Close your eyes...imagine the newest version of a superteam.
Now, that visualization may cause you to cringe or break out in unbridled joy, dependent on your perspective, but it appears the Houston Rockets are pursuing both Howard and Paul, based upon multiples sources of Jonathan Feigen and the Houston Chronicle.
That trio of NBA star power undoubtedly would catapult the Rockets into immediate 2014 title contenders. Feigen writes:
Howard has generated by far the most attention as a Rockets free-agent target, but the team plans a similar and simultaneous pursuit of Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, a person with knowledge of the Rockets’ thinking said. According to another individual familiar with the team’s plans, 'they are targets No. 1 and 1A.'
Not all superteams work, and Howard’s recent failures with the Los Angeles Lakers offers further proof of that. Still, the combination of talent out of those three would blend ideally.
Paul is the ultimate distributor, Harden is the prototypical scorer and Howard—even if his back-to-the-basket game doesn’t resemble that of Hakeem Olajuwon—is still regarded as one of the best centers in the league.
Could it happen?
As the Miami Heat proved in the summer of 2010, when they brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to add with Dwyane Wade, there are a variety of methods to structure salary to make it work under league rules.
If they signed with Houston, in their first years, Howard could be paid upward to $20.5 million while Paul would be paid $18.7 million, according to figures cited by Feigan. He added in his article:
But they have little concern that they would be able to offer a max contract. Trading Thomas Robinson, a 6-10 forward, is considered the most likely means to get enough cap room, but according to a person with knowledge of their plans, ‘there are about 20 other ways.’
It’s hard to imagine much risk being attached to long-term dollars for Howard, Paul or Harden. The team has room to operate with flexible salary figures tied to next season and beyond.
Houston will save dollars on the $926,500 team option of Chandler Parsons for next season, while Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are each owed $5.22 million next season. Here’s the current contract situation of the Rockets, according to HoopsHype.com:
And if it does happen...
Harden had a breakout season in his first year as a go-to superstar. It’s not as easy as saying, “ere are the keys to the franchise, go be a top-three scorer in the league.” With more opportunity comes more pressure and the greater focus of opposing defenses, but the 23-year-old Harden scored 25.9 points per game and added 5.8 assists this past season.
The addition of Chris Paul would only make Harden better, removing the ball from his hands but adding to his open looks both by the pass and the pure nature of an added threat on offense.
The third crucial superstar is arguably the league’s best big man, Dwight Howard. Despite the attacks of critics who wanted even more out of him, Howard averaged 17.1 points on 57.8 percent shooting, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in Los Angeles.
Howard is a game-changer defensively, and his presence in the Rockets’ interior alongside the strong defense of Asik would create an extremely gifted defensive duo in the paint. Paul’s ability to defend opposing point guards would create a gifted defensive team in Houston.
The Rockets’ depth would also be accounted for, however determining total salary figures might throw a wrench into all that. The emergence of both Asik and Parsons creates an immediate supporting cast for the three superstars, and the addition of Paul would move Lin to a sixth-man role.
The team’s depth at guard would deepen more if the team opted, or was able, to return Carlos Delfino. Returning Delfino wouldn't be a must, though, with the emergence in the postseason of Patrick Beverley and the ability to play Lin at the 2.
But of course maintaining depth and bringing in two huge contracts is not likely. The reality is that the Rockets would need to create a sign-and-trade that would probably mean the departing of either Asik, Parsons, Lin or all of them.
The bottom line
Houston's season was limited by inconsistency caused by the inexperience of a young team, yet still the Rockets pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder (given, without Russell Westbrook) to six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
The addition of Howard and Paul to the Southwest contender would obviously have a dramatic impact on the league. The Rockets would become an immediate powerhouse, with young superstar talent that could endure for many years.
Chemistry, of course, is always going to be a question mark, and blending personalities is never a sure thing. The fire of Paul is the right combination alongside a more apathetic Howard, so long as Paul handles things differently than the targeting styles of Kobe Bryant.
The younger Harden, however, has already proven capable of fitting into a multi-star situation.
Will it happen?
Of course, now we’re still talking about conjecture on whether or not the team is actually even gunning for the pair.
The other, bigger half of that is whether or not Howard and Paul are interested in joining Houston. Feigen's article reports that Howard has been open to signing a four-year deal—one less than the five years the Lakers could offer.
Feigen writes: "According to an individual with knowledge of Howard’s thinking, Howard has been interested in playing for Rockets coach Kevin McHale and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff, citing among other things McHale’s style and playing history as a Hall of Famer."
Additionally, this scenario with the Rockets appears to create a much greater chance of winning a title than wasting away in Bryant's sunset with a Lakers team in salary cap trouble.
As for Paul, there’s no knowledge of whether or not he is leaning toward the Clippers or exploring better situations. It certainly must look attractive on paper to both superstars.
If it happens, the Rockets become immediate NBA title contenders—something that neither Paul nor Howard can say if they stay in their respective situations in Los Angeles.