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On the Houston Rockets’ pursuit of Kevin Love

Things got interesting this weekend as news broke that the Minnesota Timberwolves would likely need to deal forward Kevin Love prior to his impending free agency.  Y!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported just yesterday that the Houston Rockets planned to make an aggressive push to acquire the All-Star forward.  We spoke on this page just two weeks ago of this team’s planned pursuit of Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.  In combination with the increasing availability of Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, it is beginning to look likelier that Houston acquires its third star before the next season begins.

There are several issues of note.  To begin, if it already wasn’t clear enough, this news just about confirms any suspicions as to why Rockets management moved so quickly to retain head coach Kevin McHale after the latter party navigated uncharted waters of incompetence in the team’s first round series loss to the Blazers.  It’s easier to build a cadre of tactically-minded assistants than it is to replace an esteemed figurehead with strong ties around the league.  The Art of (Basketball) War.

Love raises identical issues to Melo, all of which I’ve already addressed and all of which I will address again because they bear repeating.  But first, I would be remiss to not give the matter its due attention.  The distinction here, with Love, is that unlike Anthony, the Wolves forward cannot control his own destiny.  The Wolves can simply deal him to the highest bidder.  But wait…not so fast.  As Love can become a free agent in 2015, he can assert leverage onto the process by threatening or giving off the implication of not re-signing with potential suitors.  Do you get now why Kevin McHale is back?  In theory, someone like the Phoenix Suns could win any bidding war by offering Minnesota their shopping cart of future draft picks.  But if Love does not give any indication of wanting to stay in Phoenix long term, the Suns might not want to take the risk on a rental.

There is of course the chance that someone might not care, and would be willing to take the risk on Love leaving, similar to Daryl Morey’s stance in the first go-around with Dwight Howard.  But to date, there have not been any reports of anyone being so inclined.  That will serve to limit our discussion.

The names reported so far, among contenders, aside from the Rockets, are the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls.  The Bulls could offer Nikola Mirotic, perhaps the most intriguing prospect not currently in the NBA, along with Taj Gibson, in a package with Love.  With these talks ensuing, one can probably now understand Bulls management’s decision to trade forward Luol Deng – a lottery pick in this draft–which was the destiny the Bulls thought they were guaranteeing upon dealing Deng–would be much more helpful at the moment than the free t-shirts they got for making the first round.  Reports name the Warriors’ desirable assets as being David Lee and Harrison Barnes.  David Lee hasn’t been cited as ‘desirable’ since high school.

This brings us to Houston and a necessary revisitation of the Anthony discussion.  Do the Rockets really need a third star?  Isn’t defense Houston’s problem?  Does adding another player that doesn’t play defense help matters?  Would Houston trade Chandler Parsons?

Love and Anthony are unique in that they are identical (except for certain differences which I will later discuss.)  Either player would be acquired to play the power forward in this lineup; neither man plays any defense.

First, on the third star matter: it is my belief that while coaching and strategy were largely to blame for Houston’s first round loss, they also are at an overall talent deficit.  As a reader put it recently, the Western Conference is an arm’s race and Houston is currently trailing behind both the Clippers and Thunder.  Even if addressing their coaching issues, I still don’t think Houston has enough talent to compete with those two aforementioned teams, especially when considering that Dwight Howard is typically neutralized in those matchups.  More importantly, I don’t quite understand the implication by many that talent acquisition and coaching improvement are somehow mutually exclusive.  You can hire better assistants while also upgrading your talent.  It’s not an ‘either/or’ proposition.  That’s why it’s quite odd when I read many of you in my ‘mentions’ say things such as “we don’t need a third star, we need a better coach.”  We need both and can address both.

