Here's our team-by-team analysis of the major and minor deals in the third week of NBA free agency.
All deals listed alphabetically by team.
1.? Agreed to a one-year, minimum deal with forward Luc Mbah a Moute
The Rockets continue loading up on the kinds of versatile defenders necessary to match up with the league's best teams. Last year's Houston team had just one such player, starting small forward Trevor Ariza. To him, the Rockets added P.J. Tucker using most of their midlevel exception and now Mbah a Moute at the bargain price of the veteran's minimum. (That's all Houston could offer after using its midlevel and biannual exceptions, the latter on center Tarik Black.)
I'm surprised Mbah a Moute couldn't scare up a better offer on the open market. While I'm skeptical he can maintain anything close to last season's 39.1 percent 3-point shooting (he's at 32.4 percent career beyond the arc), Mbah a Moute is a fine defender who made my All-Defensive honorable mention last season. His ability to defend both wings and stretch bigs makes Mbah a Moute particularly valuable against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two teams the Rockets hope to face in the postseason.
With Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute all in the fold, Mike D'Antoni will have plenty of good defensive options and should be able to cut Ariza's minutes from the 34.7 he averaged last season. D'Antoni might be crazy enough to throw all three players on the court together with the All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and James Harden, a lineup that would be short on defensive rebounding but incredibly athletic.
Houston's roster continues to take shape. The additions of Black and Mbah a Moute this week give them 12 players with guaranteed contracts. (The Rockets also have four players with non-guaranteed contracts and rookie Cameron Oliver, whose deal is partially guaranteed.) Houston will likely try to re-sign restricted free agent Troy Williams, who played well in summer league, and may also want to add another veteran ballhandler to fill out the roster.
New Orleans Pelicans
1.? Agreed to a reported one-year deal with guard Rajon Rondo
The most the Pelicans could offer Rondo is the $7.6 million they have remaining from their midlevel exception after using part of it to sign second-round pick Frank Jackson to a three-year deal. Realistically, New Orleans might not have been willing to go quite that high because doing so would push the team into the luxury tax, a tough sell for a low-revenue organization.
Given that Rondo is coming off making $17.5 million for his one season with the Chicago Bulls (including the $3 million guaranteed portion of his 2017-18 salary the Bulls ate when they waived him), that's a pretty good deal for the Pelicans no matter what. But good deals alone won't help New Orleans reach the playoffs in a critical season for the future direction of the franchise. Only good on-court fits will do that, and that's where the Rondo deal is trickier to evaluate.
This deal reunites Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, who played together in 2015-16 with the Sacramento Kings, Rondo's best season since tearing his ACL in terms of box score stats. Cousins enjoyed Rondo's playmaking, shooting an effective 51.0 percent off of Rondo's feeds (counting each 3-pointer as 1.5 field goals to reflect their additional value) as compared to 43.0 percent after passes from all other teammates according to SportVU tracking on NBA.com/Stats.
The Rondo-Boogie pairing was at its best when Cousins played center, the role he'll almost always fill with the Pelicans. Via NBAwowy.com data, Sacramento outscored opponents by 4.0 points per 100 possessions when Cousins played center alongside Rondo but had a minus-0.3 net rating when he was at power forward next to either Willie Cauley-Stein or Kosta Koufos.
At the same time, New Orleans already has a starting point guard in Jrue Holiday. According to ESPN's sources, the Pelicans are interested in playing Rondo alongside Holiday for large chunks of games. That fit doesn't appear as good.
Holiday is a fairly average spot-up shooter (he shot 30.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s last season according to SportVU data, worse than his 37.6 percent shooting off the dribble, although that was down from past years) and while he has enough size to defend shooting guards, using him in that role means weakening both guard spots defensively as compared to playing Holiday with a traditional shooting guard.
If New Orleans uses Rondo largely as a backup point guard, cutting Holiday's minutes back toward the 28.2 he averaged in 2015-16 to guard against a return of stress injuries to his right leg, this is a positive addition. The more the Pelicans play Rondo with Holiday, the less I like it.