The Houston Rockets will have some money to burn this offseason, and the team is reportedly looking to spend the bulk of its available payroll on Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Rockets are hoping to meet with Durant in person this summer, but Houston isn't yet considered a real contender to sign the free-agent forward.
The Rockets have only a little less than $7.3 million available for the 2016-17 season, per Spotrac, but Dwight Howard and his roughly $23.3 million player option are likely coming off the books. In the event he leaves, Houston could potentially have enough to sign Durant. Stein noted on May 31 the seven-time All-Star is in line to earn up to $25.9 million per year on his next deal.
In the same article, Stein posited a scenario in which Durant signs a short-term deal similar to that of LeBron James, who signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers on a two-year deal with an opt-out following the first year. Durant could earn as much as he can now while still being able to cash in when the salary cap explodes in 2017.
Sporting News' Sean Deveney reported, however, Durant could value stability over future earning power and instead sign a longer-term contract.
Either way, James Harden is doing his part to lure Durant to Houston. Instagram user hilqueen23 posted a photo of the two at a restaurant together:
In an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio (via CBSSports.com's James Herbert) with fellow Rockets guard Jason Terry, Harden said Durant is his top free-agent priority and tried arguing against the San Antonio Spurs as a possible landing spot for his former Thunder teammate:
Yeah, I mean, San Antonio has a lot of good players. Obviously Durant is a 3 and they've got Kawhi Leonard over there, so I don't know about that. But I mean, Kevin is a smart guy. He had a really good season. Obviously it didn't turn out the way he wanted to, but ultimately he'll make the best decision for himself and his family. So we just gotta sit back and relax and wait.
Harden will have to use every bit of his recruiting skill, though, to get Durant to leave Oklahoma City, especially for the Rockets, who are coming off a disappointing 2015-16 season at 41-41.
Houston will be a hard sell since the team looks to be more than one All-Star away from contending for a title. This past year highlighted all of the issues with the roster, and essentially swapping Howard for Durant would only paper over the cracks.