The Thunder obviously want to re-sign Kevin Durant. The Wizards are reportedly a “legitimate threat” to sign him. The Lakers and Knicks have been linked to the superstar. The Warriors might take a run at him. Drake even has the Raptors making a play.
Some other NBA teams will see that competition and – barring Durant suddenly making eyes at them – not bother trying to sign him. Of course, they’d want Durant. But they’d prefer to focus on other needs rather than chase a hopeless longshot.
That doesn’t apply to the Rockets.
know this for certain in early November, with the still-figuring-it-out Rockets stuck at 1-3 and 78 regular-season games remaining before they can even reach another playoff test: Durant to Houston is already at the top of the dream board.
The Rockets want him, but of course they can’t say it. But you know they will do everything they reasonably can to land the six-time All-Star, 2013-14 MVP and former Longhorns great.
Define “reasonably can.” The Rockets aren’t slated to have enough cap room for Durant, but they can get there. The question becomes what chances they’ll take without an assurance from Durant.
The simplest way for Houston to clear major space is waiving Ty Lawson, whose 2016-17 salary is fully unguaranteed. But there are a couple major catches. The Rockets must decide on Lawson before free agency begins, so they’ll be shooting somewhat blind. Plus, Lawson might be a selling point to Durant.
Houston could also clear cap room by trading Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Patrick Beverley and/or K.J. McDaniels. Beverley is less necessary if Lawson stays. Those wings would matter less if Durant signs.
It has seemingly become trendy for teams to clear cap space for a major free agent before knowing he’ll sign. It can be seen as a sign of preemptive commitment, pressuring the player to return the favor. The Spurs (Tiago Splitter) and Suns (Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock) dumped positive assets to chase LaMarcus Aldridge last summer, but only San Antonio got him. The offseason prior, the Rockets themselves traded Omer Asik (though they got a nice a draft pick in return) and Jeremy Lin to chase LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh – none of whom wound up in Houston.
The Rockets definitely want Durant. Everyone does. But the degree of their desire will dictate their summer. Would they waive Lawson before even meeting with Durant? Would they trade Ariza, Brewer, Beverley and/or McDaniels without a commitment from Durant?
It’s easy to say every team wants Durant, but it’s much more difficult to assess what steps teams will take to get him. The Rockets have a quality team, Durant’s friend James Harden and proximity to Durant’s alma mater of Texas. But they don’t have cap space – yet, at least.
How far will they go to clear it?