Report: Rockets planning all-out push for LeBron James

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Bill Simmons’ quasi-reported the Rockets would pursue LeBron James if he terminates his contract with the Heat.

Now, LeBron joining Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston is gaining momentum – and credibility?

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

There are rumblings that James will start weighing his options this weekend. One rival executive pegged his chances of leaving Miami at 40 percent.

Beck lists a four-point plan he says would give Houston about $19 million in cap room

  • Trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – who are each owed nearly $15 million in actual salary next season – without returning salary
  • Trade Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan without returning salary
  • Waive a few players with non-guaranteed deals
  • Decline team option Chandler Parsons and re-sign him as a restricted free agent after LeBron signs

The Rockets say they can deal Asik and Lin without taking back salary, so we’ll take their word on that for now.

Motiejunas and Canaan are good enough and cheap enough that someone would probably take them if offered.

As far as the non-guaranteed deals, Beck is presumably referring to Omri Casspi, Robert Covington and Troy Daniels (who actually has a team option, which requires a decision by June 30, meaning Houston would have to drop him before ever legally speaking to LeBron). Patrick Beverley also has a non-guaranteed contract, but Beck names him a starter alongside LeBron in this scenario, so he obviously wouldn’t get waived.

Declining Parsons’ team option would actually increase the amount he counts against the cap, and he could always get impatient and sign an offer sheet elsewhere before Houston signs LeBron. But apparently that’s the plan, so I’m just rolling with the report.

Do all that, and the Rockets would be $17,265,007 below the projected salary cap – not the $19 million Beck says.

Signing into the cap space Beck’s plan would actually create would cost LeBron more than $14 million over four years relative to what he could get in a max deal with any team outside Miami. It would also be $45 million less than he could get on a five-year max deal by re-signing with the Heat.

By comparison, LeBron gave up less than $14 million below his max deal when signing with the Heat in 2010 – and loss was spread over six years rather than four.

Back then, he organized a sign-and-trade to get a higher salary, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Whether or not the Rockets land LeBron in a sign-and-trade or an outright signing, they can offer him the same salary.

LeBron might take a pay cut to join Houston, but let’s not pretend it’s a trivial reduction.

The Rockets could create more cap room by convincing Francisco Garcia to opt out or trade him if he doesn’t (Beck doesn’t mention him). They could also waive or trade Beverly and/or Terrence Jones, another player Beck names as holding role in Houston.

Picking up Parsons’ team option would also add cap room, but good luck walking back the offer to give Parsons a raise this year rather than next year. In the name of LeBron, it’s probably worth upsetting Parsons, but that’s just one of many complications.

Mainly, LeBron probably wants to stay with the Heat.

But at the same time, he and the Rockets can use each other.

LeBron can show interest in Houston to persuade Micky Arison to spend more. The Rockets can parlay LeBron’s intrigue into a perception Houston is a desirable markets for superstars. Howard and Harden help, but LeBron carries more weight than anyone.

Heck, the Rockets don’t even need LeBron to actually show interest. Reports like Beck’s already help establish their credibility.

As for Bosh and Melo, are they just supposed to wait while LeBron talks to Houston?

Bosh faces the same salary situation as LeBron. Plus, if LeBron rejects the Rockets to re-sign in Miami, Bosh very likely follows him back.

And I’ll say it until I’m red in the face, unless the cap comes in higher than projected, the Rockets could trim their roster to just Howard and Harden and still couldn’t offer Melo a max contract. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s a roadblock.

There are a lot of roadblock in this whole plan.

Daryl Morey has big ambitions, which is good for the Rockets. But we need to acknowledge this one is pretty unlikely to come to fruition.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell both make return from injury tonight

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Let’s try something different: How about some good injury news for a change?

Going through the roughest part of their schedule without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West. The good news is Gobert is back starting Friday night.

The Brooklyn Nets took on a lot of salary (hello Timofey Mozgov) to get ahold of and see if they could develop D'Angelo Russell into their point guard of the future. However, he has been out since Nov. 12 and had to get his knee scoped to solve some issues. Now he is back as of Friday against Miami, and the Nets will again be able to get a look at him (as he heads into restricted free agency).

Neither of these returns are turning these teams into playoff teams, but they do help.

Brooklyn is not about the playoffs this season, but their gritty performances this season have picked up enough wins to frustrate Cavaliers fans (the Cavs have their pick in this draft). The Jazz are not completely out of the playoffs, but they are five games back in a deep Western conference and that will be hard to make up without some help. Getting Gobert back at least gives the Jazz a chance, and it’s an opportunity for Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell to start to develop some chemistry.

Report: Cavaliers interested in George Hill trade with Kings

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When the Sacramento Kings made the much-maligned move to sign three veterans this summer to healthy contracts — George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter — there were three reasons for it. Two the Kings were very public about: They wanted mentors for the 10 young players on their roster, and they had to get up to the salary floor anyway.

The third, less discussed reason is those guys might make decent trade chips. Especially as the Kings move toward playing their youth more (as they should).

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are stumbling through the East right now and have reached out to the Kings about a potential trade for Hill, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

In an effort to bolster their backcourt situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expressing interest in a trade for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland has emerged as an interested suitor, with the Cavaliers pursuing Hill to potentially slide into a dual-guard role, starting at either backcourt position or playing as a reserve, league sources said.

The Cavaliers are starting Isaiah Thomas at the point, with the assumption that he will find his groove as his conditioning improves and he gets used to playing next to LeBron James, however, they have had issues at the two spot. J.R. Smith starts there now with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver (both really more threes) behind him, but with Iman Shumpert out due to a foot injury the Cavaliers could use backcourt depth.

George Hill appears to have taken a step back this season, but he is still a solid guard who can shoot the three (45 percent this season) and be a good floor general. He could be a better backup point guard than Derrick Rose. Hill is not a season changer for Cleveland, but he would give them some solid depth and versatility.

The problem is money — Hill signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. The Kings might be open to a Hill for Tristan Thompson and a second rounder deal (no way Hill earns a first, even a Cavs late one).

Consider it something to watch. The Cavaliers have to get better at the trade deadline, although they have no plans to move the Brooklyn Nets pick. The Kings are open to the idea of a trade. It’s a first step.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.