Numerous NBA teams around the Association are waiting diligently for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to ink new deals. The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, appear poised to chase the concept of a Big Three, regardless of where those dominoes fall.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey remains a worthy suitor in the hunt for LBJ or Melo. The thought process behind bringing one of those superstars to pair with Dwight Howard and James Harden is simple: The Rockets are eyeing the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
As the hours continue to tick past, however, the Rockets’ chances of landing either veteran have seemed to dwindle.
As the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen wrote, “Their preference would be for things to take shape by having Carmelo Anthony pick them, a possibility that has seemed less likely since he left Texas to consider spending his seasons near his offseason home in California.”
ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard reported that the Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as a legitimate candidate to sign Melo away from the New York Knicks. They can offer Anthony a four-year, max offer—worth approximately $97 million.
Whether the former scoring champ would opt to scorn New York for less money in L.A. is up for debate. The New York Post’s Tim Bontemps, however, believes Melo’s representation may be using the Lakers as leverage leading to a different destination.
As Anthony bides his time, the Rockets no longer appear to be in serious contention for his services.
As for James—whose agent, Rich Paul, has met with the Rockets, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein—he’s planning a face-to-face meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley, according to Windhorst. Miami is still considered the favorite to retain LeBron. A meeting with Riley could tip the scales even further in that direction once King James gets a glimpse of Riley's intentions.
So, what happens if Morey strikes out swinging with both free agents?
Don’t be surprised if the progressive GM sets his sights on different big names. After all, he’s putting a lot of stock in the concept of a Big Three.
According to a tweet from ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Rockets are already angling for another big-name talent.
Chris Bosh is viewed as a serious backup plan if pitches to woo James and Melo aren’t convincing enough.
In fact, ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported via Twitter that the Rockets have offered the veteran big man a max deal, which he is considering:
Broussard later clarified the exact financial figure:
Frankly, the stretch 4 may actually be a better fit when compared with Anthony.
Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb certainly thinks so:
In fact, Bosh might be an even better fit in Houston than Anthony. Given that Melo and fellow swingman James Harden both dominate the ball so much, the two might make for an odd pairing. That problem wouldn't exist with Bosh in the fold.
Indeed, he'd be the perfect complement to Harden's penchant for driving and kicking the ball. Bosh has developed a pretty consistent three-point shot, meaning he'd create space for both Harden's penetration and Dwight Howard's work in the post.
That's a solid argument from a team fit standpoint, but Bosh's future still depends entirely upon LBJ.
A source told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski that “Bosh is back in a second if LeBron commits (to Miami).”
No surprise there. Even though Bosh was born in Dallas and may have a soft spot for his home state, the appeal of playing beside LeBron—with whom the 30-year-old has already won two rings—may prove too much to ignore.
Bosh, however, would reportedly prefer a four-year max deal with another team, rather than taking a discount to stay in Miami, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger. That tidbit is worth noting, since the lanky big man could sign for the max in Houston if it clears the deck appropriately.
Through it all, former second-round pick Chandler Parsons is waiting in the wings. The restricted free agent is sure to net a hefty pay raise from his rookie scale contract, which Houston can decide whether or not to match.
If the Rockets miss out on the forwards headlining free agency, the University of Florida product will likely be back. However, the team that discovered him as a diamond in the rough may not consider the 25-year-old part of long-term plans. Compiling a Big Three of its own remains the priority.
Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves are still interested in acquiring sharpshooting 2-guard Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors for Kevin Love. Nonetheless, Spears added, “But the T-Wolves also have secondary interest in Parsons, the source said. If the Thompson trade doesn’t happen, the source said Minnesota could attempt a deal sending Love to the Rockets and acquire Parsons in a sign-and-trade.”
Given Morey’s tenacious pursuit of multitime All-Stars, it’s logical to believe he’d be on the phone with Timberwolves president Flip Saunders in a hot second to swap Parsons for the seemingly outbound rebound machine.
The Plan B’s of Bosh and K-Love may soon be thrust to the forefront as Morey’s only workable options. His pursuit of a third superstar is clear, but Houston may have a problem if he whiffs on all those quests.
The Rockets were never going to be able to sign James or Anthony outright during the 2014 offseason. They needed to shave a fair amount of salary off their cap before a realistic pursuit could commence.
As a result, management agreed to trade defensive-minded center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a 2015 top-three protected draft pick, per Windhorst. The swap won’t become official until July 10.
Dealing Asik’s poison pill contract—set to pay him an increased sum of $15 million during 2014-15—was a no-brainer to cut salary. Nevertheless, doing so without gaining an upgrade doesn’t make the Rockets better.
Adding that 2015 first-rounder is a nice perk, but Houston has put itself in position to compete for a title right now. Unless that draft choice can be used to net Love, the Rockets will be angling backward by adding talent that needs to be developed.
Moving Asik, and thus making the Pelicans a more potent force in the Western Conference, wasn’t a decision made lightly. The Rockets had to pull the trigger on a deal to emerge as a serious suitor for the NBA’s top two free agents.
In fact, Asik won't be the only outbound Rocket if Morey lands a huge name.
"Bottom line, if Carmelo comes Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have to be traded," Morey said, per Fox 26's Mark Berman (h/t SB Nation's Patrick Harrel). "It's just math. It's not personal. My job is everyday [to] figure out how to win. Sometimes it creates challenging situations."
That math extends to Bosh and Love as well. Add in the fact that Parsons will sign a lucrative contract elsewhere, and Houston runs the risk of flipping Asik, Lin and Parsons for a third star.
By agreeing to move the Turkish center, Morey has put all of his eggs in the Big Three basket. Asik didn’t play a huge role with D12 on board, but losing a full 48 minutes of rim protection may hinder Houston more than it realizes.
All or Nothing
Howard and Harden couldn’t lead their squad beyond the first round in 2014. Losing depth—especially behind Howard, whose durability isn’t what it once was—is not ideal unless a new star comes forth.
After winning a title in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks let a solid core escape them. Tyson Chandler signed a lucrative deal with the Knicks, while the Mavs opted to chase bigger names. They came up empty and are still searching for answers.
The Rockets' issues are not on that level of severity, but it’s difficult to envision the current roster competing for a title out west. Houston needs another piece to tie everything together and override the loss of bench security.
Could James or Anthony surprise folks by making the decision Howard did last year?
Will the Rockets miss out on both, then bolster the starting five with Bosh or K-Love?
As a worst-case scenario, the Rockets can still bring back Parsons and continue plotting. At this juncture, however, creating a Big Three to rival that of the former (perhaps future) Heat is the game plan.
Hopefully the front office can still see the forest (a viably deep roster) through the trees (stars on the radar). It has already set the wheels in motion for a Big Three, so there's no turning back now.