My views on super teams, especially when it concerns the Houston Rockets, have changed greatly throughout the past few years. It started with excitement when the team acquired Dwight Howard, before turning to skepticism when that experiment didn't work out.
I was so confident that a super team with James Harden wouldn't work that I wrote a boneheaded article about how the Rockets should trade him. Granted, this was when the team got the eighth seed, so cut some slack on me.
Afterwards, the Rockets lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs this past postseason. I figured the team needed another leader and thought Chris Paul would be a good fit. After the trade for CP3, my feelings toward Carmelo Anthony constantly changed. I went from hating the idea to being a full supporter.
This super long introduction is just to show that my opinion on adding another superstar today may not be the same as tomorrow. This even applies for the greatest player alive, LeBron James. Yep, you read right. Even with a player like this, who is competing for an MVP in his 15th season.
The Rockets, constantly pursuing the best of the best, believe they can convince the King to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join them. They aren't the only suitors, as the Los Angeles Lakers believe they can rejoin relevancy by signing him (no need to tell me that the Rockets just lost to them and that I can't insult them, I'm going to do what I want). He will undoubtedly attract other teams as well if he intends on ditching his home state once again.
Is it a smart move? Responses have been as mixed as audience reviews for the newest Star Wars movie. Some say that it combining the three best ball distributors at their positions in Mike D'Antoni's offense will lead to an unstoppable offense. Others argue that the Rockets will lose so many role players in order to create enough cap space to pursue James that they will lack the necessary depth to last in the playoffs. Also imagine if all of those moves are made and the team doesn't end up with James.
There are a lot of different variables involved that the team will no doubt look at this offseason. Here's a look at the factors that I can at least think about that will determine their approach as well as predict how the Rockets would fare if he donned the red and white.
Despite how entertaining it is, it's important to remember that the NBA is first and foremost a business. Players want to make a whole lot of money and owners need to figure out how to divide their spending to deliver the best team they can, all in order to gain more revenue from ticket sales, sponsors, etc.
Also remember that James wouldn't be the only player receiving an ew contract next offseason. A big factor in the Rockets' recruitment of James is that they also have one of his best friends, Paul, and that they will keep him long term. His contract expires after this season, so they will have to resign the floor general as well.
The only way that the Rockets can afford both as well as retain a solid amount of their role players is through a trade. However, it's unclear if they can even offer enough to convince the Cavs to part ways with the best player on Earth a second time. A deal would have to involve Clint Capela, as he is a young player that's steadily improving as well as a bevy of picks. In all honesty, even that, as well as a couple of their role players, wouldn't be good enough to get James, as all of those picks would surely be late.
The only legit option left is James opting out of his contract and signing with the Rockets. To afford him, the team would somehow have to get rid of a whole lot of their team without getting much money in return. People like Ryan Anderson, Luc Mbah a Moute, and P.J. Tucker will surely be gone. Either Eric Gordon or Capela might also be dealt away in order to at least keep some depth on the roster.
If the team is adamant on keeping Gordon and Capela, then they will have around $47 million to split between Paul and James. The two friends will likely take some discount to play together, but it's unclear exactly how much. $47 million definitely seems like too little between the two stars.
Owner Tilman Fertitta has stated that he is willing to go into the luxury tax to sign James, but that won't lead to much of a difference. The team would more than likely gouge their roster to afford James, and many say that it isn't worth it. I would argue otherwise. It is a huge risk, but it can work, and the Golden State Warriors are proof.
The team's depth will come from solid veterans who are willing to take enormous pay cuts in order to compete for a ring before they retire. That's how the Warriors have survived. The Rockets are in even better position because Paul is already playing point when the bench is on the court. Adding James to that means that D'Antoni can have at least one, if not two, of the best ball distributors on the court at all times. Add a great pick and roll big in the mix in Capela and you get a team that can easily compete, if not defeat, the Warriors.
This year's performance
Say the Rockets defy all odds and win the championship in somewhat easy fashion. Do you gut the roster? Probably not, although with Daryl Morey, you never know what's going to happen.
Now take into consideration that the team suffers an early exit at the hands of the Spurs once again. A general manager like Morey will almost certainly do anything in his power to bring in James.
This is trying to show that what happens this season will determine what will happen in the offseason. Getting rid of most of a championship team for a player that may not even come to Houston is such a risky move that even Morey may decide against it. However, he would not have the same mindset if the team didn't perform to expectations.
Will James fit on the team?
Finally, what everyone is arguing about, would James actually be good on the team? There were concerns that Paul and Harden couldn't coexist. They disproved those, but adding James to the equation complicates things even more. It's easier to feed two mouths than three. It's a lot easier to hurt a player's ego if you turn to another one in clutch situations when the other feels like he should get the ball. The situation will become even more delicate.
I argue that, even after taking into account all of these variables, James would still fit. Him and Paul have always wanted to play together. They are also adding another great passer, meaning even more selfless ball movement.
The main concern would be Harden. He is still the go to player now, even with Paul on the roster. That might change if James joins the team. What helps is that their offensive games are somewhat different. Harden has got a nice three point shot, as evidenced with 39.7% three point percentage. On the other hand, James is leading the league in field goal percentage around the rim.
Therefore, the go to player can depend on the situation. Need a three? Harden can make one of those, five through the leg dribbles, quick step back, three that he loves taking and is finally converting this season. Need a quick two and something to energize the team? James can use his insane athleticism to bulldoze his way into the lane and slam down a thunderous dunk. They can become a two-headed monster the likes of which no team in history has ever seen.
There is always a risk when a team gets rid of some of their players to add a star. There was risk when the Rockets made the CP3 trade, and it worked out. There was risk when the Rockets made the Harden trade, and it worked out. In fact, the only move that Morey has made that hasn't worked out is adding Howard. If he were to sign James, I believe that it, too, would work out.