The Houston Rockets were once considered among the favorites to land LeBron James this offseason. But once he opted out of his player option for the 2018-19 season, the odds of Houston being in the running dipped dramatically.
And according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Rockets are "scarcely even mentioned anymore as a potential James destination."
Given the Rockets' salary-cap situation, landing James was always going to take some creative cap maneuvering by general manager Daryl Morey. But after signing Chris Paul to a four-year, $160 million extension, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, bringing James aboard and also retaining restricted free agent Clint Capela—who will likely command upward of $20 million—would be downright wizardry.
As for the current suitors of James, the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers remain the front-runners, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, with James reportedly speaking to Cavs general manager Koby Altman early Sunday morning on the phone.
Additionally, the Denver Nuggets are reportedly "aggressively pursuing a meeting" with King James, per Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports, though they'll need to clear a significant amount of salary to have the requisite cap space to sign him after inking Nikola Jokic to a five-year, $147 million extension and Will Barton to a four-year, $53 million deal early Sunday morning.
As for the Rockets, bringing back Paul was huge, and they also retained Gerald Green on a one-year, $2.4 million deal, per Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. Keeping Capela would largely keep the team's core intact.
The team did lose one major contributor, however, with Trevor Ariza surprisingly signing a one-year, $15 deal with the Phoenix Suns, according to Charania. Ariza's elite and versatile defense, combined with his perimeter shooting, made him a huge weapon for the Rockets against the Golden State Warriors. His loss is significant.
Still, if the Rockets keep Capela, they'll remain one of the top threats to the Warriors. James would have arguably made them the class of the NBA, but that ship appears to have set sail.