All the Houston Rockets need is Love.
And maybe a little bit of Luck—but he's in Indianapolis and unlikely to jump sports.
General manager Daryl Morey and the Rockets once again have big offseason plans—plans that should lead them to Kevin Love.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Houston will decline Chandler Parsons' team option, making him a restricted free agent and, more incredibly, putting them in position to go buck wild this summer:
Houston plans to pursue the major stars who could be available upon opting out of deals, including Miami's LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and New York's Carmelo Anthony, league sources said. Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki is expected to be a target too.
The Rockets are pursuing Minnesota's Kevin Love in trade talks too, and Parsons could hold sign-and-trade possibilities.
Allowing Parsons to reach restricted free agency isn't an offseason tell-all, but it does increase the Rockets' flexibility and subsequent capacity to land another superstar. And though feelings for LeBron James, Chris Bosh and any other names Houston cares to drop are interesting sentiments, Love is all they need.
Because he's someone the Rockets can actually get.
Trading for superstars is complicated business.
For one, they're rarely available. When they are available, the price tag is high, bordering on ridiculous.
At least one of those obstacles isn't an issue for Houston after news broke that the Minnesota Timberwolves had found their next head coach:
APNewsBreak: Flip Saunders is taking the head coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) June 5, 2014
Installing Flip Saunders on the sidelines has done nothing to change Love's mindset. Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, he still wants out:
Love has made it clear to Wolves that he intends to opt out and become a free agent in July 2015 and ESPN sources say that has not changed— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 5, 2014
Sources briefed on situation say Flip Saunders' decision to coach Wolves will have no bearing on Kevin Love's stance on his future in 'Sota— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 5, 2014
Contrary to what the Timberwolves have publicly said, they're prepared to get him out. The Boston Herald's Mark Murphy says Saunders is becoming more open to trading him, and Wojnarowski posits that Minnesota is already working the phones:
Timberwolves are discussing Kevin Love trade scenarios w/ teams, but made it clear deal's unlikely until they've hired a coach. sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 4, 2014
Point being, Love is available. If the Timberwolves were going to stick this out and take their chances when he reaches free agency next summer, we wouldn't be reading about Saunders assuming additional control. His return to the sidelines is an extension of current circumstances—the same underwhelming status quo Love apparently wants no part of.
That's one hang-up down, one more to go.
Quite predictably, the Timberwolves are looking for nothing short of a king's ransom in exchange for Love. The Sporting News' Sean Deveney puts their asking price at "lottery draft choices" that include one this year and a "young player with star potential."
Lottery picks aren't assets the Rockets have. They can offer future first-rounders, but nothing that promises the Timberwolves lottery selections.
Sending back a young player with star potential, however, won't be any problem. The decision to let Parsons hit restricted free agency opens a world of trade possibilities.
Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk puts some of this in perspective:
By Houston declining it and then extending a qualifying offer, Parsons will count against the cap at $2,875,130* until he signs either a contract or offer sheet. Then, he’ll count against the cap at his 2014-15 salary, which will surely be much higher.
Parsons' qualifying offer would be higher than his projected 2014-15 salary—which checked in under $1 million—because he met certain "starting criteria." That just means his cap hold would be greater once Houston extends his qualifying offer.
Once the Rockets do this, Parsons becomes a restricted free agent and can be moved within a sign-and-trade provided he doesn't ink an offer sheet with another team first. In this scenario, the Rockets are able to offer the Timberwolves a potential star under long-term contract who won't be able to simply up and leave after next season.
Giving Parsons a substantial raise also makes it easier for the two sides to match salaries. His below-average pay grade renders his financial value in any deal next to nothing. Increasing that to $10-plus million annually simplifies negotiations.
The absence of lottery picks would remain an issue, but the Rockets do have the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. One or both can be sent to Minnesota as essential cap fillers that allow the Timberwolves to send Houston back less desirable contracts.
In lieu of high-lottery selections, cap relief can help the Timberwolves expedite their rebuilding efforts. It gives the Rockets something other than Parsons to hang their proposal on as well, and ultimately makes the idea of landing Love totally plausible.
Dealing for Love isn't the Rockets' only superstar option. They do have others, none of which are especially promising.
One course of action Wojnarowski says the Rockets are exploring is their ability to, let's say, have their cake and eat it too.
"In one scenario, Houston could secure three max-out players—including Howard, Harden and a potential star free agent—and then re-sign Parsons to an extension below the max-level range," he writes.
Technically, retaining Parsons while adding another superstar isn't impossible. It's just super, ridiculously difficult.
And incredibly unlikely.
Yours truly expanded upon this idea here. If you want the complete, down-and-dirty explanation on how everything works out financially, it's all there. Otherwise, I'm about to drop the abridged version.
Before the Rockets can even think about stealing the show this summer, they need to dump Lin and Asik. The two combine for $16.4 million in cap hits—their salaries are actually higher—and cannot be flipped for anything substantial in return if Houston wishes to clean its books.
Factoring in Parsons' elevated cap hold ($2.9 million), along with the Rockets' incoming first-rounder and the requisite minimum placeholders, they would have $15-plus million to offer one free agent before then re-upping their forward-turned-model. That number can increase depending on whether Francisco Garcia picks up his player option and Morey dumps Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, but that's the ballpark they're working within for now.
Unless Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh or any other available superstar is prepared to accept way below their market value, this won't get it done. All the Rockets' maneuvering won't be for naught—they'll still have the means to make a splash—it just won't culminate in a star-studded acquisition.
Unlikely to land a third superstar via free agency this year, we're back to Love. He is obtainable. Trading for him is more realistic than convincing an All-Star to squash their market value.
Most notably, he is someone they can actually use.
This isn't to suggest Love is the perfect fit. Ideally, the Rockets would chase after a point guard who James Harden respects and will help tie their star-packed offense together. Heck, if you ask Harden, he'll tell you the quintessential fit doesn't even need to be a star.
"I think we have a lot already, a couple of smaller moves would be good for us," he told reporters:
I don't know if necessarily the big move would help us out a lot, we have a lot of good things in our locker room, a lot of young guys that want to get better and want to work. Maybe a couple of small moves and we'll be right here we want to be.
Making a series of smaller moves and additions that build up Houston's current core is certainly an option, but it's one the Rockets will only explore after exhausting all avenues that lead to another star. The NBA is a superteam-driven league these days. Morey will try to stockpile as many luminaries as he can before anything else.
That renders Love the ideal target, as well as a good fit.
He isn't a point guard, but he's the dangerous-shooting, rebound-hoarding, stat-filling stretch forward the Rockets don't have. It's never a bad idea to acquire the first player in nearly 40 years—and seventh ever—to average at least 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game for an entire season.
Should the Rockets make an aggressive push for Love this summer?
And unlike many of his fellow power forwards, Love doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. He drilled almost 38 percent of his spot-up threes last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
The Rockets as a team converted only 36.4 percent of their attempts in those situations and shot only 35.8 percent from deep overall, the 15th-best mark in the league. That's not good enough for the club that led the league in three-pointers attempted.
Practicality meets usefulness here. The Rockets can actually get Love, and they actually need Love, leaving them one Love short of forging the dominant Big Three they're obviously after.
*Contract information via ShamSports unless otherwise noted.