LeBron James can opt out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer. And this has set off a number of rumors that he’ll be playing in a new uniform next season. But the question remains, where?
Many rumors have linked him to either the LA Lakers or Clippers. But the latest word is that LeBron could end up playing for the Houston Rockets next season. Let’s discuss the validity of this report along with if any other destinations are currently in play.
Rockets Think They Have a Good Shot at James
According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, the Houston Rockets organization believes that they have as good a chance as anybody at signing King James.
The LA rumors certainly makes sense because James has a lot of business and entertainment dealings on the West Coast. He also recently bought a second home in Brentwood worth $23 million.
Of course, making such a big move out West with the Golden State Warriors looming is bold. This is why joining the Rockets makes sense because they already have a roster capable of hanging with the Warriors.
James Harden is one of the NBA’s top players. And backcourt mate Chris Paul is one of the best defensive point guards to ever play the game. It also doesn’t hurt that LeBron and Paul are really good friends.
Most importantly of all is how Harden, Paul, and the rest of the Rockets are experiencing considerable success. They lead the Western Conference with a 21-4 record. And Paul and Harden have shown good on-court chemistry already.
Another reason why Houston is a good move to landing spot for LeBron is that the owner, Tilman Fertitta, has deep pockets. The multi-billionaire spent a record $2.2 billion to buy the Rockets in September. James likes owners who are willing to spend on the roster, and Fertitta would have the cash to pay heft luxury tax fines.
Houston also has one of the best coach-general manager combos in Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey. Add everything up, and the Rockets definitely give LeBron a good chance to win immediately.
Will LeBron Choose Winning or Business?
James’ business manager and childhood friend, Maverick Carter, has often said that LeBron will prioritize basketball over business. And again, playing for Houston makes sense in this regard.
“These days it doesn’t matter (where you play for business purposes), because you can be known and be a star from anywhere – anywhere in the world,” Carter told reporter Rich Eisen.
“I mean, could (James) sell a few more sneakers if he was in a gigantic market like Boston, Chicago, New York, or LA? Maybe. But not as much as if he wins. What matters the most is if he wins. When you win as an athlete, that matters the most.”
Eisen asked Carter if LeBron could create the best synergy between winning and growing his business in Los Angeles. But Carter reiterated that it’s basketball first.
“I understand people keep saying that and thinking that, but the reason it doesn’t make sense is because if he does play in LA, or he plays on the moon, he can only shoot movies for three months,” said Carter.
“Even if he played in LA and he wanted to be in a movie, he can’t shoot from basically September to June. … We’re doing fine without him living here and playing here. He has a home here in the off-season. He lives in LA in the off-season.
“Our company, we have 10 shows in deals, two shows with Netflix, a show with HBO and none of them are starring him. He’s just the E.P. (executive producer) on them running the company, as a founder of the company with me, so the company doesn’t need him to be here.”
James’ Contract Creates a Tough Salary Cap Situation
One of the biggest hurdles for Houston signing James is their salary cap situation. LeBron would likely command a max salary of $35 million as a free agent, along with a player option of $35.3 million for next season.
This would put Morey in a bind because they already have some big salaries to pay with Harden, Paul, and forward Ryan Anderson.
One option is for Morey to trade Anderson. Unfortunately, the wizard GM has had trouble finding a trade partner for the long-range-shooting forward.
Another path could involve either James or Paul (also a free agent) taking less money to sign with Houston. This is possible because Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala both took less money to re-sign with the Warriors. Paul also did so, opting into the final year of his non-max Clippers deal so that he could be traded to Houston.
Overall, Houston has $80.4 million committed to eight players next year. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to be $101 million, which doesn’t leave much room to re-sign Paul and center Clint Capela, along with bringing in LeBron.
None of the solutions seem great for all parties involved. LeBron and/or Paul would have to take significant salary reductions. Even then, Morey might have to let Capela walk in free agency, and trade Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza for expiring contracts.
In the case of not re-signing Capela and trading for salary dumps, Houston wouldn’t have the same depth as they currently have. And this would make them less attractive to LeBron.
LeBron to Houston, LA, or Philly?
The reality is that James signing with the Rockets is just as much a rumor as him going to LA or Philadelphia. And this doesn’t even take into account other teams that could possibly factor in, including the San Antonio Spurs. Of course, it’s also a realistic possibility that he simply re-signs with Cleveland.
As for Houston, tampering rules kept them from going after Paul until July 1. The same holds true for their recruiting efforts with LeBron. Odds are that the current reports about them chasing James were purposely leaked by the organization. This way they can get the word out that they’re interested without violating tampering rules.