The Houston Rockets are close.
After years of acquiring assets and waiting patiently for the right moment to pounce, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey struck at the right time by acquiring James Harden. By wisely maintaining cap flexibility (and making a few moves to create even more), the Rockets were then able to acquire Dwight Howard.
Both moves were brilliant, and both were born from diligent planning and an opportunistic approach. If Harden was willing to accept less money, or if the Oklahoma City Thunder would have amnestied Kendrick Perkins or just paid the luxury tax, the Rockets probably don't get Harden. If Dwight Howard isn't injured, or if Mike D'Antoni isn't hired, maybe he's still in Los Angeles.
Morey certainly did his work, but he needed the right windows to open up.
It's clear now that the Rockets have their franchise building blocks in place and some nice pieces around those players. Still, it doesn't feel like this is a team that's close to its final form just yet.
There are assets ready to trade. There is cap space that could be created. There is a player issuing trade demands. There are always moves to be made.
But does Morey have one more huge trade left in him, and is now the right time to make it?
There are differing opinions on what Houston needs in order to take that next step and become a championship favorite.
Some say that the addition of a stretch 4 will unlock the offensive potential of this group and make it borderline unstoppable on that end. Others contend that a better individual defender (who doesn't sacrifice space on the offensive side) would be a more logical fit.
While the main need seems to be a legitimate power forward, Jeremy Lin's hot start to the season still hasn't cooled the chatter that Houston should look to acquire a star point guard, as well.
Houston can go in a few different directions in terms of which position to target. But what kind of players are available out there?
Since there is a lack of teams who need a starting point guard in the league, let's focus on the potential haul for Omer Asik rather than Jeremy Lin.
You're probably familiar with the names being thrown out in a deal for Asik. New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson seems to make sense, as does Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. Paul Millsap is a little less stretchy than those two, but he's a very solid all-around player.
A trade with the Dallas Mavericks for Shawn Marion could be very interesting, both for what Marion could do in an uptempo system as a small-ball 4 and for his expiring deal. Thaddeus Young is another player who might be available, and Morey's relationship with Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie may grease the wheels for any such transaction.
While all of these players are very talented, the Rockets may balk at including young assets, draft picks or taking on future salary in an exchange for a player who may not push them completely over the top.
While Asik needs to be dealt, this doesn't have to be Houston's "all-in" moment, particularly because there is a lack of game-changing players available for trade right now.
Acquiring any of the aforementioned players would provide the Rockets with a better fit and a better shot at winning a championship, but Marion feels like the best fit of the bunch. It's highly unlikely Houston would have to part with additional assets to get him, and his expiring deal would the keep door open for a bigger move down the line.
Maintaining assets, cap space and patience has worked out just fine in the past, so ruling out players with long-term deals like Anderson and Young perhaps would be the wise thing to do in any potential Asik trade. The Rockets can still be a title contender with a slightly lesser return for Asik, who is giving them almost nothing right now, so trading for Anderson or Young becomes more about what opportunities the Rockets would miss rather than gain.
If Portland begins to struggle, or if Aldridge believes the team's potential is capped, Houston should want to maintain the ability to acquire Aldridge in a trade or have the space to offer him a deal in free agency after the 2014-15 season.
The same goes for Chris Bosh. While the Miami Heat aren't moving him this season, we have no way of telling what the Big Three will decide to do this offseason. Houston shouldn't shut the door on Bosh returning to his home state of Texas.
And what about Rajon Rondo? The fit is shaky, and Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has said Rondo isn't going anywhere, but that could change in the near future.
Kevin Love in Minnesota is another example. Everything looks rosy now, but there are no guarantees that Love is going to stick around there.
Point being, the true stars that would make Houston the next "super team" probably aren't available right now, but that likely will change with time.
And realistically, time is on Houston's side. Harden and Howard are locked up. Chandler Parsons could throw a wrench into things, but Houston has the choice on whether to decline his team option and make him a restricted free agent after this season. Of course, the alternative is to let Parsons play out his contract next year and allow him to hit unrestricted free agency.
The objectives for Morey have changed a bit now that he has his superstars in place, but dealing Asik or Lin is just another in a long line of chess moves.
Even if it's a lateral move or a slight step back, every decision is about cornering the crown. If that means making a few concessions along the way and waiting for the perfect opportunity, then so be it.
What's the ultimate end-move for Houston to make? Depending on what happens over the course of this season, going hard after Aldridge seems like the best fit. With Aldridge's mid-range shooting ability, mobility and size, he'd be a perfect pick-and-pop partner for Harden and a space-clearer in the paint for Howard.
Bosh can provide a similar fit, but he seems more likely to stay in Miami than Aldridge is to stay in Portland. Meanwhile, both Love and Rondo need to be the trigger points of an offense and don't make as much sense, even if their talent levels are tremendous.
While it's possible that the Rockets find the perfect fit in a deal for Asik or Lin and don't need to aim for the stars in order to become a championship team, no one knows better than Morey that it's always a good idea to keep the window open just in case.