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Sam Amick: Also, from the longest-of-longshots department: I’m told Houston will continue pursuing LeBron James until he makes a final decision. No known meeting, but – cap obstacles be darned – they have not waved the white flag on that front.
As was the case with Paul last summer when he forced his way out with the Clippers, it remains possible that James could opt in to his current deal and force a trade to a team like the Rockets by making it clear that he’ll opt out and leave in free agency if the Cavs don’t comply. And while Houston is considered a longshot to land James, that isn’t about to keep Rockets general manager/newly-named Executive of the Year Daryl Morey from trying. According to a person with knowledge of their situation, the Rockets are still all in on pursuing James – even if Harden made it clear that it was hardly a necessity. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Harden’s teammate Chris Paul is a close friend of James’. The “banana boat” group of Paul, James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony are called that because they vacationed together and were photographed on a banana boat. But Harden insists Paul isn’t pushing James with a recruiting pitch.
“Nahh,” Harden said. “Him and Chris are really tight. As a friend, him and Chris are really good friends. I don’t think they talk about him coming to Houston. I think they talk about basketball and if LeBron wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about coming your way,’ then that’s a discussion we can have. I don’t think they talk about it.”
Dwyane Wade said LeBron James‘ upcoming free-agency decision would be primarily about “lifestyle.” If so, that doesn’t bode well for the Rockets. Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal on ESPNLA: I heard this from his own lips when we were in Houston this season. He does not like Houston as a city. So, that would require him moving to a place that he’s not crazy about.
My best forecast at this juncture? Fixate on Chris Paul. If Paul stays with the Rockets, Houston becomes a dangerous player, no matter how complicated it would be for the 65-win Rockets and their general manager, Daryl Morey, to orchestrate the requisite salary-cap gymnastics to bring James in. But don’t discount the idea that James could try to bring Paul with him to a team that can afford two superstars, such as the Lakers, because he and Paul really are that close.
So, could LeBron really join the Rockets? Chris Haynes of ESPN on the TK Show: “Houston has been linked a lot… I’ve been told that that’s not a realistic option.”
Ira Winderman: Chris Bosh today, on LeBron. to Colin Cowherd: “I think he goes to Houston. It’s a star power league. It’s like the next Avengers movie.”
Jason McIntyre: He’ll have more help on the Lakers. Jared Dudley: Possibly.. my money is on @Daryl Morey
Rest assured that the Rockets’ understandably devastated Chris Paul — who made a fast exit from Toyota Center late Monday night after being forced to watch the biggest game of his life from the bench because of his hamstring injury — has already begun his recruitment of James to Houston.
Lee Jenkins: “I asked a couple people in Houston about it [LeBron James potentially joining the Rockets in free agency] and there was sort of a like a look of, ‘Why would we break this up right now?’ Because they know everything they would have to give up and the moves they would have [to make it feasible].”
I will continue to trumpet the belief that James would be making a huge mistake to leave the Eastern Conference that he has dominated for years by joining the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Lakers and potentially complicating his annual path to the championship round. But the Cavaliers suddenly look so rickety again that I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.
There’s been whispers, mostly on social media, about whether LeBron James would consider the Spurs because of the mutual respect between James and Popovich, now the coach of the USA men’s basketball team. But I’ve consistently heard from multiple league sources that LeBron currently has only four teams on his list: the Cavaliers, Lakers, Rockets, and 76ers.
But that bet didn’t make the Cavs the odds on favorite to have the King on their team next season. According to Bovada, the Houston Rockets are the favorites to sign LeBron James this summer and the Cavs have the second best odds. Houston Rockets 5/2. Cleveland Cavaliers 11/4. Los Angeles Lakers 5/1.
David Hardisty: NBA reporter @David Aldridge thinks @LeBron James will join the #Rockets this summer. “He’s very close w/ Chris Paul. It’s a team that is showing you they can compete w/ Golden State. [Houston] will be very aggressive this summer courting LeBron.”
Sam Amick on LeBron to Houston: “I wrote about [LeBron going to] Houston earlier this year and heard some really, really interesting stuff on that front, so I’m a little bit of a sucker for that idea. I know people say, ‘Don’t go West! Why would you get into the ring with the Warriors and the Spurs and this new-look Thunder team if they can figure it out?’ But, for one, the Rockets showed us just a few nights ago that they can beat the Warriors. They have his best friend Chris Paul. And I’m not trying to make too much of a friendship, but those guys would play wonderfully together along with James Harden, who I think is the MVP right now.
There’s reason to pay attention to the Houston connection. LeBron James and Chris Paul have been friends since high school, won two gold medals together and recently led the players’ union through CBA negotiations with Paul as president and James as VP. They are in position to be free agents at the same time for the first time in their careers next summer. However, league sources called the concept that James and Paul want to spend their golden years as teammates an overstated assumption.
While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.
As for how Houston could find a way to give max salary contracts starting at $35 million annually to both James (who has a player option worth $35.3 million for next season) and Paul (who will be a free agent) without the necessary cap space, Morey would indeed have to become a salary cap gymnast. The NBA salary cap is expected to be $101 million next season, and the Rockets are, well, capped out. But Morey is one of the league’s renowned risk takers, the kind of relentless executive who might already have hypothetical trades lined up for players like Ryan Anderson and others who would have to go for the Rockets to be able to sign one of the greatest players of all time in James. It’s also seen as possible that, like Kevin Durant did last summer with the Warriors, Paul could take less money to make James’ salary fit.
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July 3, 2022 | 11:25 pm EDT Update
If a trade is possible, would the leaders of the locker room welcome Durant? According to multiple sources, they would, for the same reason they embraced him in 2016. “I mean,” one source said, “it’s freaking Kevin Durant.” The Warriors superstars have been in conversations with Durant. In addition to catching up, the Hall of Fame-bound peers did entertain the idea of a reunion.
The Warriors could undoubtedly put together one of the best packages for a Durant trade. And for a front office known for unearthing every stone, they’d have to vet the chance to add Durant. With that said, according to multiple sources in the Warriors organization, a reunion is highly unlikely. Nothing about the last three years suggests the Warriors would be willing to pay the price for a KD return. That price is likely (and reportedly) an All-Star-caliber player, young talent and a heap of draft picks.
This isn’t a case where the Warriors stars are pressing the front office to go acquire Durant. Sources made it clear they are fine defending their title with Wiggins, Poole and the young players they’ve been grooming to win with them. But if the universe somehow sets it up so legends reunite, they’d be open to it.
David Hardisty: Woj says Brooklyn has “no traction” on a deal for KD or Kyrie. They’re being patient because they “don’t have to trade either”, though that’s not their ideal scenario. Nets trying to get the “biggest haul of assets that they can” and “there’s a lot more talks coming.”
Lionel Hollins, the long-time Memphis Grizzlies head coach through the Grit and Grind era, will join Rockets coaching staff six years after he and Stephen Silas sought to team up on the Houston bench a person with knowledge of the Rockets additions to the coaching staff said on Sunday.
The Rockets will also promote Mahmoud Abdelfattah after he led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the G League championship. Abdelfattah was a Vipers assistant coach in their 2018-19 G League championship season and was promoted to head coach the following season. Mike Batiste, a Wizards assistant who like Hollins played at Arizona State, will also join the Rockets staff.