The Houston Rockets may or may not hit a home run this offseason, but one thing’s for sure: General manager Daryl Morey will at least hold the bat in his hands.
Negotiations will take place between the Rockets and this summer’s two most coveted available stars. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love will, at one point or another, have vivid images of themselves in Clutch City red. Anthony is a free agent who they can contact directly, while Love is a star forcing a trade—the Rockets will have to gauge his interest in Houston through more back-alley channels.
The question is: Which of the two is a better fit? This opens up a whole host of concerns for Houston. These begin with a size-up of who’s currently on board. Who’s essential to what the Rockets are doing, and who’s expendable?
Clearly, James Harden and Dwight Howard are all but untouchable. They’re the foundation for this title-seeking team, and shuffling around superstars is not in the Rockets’ interest—they’re only looking to add them.
Love is probably the only of the two targets who could potentially force the Rockets into even thinking about that. Since the Minnesota Timberwolves will still have him under contract for the next year if they want to, it’s going to take quite the purse to pull him away. Acquiring Anthony would also require a lot of roster change, but certainly less.
Especially since Minnesota GM Flip Saunders is holding his ground on the matter. "The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year,” Saunders said to ESPN. A player like Love just doesn’t go on the trading block very often, and the Rockets would likely have to give up some treasured assets to get him.
Fans could likely expect to say goodbye to team favorites Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley if a deal was made for Love. Both are enticing talents on extremely favorable contracts, and would be needed to grease the wheels and get a deal done. Not to mention the almost certain losses of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, to make room under the salary cap for another huge contract.
On this basis alone, Anthony is a more attractive target. The Rockets would only have to give up Asik and Lin—nothing else—to make room for him. Anthony is set to become an unrestricted free agent, so the Rockets can sign him outright if they simply free up the space.
On the court, however? Love is clearly the more dreamy fit. Anthony is second only to Kevin Durant at the invaluable task of scoring in the NBA, but the Rockets need that less than they need Love. The power forward’s incredible combination of rebounding, outlet passing and deep-shooting ability makes him an ideal, terrorizing fit in the Rockets’ pressing offensive sets. Love creates more opportunities while Anthony just capitalizes on them.
Love is also just 25 years old, and he could grow with Harden and Howard for years to come and form a potential dynasty in Houston. With Anthony in tow, the Rockets’ window for contention would be smaller. Although he’s aged gracefully, Anthony is about to be on the wrong end of 30.
Anthony is also, potentially, a little too similar to somebody already on the Rockets. From Bleacher Report's Mike Lee:
He has been labeled as a ball-dominator or ball-stopper throughout his career, meaning that ball movement tends to stop once the ball is in his hands. Likewise, he is also known as a volume shooter, meaning that he must take a large number of shots in order to score his points.
If you thought of James Harden while reading that quote, give yourself a prize. His isolation hero-balling arguably cost the Rockets a victory or two in their first-round playoff exit against the Portland Trailblazers this season. And, like Harden, Anthony is also unreliable as a defender on the perimeter.
Love, by contrast, is not exactly Bill Russell as a rim-protector. He might not even be Miles Plumlee. But he's certainly capable of at least replacing Terrence Jones as a defender, and he's never shared paint duties with anyone as outstanding as Howard. D12's prowess makes Love fairly hide-able within a good scheme.
Given the lofty price tag, Love may seem like the less attractive star. But if the Rockets can pull it off, he's clearly the better target.