This was so surprising. I don’t think anyone thought the Rockets could bring back both Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers. I certainly didn’t. When House signed earlier yesterday for three years using up a sizable chunk of the midlevel exception, I thought Rivers was a goner for sure. But it looks like Rivers gambled on himself (much in the same way House did during the year, ironically) in coming back to a place where he’s happy and will get plenty of opportunities to shine.
Rivers is actually the team’s second best isolation player currently, so that should help. But he’s no doubt also factoring in the fact that he’ll be the starter when Chris Paul inevitably goes down for a chunk of games next season. Its doubtful Rivers had any starting offers in free agency.
So Houston brings back a core that was on pace to win 60 games last season, finishing first in the league in net rating, and second in both offensive and defensive rating after the All-Star break. While fans are certainly disappointed by the spurning by Jimmy Butler, the Rockets could be in a far worse position than they are currently. Unlike last season, they’ll hit camp from day 1 with their core rotation in place. They won’t be wasting valuable time testing out replacement pieces the way they did last year with James Ennis, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael-Carter Williams.
The big question to me now, aside from what the Rockets decide to do with the rest of their midlevel exception (whether NTMLE or TMLE) is what happens with Eric Gordon. I’ve maintained all year that they need to trade or extend him before allowing him to hit the open market next summer. But with their core group set right now, my guess is that they’ll carry Gordon into the season and re-evaluate things at the deadline if a star player becomes available.