Houston nearly pulled off the impossible, pushing Golden State to the brink in the Western Conference finals. And while Clutch City only produced an avalanche of bricked threes when it mattered most, the Rockets gave the Warriors a stiffer challenge than any other opponent since Kevin Durant joined the 73-win core. Having stumbled upon a formula that worked, Morey should've been more motivated than ever to finish the job.
But you wouldn't know it from the team's unspectacular summer. The Rockets mostly filled their roster with bargain-bin pieces after retaining Chris Paul and Clint Capela. And while Morey has a track record of uncovering diamonds in the rough, his guiding philosophy is to assemble as many stars as possible. In that regard, the Warriors only pulled further away after tacking on a fifth All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, while the Rockets remained stuck on two.
Let's take a closer look at the players Morey brought in this summer, and the key questions that have followed them to Houston:
Anthony is as divisive as ever. He's clearly skilled enough to adapt his game to his diminished athleticism, yet he plays as if he's still in his twenties.
Forget the debate over starting or coming off the bench - the Rockets first have to figure out how much Anthony even has left. Last year's dalliance with the Oklahoma City Thunder was nothing short of a disaster, and that version of Anthony won't help any team, let alone a championship contender.
Even in a down year, Anthony shot 42 percent on wide-open threes, and there should be plenty of those to go around in Houston. He can thrive so long as he's satisfied with merely finishing off the opportunities that Paul and James Harden create for him. He can be effective on spot-ups and the occasional post-up when there's a guard switched onto him.
But Anthony insists on taking bad shots. He pulled up 5.5 times per game last season despite making just 39 percent of those looks. Even more concerning was his inability to finish in the paint, as he shot just 51 percent within five feet and saw his free-throw attempts slashed in half. He no longer has the ups to bully his way inside, which is why defenses grant him even more space to jab step to his heart's content before he invariably coughs up a dreaded mid-range jumper. His stubbornness drove Mike D'Antoni to flee New York, so he probably isn't thrilled about this reunion.
Then there's the tricky matter of Anthony's defense. He uses his quick hands effectively when he's a help defender, but the Rockets prefer switching over rotating, which leaves him with only his isolation defense. Trevor Ariza excelled in that regard last season, whereas Anthony was specifically targeted as a liability. The Utah Jazz went so far as to run their offense through Joe Ingles to exploit his laziness.
Houston succeeded last season because it was an airtight defensive outfit with five switchable defenders who could neutralize Golden State's passing and bait the Warriors into attacking in isolation. But it only takes one weak link to break the chain, and Anthony is an easy target. If Ingles is roasting him, imagine the damage Durant could deal.
Ennis came cheap because he's an unproven journeyman who played on four teams before turning 28. The 6-foot-8 wing always gives maximum effort and he can capably guard multiple positions - a must in Houston's scheme. However, he can't do much else beyond camping out in the corner and crashing the glass for a putback, which is why he cost just $1.6 million.
Ariza isn't necessarily a scorer, but he could hit threes at a high volume, which was vital to the Rockets' offense. Only five players have made more triples than Ariza (960) over the last five seasons, whereas Ennis hasn't even averaged a single 3-point make per game in his career. He'll definitely be given a greener light in D'Antoni's offense than any of his previous stops, and he'll have two tremendous playmakers setting him up, but expecting Ennis to suddenly blossom into a quality starter is asking a lot. He had more scoreless games (five) than instances where he topped 15 points (once) last year.
There's also the issue of durability. Ariza suited up in 310 out of 328 games in the last four seasons, whereas Ennis has yet to play a full season, let alone make a deep playoff run. It's another reason why he came at a fraction of the cost.
The Rockets needed some depth at point guard, and Michael Carter-Williams was a disruptive defender who recorded as many deflections per 36 minutes as Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green. But he's also unplayable.
Just look at his shooting chart from last season:
(Courtesy: NBA Stats)
Houston's most intriguing addition was former lottery pick Marquese Chriss, whom Morey scored at a heavy discount after he flamed out in Phoenix.
The Suns essentially traded three first-round picks to select Chriss eighth overall in 2016 because his talent is undeniable. He was hyped as the second coming of Amar'e Stoudemire. He's an elite athlete with a 7-foot wingspan, quick feet for a power forward, and a breathtaking vertical. Throw in a semi-functional 3-point shot and there's the makings of a dynamic frontcourt player that the Rockets desperately lack.
He's still finding his place in the league, but it's not hard to foresee Chriss following the same trajectory as Capela. Harden is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league, and his drives demand so much defensive attention that there's always space for the big man to roll hard and finish lobs. Chriss made do with Tyler Ulis and Mike James throwing him passes. Imagine what he could do alongside Harden.
Chriss is known for his shot-blocking, but he was also effective on switches, which makes him a good fit with the Rockets. Opponents shot just 37 percent when attacking him in isolation, and most guards found it difficult to break him down off the dribble because he's exceptionally quick for a big man.
However, fitting Chriss into a rotation will require patience. The Suns were unhappy with his conditioning last season, and, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, that problem wasn't remedied this summer. Phoenix was so disillusioned with Chriss that he was dumped for Ryan Anderson's unwanted contract. He won't be a new player overnight, and there's a good chance he'll never realize his potential.
Then there's the issue of Chriss' wavering focus. It's hard to blame anyone for taking possessions off when the Suns organization was tanking so shamelessly, but there's a noticeable difference between when Chriss is loafing and when he's making an effort. He just didn't care on most nights, and it showed.
Cracking the rotation by the All-Star break would be the best-case scenario for Chriss. D'Antoni needs time to eradicate bad habits, and giving him minutes right away would only reinforce his entitlement. He needs to earn his spot instead of continuing to coast on potential. If he's as good as his talents suggest, beating out 35-year-old Nene for the backup center job should be easy.