Did you know that Carmelo Anthony signed with the Houston Rockets this summer? Did you know that Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Trevor Ariza did not re-sign with the Rockets this summer? Did you know that the Rockets, after being up three-games-to-two on the Golden State Warriors, may have missed their shot to win an NBA championship with the Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela core? If you’re reading this article, chances are, you knew all of these things. You knew that depth may be an issue next season; you knew that Anthony may not agree to come on the bench and a plus-player for the Rockets; you knew that the Ryan Anderson contract is something hoop heads will be talking about years from now. Did you know, though, that the Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo, excuse me, Brazilian Kevin Durant, this week?
Unless you’re an insane person, like myself, who refreshes RealGM multiple times a day, you may have missed this. Thankfully, here I am.
The Houston Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo to a contract that I one-hundred percent believe was made up by general manager Daryl Morey. The deal has been reported as an “Exhibit 10” deal, which sounds significantly cooler than it actually is. It may have a fun name, but, in reality, it’s a very, very brief, risk-free flyer on the guy who two years away from being two years away. Great news, though! Caboclo was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Raptors four years ago.
The Raptors were a team when they drafted him years ago that could afford to take a chance on a unknown player with an extremely high ceiling and an extremely low floor. It obviously didn’t work out, but Caboclo was drafted to a team that sat atop the conference year after year while he dabbled in the G-League with brief stints on the main roster. Young NBA players need to play NBA games to become better NBA players --the importance of the trial-and-error idea really can’t be understated in sports. At some point, somebody has to toss you in the pool. If Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri could have signed him to a ten-year contract in 2014, would it really be all that surprising that he would have? What if Caboclo got to play extended G-League minutes under the tutelage of Jerry Stackhouse for years and years with the Toronto brass not having to make a decision on him when they did? Ujiri rarely misses on this kind of thing dating back to Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and the list goes on. When Ujiri drafted Caboclo, it was really the only time during his tenure in Toronto where the collective response was, “Are you sure about this, Masai?” Still, for every Bruno Caboclo there is a Giannis Antetokounmpo. Outside of the top-10, you take those kinds of chances.
Like Ujiri, Morey has had to find a way to build a serious contender from the middle. When you never have a high lottery pick, it’s almost impossible to piece together a roster that can win a championship. The Indiana Pacers have been this team, the Miami Heat have become this team, and even if you find yourself picking in the top of the lottery for a couple of seasons you could still end up being the Orlando Magic or Charlotte Hornets. Winning in the NBA is hard, but that’s what makes what Ujiri and Morey have done over the last few years so impressive -- they have found a way to not hand out multiple bad free-agent deals, draft extremely well late, develop the role players they have and maximize their B-plus players to the point where they can flip them for A-plus players when the opportunity presents itself. Somehow and someway the Rockets and Raptors have found themselves with three top-10 players, when healthy, in the NBA.
Gathering superstars is the name of the game in the NBA, if you don’t have them you can’t win an NBA title. But you also need depth, you need guys you can trust to not kill you in five-minute stretches in the playoffs when your superstar is resting. You need your Trevor Ariza's, your Mbah A Moute’s, your VanVleet’s, your Siakim’s, you need those guys. Caboclo is not going to be a superstar at this point in his NBA career, but what if we could be a corner-three shooting, stretch-five playing pest for a couple of minutes a night for Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets this season?
Before he got traded to the Sacramento Kings for Malachi Richardson, Caboclo was on the floor for 107 minutes for the Raptors, which, checks notes, was 107 more minutes than Zhou Qi played for the Rockets last year, and he came away a plus/minus of plus-5.4 per 100 possessions. The best part? He was averaging 10.4 threes a game per 36 minutes in that very limited sample. The Rockets shoot a lot of threes, in case you didn’t know. Is it really crazy to think Caboclo could spend half the season with the Vipers in the G-League, launch a bunch of 3s, play 38 minutes a night, and be a fun, fringe wing in D’Antoni’s rotation come January? It’s not like Gerald Green, who just re-upped with the team, was expected to become a big-time contributor for his hometown team last season. Morey excels in finding guys like this. Joe Johnson is still on this roster, Michael Carter-Williams is somehow on this roster, a player named Markel Brown is on this roster, and if this Exhibit 10 deal works out Bruno Caboclo will be on this roster.
For the number of minutes spent watching those Caboclo highlights those years ago, to the Toronto fans chanting “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno” when he would get some time in garbage time every now and then on the main roster, for just the simple fact that Ujiri had to trade him to the Kings, I want Caboclo to stick on a team like Houston. If the Brazilian Kevin Durant isn’t going to ever actually become the Brazilian Kevin Durant, I’d settle for Brazilian Wesley Johnson. Keep him around, Morey. It could be fun. I have the very short YouTube clips to prove it.