LeBron James will have no shortage of suitors should he choose to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. How many of those teams have a realistic shot to lure James away from Miami remains to be seen, but at least one, the Houston Rockets, are reportedly preparing to make a strong attempt to land James, according to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. Marc Stein reports Houston has stayed out of the Kevin Love mix, instead focusing on Carmelo Anthony and James.
If James does opt out, the Rockets would arguably be the most attractive suitor, and a potential move to Houston could cause a significant power shift in the league and make the Rockets favorites to win the 2014 NBA title.
Why this makes sense
General manager Daryl Morey is trying to build a championship contender in Houston. What's the easiest way to take the next step in a competitive Western Conference? Add the best player in the world. It should come as no surprise that the Rockets will attempt to make a strong push to sign James. If he hits the free agent market, teams will line up around the corner waiting their turn to make their pitch, just like they did the last time around.
NBA Free Agency
NBA Free Agency
Morey has built his roster in a way that allows him to make runs for superstar players. He did it when he traded for James Harden and again when the Rockets signed Dwight Howard in free agency last year. Houston has long been rumored to be preparing another run at a star this offseason. While many of the reports have linked the team to Anthony, that's likely because most didn't expect James to consider opting out. Those rumors have picked up steam following Miami's loss in the NBA Finals.
The Rockets have a lot to sell as a free agent suitor. Adding James to Harden and Howard would give Houston a big three of its own and arguably a better one than James joined when he signed with Miami. Add in Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley and the Rockets would have the best starting five in the league.
Why this doesn't make sense
The only likely reasons Houston wouldn't be interested in James would be if its pursuit of him caused the team to miss out on other top free agents, like Anthony, or if the Rockets were unable to clear the necessary cap space. The first scenario seems unlikely because if James opts out, the free agent market will adjust to his move. Deals and pursuits of other players might be put on hold until teams with cap space know they are out of the running. Would Anthony, or another top target, spurn the Rockets and the idea of joining Harden and Howard just because they approached James first? Doubtful.
Clearing the necessary cap space could be more of a roadblock to Houston's potential pursuit of James, but a manageable one. In order to make a move, Houston would need to trade Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Both players are entering the final year of their contract and will count nearly $17 million against the cap next season. While the remaining year of their deals -- and the $15 million balloon payments each is owed -- isn't ideal, the Rockets are "confident" they can trade both players without taking on salary, according to Beck. Doing so would nearly clear all the required cap space and waiving a couple non-guaranteed contracts would take care of the rest.
That is assuming the Rockets find trade partners. Teams may not be lining up to help Houston build a proverbial super team.
The likelihood the Rockets are interested in James? That is an easy 10 out of 10, as they and every other team in the NBA would do all they could to add James. The likelihood they are able to pull it off is significantly lower. Houston does have a lot to offer with a talented roster and likely could create the salary cap space needed. As Beck noted, Texas does not have a state income tax, giving the Rockets the same selling point as the Heat.
Still, no one is even sure James will opt out. According to Beck, one NBA executive estimates a 40 percent chance that James leaves Miami. If that's true, the Rockets' likelihood of landing James is somewhere around a 2 out of 10. They would certainly be one of the most attractive suitors, especially if on-court decisions play the biggest role.