While waiting for their March 16 showdown with the Miami Heat, the Rockets are sitting pretty at 44-21. They've moved up to No. 4 in the Western Conference standings, and they're within sniffing distance of earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
It's unlikely, but it remains mathematically possible.
Even more importantly, they've consistently taken down the NBA's top dogs, showing absolutely no fear when matched up against the best the league has to offer. Of course, there are some aberrations, but it's still a notable trend.
Nonetheless, the rumors just keep coming, just as they always have with general manager Daryl Morey in charge.
Houston isn't content with only two superstars in the lineup. Above all else, a superteam still seems to be desired.
Daryl Morey Will Always Love Stars
Every general manager loves chasing after star players. They're the top currency in the NBA, and it's remarkably difficult to win a title without a true star on the roster.
However, Morey takes that to an extreme.
Before James Harden was on the squad, everything was built around turning assets into a superstar. Morey stockpiled young players and draft picks, all with the intention of trading them for the right player, much as Ryan McDonough is currently doing with the Phoenix Suns.
Sure enough, the Oklahoma City Thunder made the bearded 2-guard available, and Morey pounced. Harden and a bunch of irrelevant players—Lazar Hayward, Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook—were dealt to Houston for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, a 2013 first-round pick that became Steven Adams and future picks in both rounds.
Essentially, he turned a collection of lesser pieces into one really big one.
The Rockets immediately turned into a playoff squad, but Morey wasn't done.
He heavily recruited Dwight Howard the next offseason, and with the aid of Slim Thug, it was completely successful. That made two parts of a Big Three, and that's still the number of star pieces possessed by the Rockets organization.
But is Morey done now?
It's hard to believe he is, especially after a Sports Illustrated piece by Ian Thomsen featured a telling quote from the GM:
We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team. And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don't have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that—or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.
Morey did say he believes Chandler Parsons could be that third wheel, but he also revealed that the swingman has nights when he fails to show up at the level that's necessary.
Now this came back in January, well before the Rockets became one of the hottest teams in basketball and firmly asserted themselves as one of the league's leading contenders. Since Thomsen published his article, Houston has posted a scorching 18-7 record, one that includes plenty of victories over the NBA elite.
Has Morey's viewpoint changed since then? Not if you look at some of the rumors that have popped up throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
Rumors about Big Names
During the season, multiple rumors that revolve around the Rockets and a star player have popped up.
We've seen CBS Sports' Ken Berger dish out about the potential of Morey bringing in Deron Williams, though he admitted it was a "farfetched if not impossible" move. Rajon Rondo was another leading rumor, this time courtesy of ESPN's Marc Stein.
Obviously, neither came to fruition. But isn't it telling that the Rockets just can't seem to stop ending up in the rumor mill when it comes to star players?
I have this funny feeling that Morey could somehow acquire LeBron James to fill out his Big Three, then still be malcontent until he'd added yet another superstar and ushered in a new Big Four trend for the NBA to follow.
Oh, and the rumors aren't done. Now they just revolve around Carmelo Anthony, who has the ability to opt out of his contract with the New York Knicks at the end of the season and hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.
That's coming from Marc Berman of the New York Post, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Quite frankly, you should only be shocked if Morey chooses not to get involved with an available star player.
A creative sign-and-trade would be difficult to make in general, much less with the Knicks. Phil Jackson's presence in the front office changes things, but it's hard to see James Dolan signing off on any move that guarantee's 'Melo's departure from Madison Square Garden.
B/R's Jim Cavan does detail one way in which this could actually come to fruition, though:
Sure, the Rockets could engage the Knicks about a possible sign-and-trade, as Berman notes, but unless they’re willing to part with serious assets—Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas, just for starters—it seems unlikely that the Knicks will pull the trigger.
Unless, of course, Melo makes it clear, either explicitly or implicitly, that he’s willing to leave $29 million on the table and bolt from Manhattan for good.
The point isn't the likelihood of the deal, though. Only the Rockets' desire for that third piece matters.
So long as the rumors of interest are valid, it's abundantly clear that Houston isn't done building a superteam. That said, doing so while keeping Parsons and Patrick Beverley on the roster would be highly improbable.
Houston has displayed nothing but stubborn insistence when it comes to those two standouts, each of whom will be restricted free agents in the next two years. Parsons' ridiculously valuable contract expires this summer, and Beverley's does the same in 2015.
Both seem to be integral parts of the future plan, which makes the superteam blueprint tougher to follow. And that's especially true if Houston is able to surge into the NBA Finals and emerge with the Larry O'Brien Trophy, something that would be held up by only two superstars.
But nonetheless, the blueprint remains a driving force for Morey, and thus for the rest of the Houston organization.
While he's running the show and directing any and all personnel changes, it always will.
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