With another Cleveland Cavaliers season ending in disappointment and LeBron James a free agent, there’s no end to the speculation as to where he’ll end up. Stay in Cleveland? Join the Bulls? Go to New York? Join the Clippers? (No, seriously, some are suggesting that.) The LeBron James Free Agency Saga has been considered from just about every possible angle (including its impact on Jews; oy vey, it’s enough to drive you meshugga).
Just about the only thing these prognostications have in common is that they all agree (if only by omission) that King James is not coming to the Houston Rockets. There are many times when the conventional wisdom is correct, and it does indeed seem unlikely that the Rockets are at the top of James’ list. However, with many pundits banding about the word “impossible” in relation the Rockets snagging King James, I have to disagree. Unlikely? Yes. Very. But not impossible. After all, if you had told someone at the beginning of this season that Daryl Morey would trade a battered T-Mac, Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey and a bag of doorknobs for: A.) A 20 point scorer (Kevin Martin), B.) the 8th pick of the 2009 draft (Jordan Hill), C.) Semi-protected rights to swap picks with New York in the 2011 Draft, and D.) New York’s semi-protected 2012 1st round draft pick, they would have called you crazy.
Because unreasonable optimism is the province of bloggers and hometown sports columnists, here are 7 reasons why the Houston Rockets might indeed be able to sign LeBron James:
- Yao Ming: The Rockets should (fingers crossed) have Yao Ming back next season. If he can retain his former form (a big if) and stay healthy (even bigger), then the Rockets will have no worse than the second best center in the NBA. Having a great center on his team (Shaq no longer qualifies) would help prevent other teams from double- and triple-teaming James every time he touches the ball. Yao is also a presence at the defensive end and is (unlike Shaq) a free-throw shooting machine. Outside of Orlando’s Dwight Howard, no other potential teammate in the entire NBA has as much potential to provide a complimentary insider scorer.
- No State Income Tax: Anywhere James is going to go, he’s going to sign a max contract deal, say somewhere around $16.8 million. That means he would rake in the same amount no matter which team he signs with, right? Wrong. Texas has no state income tax, and Houston has no city income tax, while the unfortunate denizens of New York City have to suffer under both. First, New York State has a top income tax rate of 8.97%. But wait, that’s not all! New York City has its own income tax on top of the state income tax! I believe James would qualify as a “Resident Head of Household,” which means his city tax rate would be “$2,047 plus 3.648% of excess over $60,000”. King James would have to cough up over two millions dollars a year (or, to be precise, $2,119,682 ($1,506,960 in state income tax, and $612,722 in city income tax, assuming my calculations are correct) for the privilege of playing in New York City rather than Houston. Many New York apologists will say that moving there would earn him more money than he would lose due to greater endorsement possibilities from playing in the country’s largest media market. But that leads to my next point:
- Moving to New York does little to raise his national profile; moving to Houston does lots to raise his international profile: New York is indeed the country’s largest media market, but so what? James is already the most important basketball player in the country. Sure, moving to NYC might sell a few more jerseys in the five boroughs, but the rest of the country regards New York City not with the awe so many of its own residents seem to have deluded themselves into thinking is their birthright, but with indifference or outright hostility. His existing fans may buy his Knicks jersey, but no one West of the Hudson who wasn’t already a LeBron James fanatic is going to care. But a move to Houston would raise his international profile tremendously by pairing him with the only basketball player bigger than James on the international scene: Yao Ming. Moving to New York might net him another 10 million fans; moving to Houston might potentially net him another billion. How many more shoes do you think Nike could sell in China if James teamed up with Ming? That’s the long-term play that makes the most sense for both James and the NBA.
- Houston has lots of pieces for a sign-and-trade: One reason so many think it’s impossible for the Rockets to sign James is their lack of cap space. While true, it overlooks the possibility of Houston performing a sign-and-trade with Cleveland if James decided he would look swell in Rocket Red. (And let’s face it: He would look swell.) And Morey has assembled a lot of valuable pieces to trade with. How does 3 first round picks (including the one from New York) over the next two years, Jordan Hill and/or Trevor Ariza sound? That would give the Cavs a chance to build a pretty nice foundation for the future instead of letting James walk for nada.
- Solid Teammates: In addition to being all-around solid guys who are (mostly) willing to play defense, take a look at the monster scoring averages Houston would have with LeBron James and a healthy Yao Ming:
- LeBron James: 29.7 ppg
- Yao Ming: 19.7 ppg (based on his 2008-2009 season)
- Kevin Martin: 21.3 ppg
- Aaron Brooks: 19.6 ppg
- Luis Scola: 16.2 ppg
So, that’s 106.5 points per game without any scoring from the bench! The Rockets should just roll over the opposition! They should-
“Basketball does not work that way!”
What, you’re saying that I’m confusing fantasy basketball statistics with real basketball? OK, fine. Everyone’s average will probably come down to give King James enough shots to hit his near-30. Still, when Luis Scola at 15 points a game is your least productive scorer, these Rockets would be a nightmare to defend. Any one of of them is capable of making you pay for double-teaming James or Yao. And you can’t double-team both, or Brooks and Martin are going to kill you from the 3-point line. That starting five would automatically be the best team in the NBA (and significantly younger than the Celtics). And keep in mind that Brooks and Martin’s 20 point averages for the 2009-2010 season were compiled without a Yao or LeBron to keep defenses from keying on them. And they still won 42 games. Add LeBron James to the Knicks and they’re a playoff team. Add LeBron James to the Rockets and they’re automatically a championship favorite.
- Rick Adelman: Just about every player Adelman has ever coached says they loved playing for him. (T-Mac is about the only player I can think of dissenting from that opinion, and think we all know where the fault lies there.) Adelman even received nothing but praise from the volatile Ron Artest, who was a model citizen off the court for his year in Houston. (On the court Adelman could never dissuade Artest from his questionable shot selection, but that’s the Lakers’ problem now…) Also keep in mind that Adelman’s last losing season was with the Golden State Warriors in 1997, he lead the Rockets on a 22-game winning streak (the NBA’s second longest), even though half those games were without Yao, in 2008, and his woefully undermanned Rockets still took the Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals last year. The man can coach, and he might be just the man to elevate James’ already lofty game even higher.
- The Daryl Morey Factor: Just as you should never, ever underestimate the heart of a champion, you should never underestimate the wiliest GM in the league. I’m going to leave it to real Rockets bloggers like The Dream Shake and Red 94 to go into all the details of just how much smarter Morey seems to be than every other GM in the NBA. But what if Morey has just been playing possum all along? What if all the Chris Bosh talk has been a carefully constructed smokescreen to obscure the fact that Morey has a cunning and elaborate scheme to land James? And if he had to, I’m betting Morey could clear sufficient cap space to land James in short order (remember those draft picks). How? If I knew that, I’d be running an NBA club or breaking the bank at Vegas rather than writing a blog.
So there you have it: Seven logical reason why LeBron James might indeed end up with the Houston Rockets. Likely? No. But not beyond the realm of possibility.