Houston should be added to the list of possible destinations for LeBron James, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. Rockets insiders possess “strong belief” that they’ll have a chance to land James in free agency, Amick writes, and several rival executives share that opinion.
James is expected to opt out of a salary of more than $35.6MM next summer and hit the open market once again. The Cavaliers star and four-time MVP tops our latest Free Agent Power Rankings.
The Lakers have been prominently mentioned as a landing spot if he decides to leave Cleveland, and the Sixers recently emerged as a possibility. Both teams are filled with young talent and cap flexibility, but Amick says James wants to keep winning and Houston offers a far better chance.
The Rockets, off to a league-best 19-4 start, feature an MVP candidate in James Harden and one of James’ best friends in Chris Paul. The team is known for its productive offense and has risen into the top five in defensive rating this season. GM Daryl Morey has an affinity for chasing stars, and new owner Tilmann Fertitta, who paid a record $2.2 billion for the team in September, would no doubt endorse the pursuit of James.
The tricky part for Houston is freeing up enough cap space to make a max offer. With the cap projected at $101MM for 2018/19, the Rockets already have more than $78MM in guaranteed salary, not counting the cost of re-signing Paul, whose Bird rights the team owns, or restricted free agent center Clint Capela.
Morey has displayed creativity with the cap in the past, and Amick suggests he probably has deals lined up involving Ryan Anderson [$20,421,546 salary next season] and others in case the chance to sign James arises. Amick adds that Paul might agree to take less than the max, similar to what Kevin Durant did with the Warriors last summer, to help bring James to Houston.
Rumors about James’ next move began shortly after the NBA Finals, but he doesn’t plan to consider his options until this season is done. If the Rockets keep their place among the league’s elite, their chances to land James in July may be as good as anyone’s.