth from their respective franchises. They both are a year into a nine figure contract while Capela had to scrounge for a deal that will make him less. Maybe he is being punished for not being a free agent two years ago. Maybe he is just the victim of an NBA that is defined by the word business. Either way, he’s caught in the cross fire between the two.

The middle class is all but extinct for the Rockets. Morey’s cold and rigid analytics has resulted in a system that got them ever so close to an appearance in the Finals. Chris Paul’s massive extension is a 4 year deal that’ll only translate to 2 years of contention. Does Capela return with the same attitude where he gave it 100% and more on any given night? The Rockets decision to extend negotiation as long as possible without letting it spill over into train camp may backfire against them. A disgruntled Capela is not to be trifled with. He may not me a superstar and he sure isn’t a replaceable cog. Their decision to underpay and undervalue him speaks volumes whose echoes will be heard for years to come.

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