On defense: To repeat my argument regarding Anthony, Love isn’t exactly a step down from Terrence Jones in this department.  Yes, everyone would like to acquire Shawn Kemp in his prime (ie: for you youngins, an All-Star power forward who plays both ends), but that’s not happening.  These are the players available that give us a chance to upgrade our overall talent base.  I believe that in the aggregate, the offense provided by Love/Anthony would more than offset the defensive concerns, especially when considering the mitigating effects of (assumed) improved coaching.  There’s also an easy band-aid in roster construction adjustment – you can cheaply acquire a defensive minded small forward to even out your lineup.  This leads us to the next point…

Would the Rockets trade Chandler Parsons?  This was the question that came up in-season when Houston was rumored to have turned down an offer from Boston for Rondo when that city demanded that the handsome small forward be included in any deal.  From a basketball standpoint, dealing Parsons for either Anthony or Love is an absolute no-brainer.  An absolute no-brainer.  These two forwards aren’t merely All-Stars, like Rondo.  These are MVP caliber players in the primes of their careers.  Anthony might be the single most unguardable scorer in the league.  Love is essentially an extension of a video-game when viewing some of his rebound/point composites throughout the year.  Parsons is a really, really nice player but a limited one.  I’ve become increasingly convinced that it would be in the team’s best interests to deal him.  For one, the majority of his value is relative, not absolute.  He’s a gem because he’s making $800,000.  In a vacuum, at $10million, he suddenly isn’t so valuable.  But more recently noteworthy, after watching the Blazers’ wings abuse Houston, I’m not entirely sure both Parsons and James Harden can coexist on a team.  It is simply too much strain on Dwight Howard to have to cover up for two poor wing defenders.

Parsons is the ultimate glue-guy and that should not be seen as an indictment.  Those players are necessary to win titles.  But at a $10million pricetag, the Rockets’ financial realities could become crippling, especially in a Western Conference that didn’t really see them gain much ground in their title hopes.  Those who consider Parsons as more than he is should be warned.  He lacks the handles or hops to do much more than he already is doing.  Again, that’s not an indictment.  He is a fine player who serves and fills an important purpose.  Understand that this analysis should be taken against the backdrop of the financial realities of the new collective bargaining agreement.

So why the fuss over Parsons?  Because it is probably not the moral thing to do to trade him.  Allegedly, he played a role in the acquisition of Dwight Howard last summer.  That kind of “back-stabbing” could be interpreted poorly by future free agents, especially when an agent as powerful as Dan Fegan is in the mix.  However, one wonders: with Harden, Howard, and Love/Melo, all locked up through their primes, would Morey really care about his reputation at that point?

The Rockets could offer Omer Asik, Parsons, picks, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas in a deal.  Jeremy Lin picked a really great time to start sucking at new depths (cue the angry string of ‘mentions’ on my timeline demanding to know why I hate Jeremy Lin when James Harden turned the ball over at 3:32 of the 2nd quarter in Game 4 of the first round) because his value at this point is lower than the half-eaten breakfast taco sitting on my desk right now.  I don’t know if that’s a winning bid, but that’s what the Rockets have in their stable.

Between Love and ‘Melo, both players have their merits.  Love is the better rebounder; neither play defense.  Love is also the better shooter and would serve for more synergistic value with James Harden.  One can imagine the two stars in a pick and roll with Love spotting up from behind the arc.  On the flip side, Anthony is the most dangerous mid-range scorer in basketball, a trait which I’m becoming increasingly convinced is requisite for high-level success.  Threes and buckets in the paint can propel 50-win seasons, but being able to score from the toughest parts of the court is a necessary thing when facing the stingiest defenses in the postseason.  Love probably would bring the better attitude and willingness to sacrifice, though that at this point is going off conjecture.  One cannot be too certain when dealing with a man who stepped on another’s face.  Age is a wash.  Anthony, while older, will age gracefully but the point is moot regardless.  This manifestation of the Rockets holds a 3-year window, the duration of Dwight Howard’s prime.

It’s shaping up to be another wild offseason for the Houston Rockets.  That’s how it goes with Daryl Morey at the helm.  If he nabs Kevin Love, maybe he can crack the top-8 in the Executive of the Year ballot.  Probably not.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.