Are Houston Rockets Perfect Dark-Horse Destination for Carmelo Anthony?

D.J. FosterContributor IMarch 17, 2014

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 12: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks smliles during the game against the Boston Celtics on March 12, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony going to the Houston Rockets this offseason may seem like an unrealistic scenario, but that's not the case.

That's not to say it would be easy by any stretch of the imagination. First and foremost, it's important to understand that the Rockets, barring other big moves, won't have the cap space to sign Anthony outright.

With a projected salary cap of $62.1 million next year, HoopsHype indicates that the Rockets should have roughly $72 million on the books for 2014-15, and that's assuming that Chandler Parsons' team option gets picked up instead of declined.

Either way, that's not even close to enough space.

That doesn't rule the Rockets out of the race for Anthony, though, as Marc Berman of the New York Post explains:

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for 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.

When there's a will, there's a way. If Anthony decides Houston is the right place for him and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sees him as the third and final big piece for a championship team for years to come, a sign-and-trade deal could happen.

It would have to start with Anthony expressing firmly that he won't be coming back to New York under any circumstances.

That may be tough to imagine, since it seems like there have been positive strides made in the front office with the hiring of Phil Jackson, but perhaps that won't be enough to entice Anthony to stay over heading elsewhere.

Here's what Anthony recently told reporters about Jackson's hire:

I don’t think it’ll have any effect on me, just as far as what I’m thinking or my decision or anything like that. Like I said, I haven’t talked to Phil yet — just to get his insight on a lot of things, what’s his plan, what’s his future plan.

While a lot can change in a few months, the Knicks would likely take whatever future assets they could get if Anthony ultimately did decide to leave New York. Better to get something instead of nothing.

Because Houston is armed with young players (Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones), sizable expiring deals (Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin) and draft picks, New York certainly wouldn't leave empty-handed in a sign-and-trade deal for Anthony.

That's particularly true if the plan is to sell some tickets with a guy like Lin and clear cap for the 2015 offseason to be the host to the next great superstar meetup. 

Again, though, Anthony holds the cards. The Knicks can refuse to sign-and-trade him in a deal, of course, but that would seem to be an awfully risky bluff since Anthony can just sign outright elsewhere.

Would Anthony view Houston as a better landing spot than New York, though? That's the big question, and it likely depends on where his priorities lie. 

If Anthony wants to make the most money, signing with New York is the best way to accomplish that. Here's more on that from Ian Begley of

It also makes financial sense for Anthony to remain in New York. If he chooses to opt out and sign with another team, he can sign a four-year contract worth $95,897,372, according to calculations by ESPN salary cap guru Larry Coon. If Anthony opts out and re-signs with the Knicks, he can sign a five-year contract worth $129,135,806. That's a difference of $33,238,434. 

Of course, Anthony can have his cake and eat it too in a sign-and-trade dealwhich would keep him at a max salary and land him in a new locationso long as the acquiring team were below the tax apron ($4 million over the tax line), which Houston would be.

In that scenario, however, it's important to note that Anthony could only sign for four years instead of five. Perhaps that's not a big deal with players wanting flexibility on the back end of their deals, and at least if he were to go to Houston, some of that loss would be mitigated by there being no income tax in the state of Texas.

If winning is most important, Houston would seem to offer the best chance out of any potential suitors as well.

The Rockets are already a scary contender with James Harden and Dwight Howard on board, and the cupboard going forward isn't bare by any means. If Anthony wants to team with other stars and find a franchise with smart management, Houston checks all those boxes.

Anthony would certainly have to make some concessions, though, particularly when it comes to his own shot attempts.

Anthony, Howard and Harden's usage rates this season add up to 79.5, which basically means that no one else would have the chance to ever touch the ball.

Sharing the spotlight or a small market with other stars may be one thing, but sharing the ball to that likely extent would be something we've never really seen Anthony do. Even in Olympic play, Anthony is typically one of the most assertive and aggressive scorers on the floor. At this point, we know who he is.

Having too many talented offensive players isn't the worst problem, of course, but Anthony would likely have to transition more to a spot-up shooting threat than an isolation player who has the offense revolve entirely around him.

That might not be the most appealing free-agency pitch, particularly since Anthony has proven he's plenty capable of carrying an elite offense all on his own.

It's the defensive end where he needs his supporting cast most. Howard will certainly help in that regard, but Harden is probably a worse defender than Anthony is.

Of course, we've seen how this usually goes throughout the years with most Big Three groupings. At the end of the day, elite talent almost always wins out over everything else and all the concerns leading up to things wash away rather quickly.

Anthony isn't a perfect fit on the court in Houston with its talent and scheme, but it's hard to imagine that this trio wouldn't just overwhelm teams in the end. Insinuating that it can't work would be foolish.

With all that in mind, Houston should probably be considered one of the favorites to land Anthony, even if trading for such a massive salary will require a lot of salary juggling on both sides. It's hard to ignore that Houston has the pieces to make it happen, though.

No matter what route Anthony chooses, ultimately he'll have to make some sacrifices this upcoming offseason.

If he stays in New York, he'll likely be burning a year of his prime waiting for the contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani to come off the books. He might also be teaming up with someone (Knicks owner James Dolan) who will sabotage his best chances at winning at a title.

If he signs as a free agent with anyone but New York, he'll be passing up huge money and the biggest media market, a place where he's loved and viewed as the city's biggest star. 

If he goes to Houston, he'll almost certainly lose touches and some of the individual spotlight he's had throughout his career.

It's hard to say what Anthony is most willing to part with, but he certainly won't be without options. At this stage in the game, Houston looks like one of the best available.