The Houston Rockets are rumored to be on LeBron James‘ short list of places he’s willing to play next season.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey is aggressive, wants badly to bring a title to Houston, has an owner willing to spend to chase that goal, and most people around the league expect he’ll take a swing at landing LeBron this summer in free agency.
But will they really? It would take a radical shakeup of the current roster to make it happen and, according to the impeccably sourced Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated on the Open Court Podcast, the Rockets may not be up for that.
“I asked a couple people in Houston about it, and there was sort of a look of, ‘Why would we break this up right now?’
“Because they know everything they would have to give up. They know how many moves they would have to make. And would they be able to preserve the same level of shooting, the same level of defense? And this is people inside the organization. How much would they have to sacrifice of what they built as far as the way they play? Would they’d have to play significantly differently?”
The Rockets won a league-best 65 games, have the future MVP in James Harden, a top-10 NBA defense, and are one of two teams most likely to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy come June (despite their recent Game 2 loss). They are title contenders now, they should ask, “do we need to do this?” Bringing in the force of nature that is LeBron means three guys who are best with the ball in their hands and need to learn how to share it. Plus, off the court, LeBron brings his own culture and style to the team. He’s one of the all-time greats and still performing at his peak, but it’s fair to ask if this really works for Houston.
How and when their season ends could have a big say in how hard they push to get LeBron.
Just the logistics of signing him are complicated.
Signing LeBron outright as a free agent would require a lot — remember, the Rockets have to re-sign Chris Paul this summer, too. That’s two max contracts next to Harden’s new deal. To make this work, the Rockets would need to trade Ryan Anderson (and no team is taking on his $42 million over two years without multiple sweeteners of first round picks and young players), P.J. Tucker and Nene, all without taking any salary back, plus let Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Tarik Black just walk as free agents. Even that might not be enough, there would need to be other deals to clear cap space or both LeBron and Paul need to agree to discounts. Good luck with that.
At that point, the roster is gutted, and does LeBron want to come to a team devoid of quality role players? That dance would seem far too familiar for him.
The way it would work best is to get LeBron to follow the path CP3 did a summer ago — tell the Cavaliers he’s gone, but he wants to opt into the final year of his contract and be traded to the Rockets. That way the Cavaliers will get something back — probably Anderson’s deal, but they likely demand Eric Gordon, other players, and multiple picks (or something akin to that deal). Plus the Rockets may not have the money after that to bring back Mbah a Moute or others. For the Cavaliers, they at least get something back rather than having LeBron walk out the door for nothing. To make this option work the Rockets need to convince LeBron to take a discount (something he said he would not do), then work out a deal the Cavaliers will accept, and then be good with losing all the depth that comes with this.
If LeBron wants to go to the Rockets, Morey and Houston will figure out how to make it work.
But it’s understandable if some within the organization don’t think it’s a good idea.