Will Chasing LeBron James Cause Houston Rockets to Miss on Carmelo Anthony?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 26, 2014

As soon as LeBron James answers the first door, there's no longer any need to see who's standing behind the second.

The best player on the planet exists in a world of his own, even with Kevin Durant having broken his stranglehold on the NBA MVP award. The Houston Rockets, along with James' countless other suitors, are right to place him at the top of their offseason priority list.

Of course, doing so impacts Houston's chances of luring Carmelo Anthony to townand not in a good way. The former scoring champ won't simply keep waiting behind Door No. 2. Not when he's been preparing for life as the biggest fish in free-agent waters.

Anthony, a source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney in April, wants "the Dwight Howard treatment," a reference to the star-of-the-summer status the Rockets center enjoyed last year. Before signing on the dotted line Houston offered, Howard waited in Los Angeles while five teams came to him to deliver their best sales pitch.

Anthony, who has never before experienced free agency, wants to live that moment. Even a seven-time All-Star needs to feel appreciated, it seems.

"He wants to be courted by good basketball teams," Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan observed. "Don't we all. So many free dinners."

There's only one problem. With James having crashed Anthony's free-agent party, Melo is no longer the preferred dinner guest of league executives. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explained:

A day after Anthony officially informed the Knicks that he would as expected opt out of his contract, James’ agent Rich Paul announced that James would opt of his with the Heat, immediately returning him to his place as the NBA’s most coveted free agent.

That also makes him the object of the Rockets’ fondest desires, long after they began preparing their pitch just in case they got the chance.

James might be new to the market, but plans to pursue him have been forming for a while. When the possibility of adding an in-his-prime, four-time MVP arises, it's one worth exploring even as the longest of long shots.

Before the King had even informed the Miami Heat of his intention to opt out, league sources told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck "that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James."

Executive staffs cannot make concurrent "all-out" pushes, and Houston's is no exception. "If the Rockets miss out on James," Beck reported, "they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony."

That doesn't sound like the Howard treatment, does it?

Anthony wants to be wooed. Considering where he's at in his career, this will likely be the 30-year-old's last chance to have his ego massaged in free agency. Telling him to schedule an appointment with the receptionist because the massage table is being saved for James isn't going to work.

Not if another team—like the Chicago Bulls perhaps—makes it clear to Anthony that he remains their primary focus despite James' addition to this free-agent class.

"If LeBron is indeed in play, there will be some teams that will put their pursuit for Melo on the back burner," ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan noted. "Conversely, this might be an opportunity for a team with no hope at securing LeBron to seize the moment and put the full-court press on Melo."

It's hard to imagine the dream-big Rockets limiting the scope of their imaginations.

They've been all-in on James since before he hit the market. There may not be an amount of writing on the wall that makes them back off their pursuit.

Of course, other teams might not bring the same approach to this courtship. They might recognize the odds against them and decide it's not worth the risk. The safe money on James' future, after all, remains on him staying in South Beach.

Now, an argument can be made that any chance to acquire James is one worth exploring. His versatility and commitment to the defensive end would certainly address more of Houston's needs than the scoring machine Anthony could.

However, the likelihood of James landing in Houston needs to be discussed. The Rockets probably feel like they have a compelling case to make—they won 54 games without him this past season—but so do a number of other clubs.

James' short list isn't short.

The Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers are all exploring ways of pairing James and Anthony together, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reported the Los Angeles Clippers have interest in pursuing James or Anthony. Both are also said to be on the radar of the Dallas Mavericks, as ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon noted.

Could Houston emerge from that crowded field with James in hand? It's possible.

The Rockets have one of the best rosters of any of his suitors, although it remains to be seen how many pieces they'd be able to keep around during their pursuit.

There aren't nearly as many hands in the Anthony pot.

League sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that Anthony has decided to meet with the Rockets, Mavericks and Bulls in free agency. Other than his current club, the New York Knicks, and perhaps a plea from close friend and Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, that could be the extent of Anthony's suitors.

The Rockets, it appears, have an in with Anthony. Genuine interest in him, too.

"The Rockets have long been interested in Anthony, pre-dating his move from Denver to New York in 2011," NBA.com's Fran Blinebury reported.

No, Anthony isn't James. He is, however, someone who tallied 27.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists a night this past season. He's too talented to be considered a consolation prize, even with James' name in the discussion.

That's how Anthony will view the situation. That's how ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell thinks the Bulls should see it, too:

The front office can't lose focus on Anthony. He is the player the organization has targeted for months, and he is the player who likely gives the Bulls the best chance to topple James, wherever he may land. While it's no sure thing that Anthony lands in Chicago -- he might even team with James somewhere else -- he is a much safer bet than James when it comes to playing for the Bulls at this point.

If a heavyweight suitor like the Bulls makes it clear to Anthony that he is their primary focus, it will be hard for someone who's moved him down to plan B to stay in the running.

That's potentially problematic for the Rockets. They've built their summer plans around finding a third star.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported earlier this month that league sources said Houston "is determined...to chase a third maximum contract free agent" over the offseason. That determination became even more clear after the Rockets agreed to trade Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans for a future first-round pick Wednesday, as Wojnarowski reported:

Houston is looking to make a splash for the third straight offseason. Considering the last two have yielded perennial All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard, it's a hard strategy to argue against.

Still, that attempt doesn't come without risks. After backing out of the Kevin Love race, the Rockets need to find a way to land Anthony or James.

Putting all their eggs in the James basket, while understandable, could put Anthony out of reach. That isn't likely to change Houston's stance on James, but it's a fate the franchise may be forced to accept soon.


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