LeBron James Rumors: Execs Believe Rockets Have 'Real Chance' to Sign Cavs Star

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 09:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers controls the ball against James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the first half at Toyota Center on November 09, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  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.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

A surprise contender may be emerging should Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James opt out of his contract and enter free agency in July.

USA Today's Sam Amick reported Sunday some "in Rockets circles" believe Houston will have a genuine chance of signing James. Amick also spoke to NBA executives who shared the sentiment.

The allure of signing with the Rockets is obvious. They won 55 games last year in Mike D'Antoni's first season as head coach, and they have gotten even better with the addition of Chris Paul.

Whereas some teams struggle to assimilate their offseason additions into the rotation, Paul has made a seamless transition to D'Antoni's uptempo offense. The nine-time All-Star is averaging 14.3 points and 9.8 assists in his first 10 games with the team.

Most importantly, Paul hasn't adversely impacted the dynamic D'Antoni and James Harden created a season ago. The Rockets are second in offensive rating (112.9), according to NBA.com, and they own the league's best record (20-4).

If James is unable to topple the Golden State Warriors this season, few teams outside Cleveland would give him a better opportunity of dethroning the reigning champions.

With that said, it wouldn't be easy for Houston to sign James.

For one, the Rockets are on track to have the second-highest payroll in the NBA in 2018-19, per Spotrac.

Paul has a $39 million cap hold, so he could give the team some financial flexibility by agreeing to a reduced salary. Still, general manager Daryl Morey would need to shed a lot of payroll to accommodate a max contract for James. Trading Ryan Anderson, who will earn nearly $41.7 million over the next two years, or Eric Gordon, who will make more than $27.5 million over the same span, won't be easy.

The Rockets' struggles in the playoffs could factor into James' decision as well. Since Harden arrived in 2012, Houston has reached the Western Conference Finals only once. The team exited in the first round in three of its last five postseason trips.

Should the Rockets push the Warriors hard in the conference finals, James may feel confident he could partner with Harden and Paul to take Golden State down. Another playoff disappointment for Houston, on the other hand, could be disastrous to the team's hopes of landing the best free agent on the market.

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