Here’s a scenario which many of you have brought up: what happens if Lebron signing is contingent upon trading Harden to New York for Anthony.  Would the Rockets do it?  As you all may know by now, the latest (old) news from the rumor mill is that James and Anthony desire to be teammates, but only a few teams have sufficient space under the cap* to make it happen, the Rockets not being one of them.  But the rebuilding Knicks, no doubt, if offered the 24-year-old Harden would jump at the opportunity to claim something significant from the loss of Anthony.  Would Houston do it?

*The Lakers are one of those teams as reportedly, they have been exploring deals to unload the $9million salary of Steve Nash by attaching their #7 pick, hoping to pitch the possibility of a James-Bryant-Anthony triumvirate, nevermind the fact that a James title in L.A. with Bryant in tow would do nothing towards achieving the former’s intended goal of closing the gap in rings between the two players.  Unless Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill got creative with the HGH, I don’t even think that team would get out of the 1st round in the brutal Western Conference.

In a vacuum, the 24-year-old Harden is preferable to Anthony.  But a contingency clause of SIGNING LEBRON FREAKING JAMES is not a vacuum.  If x action gets you Lebron, you do it, no ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’ about it.

Funny thing #1: from a basketball utilitarian standpoint, this is a no-brainer.  If the phrase ‘no-brainer’ had an example in the dictionary, this scenario would be written in that spot (right next to “trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love.”).  But why would Houston not do it?  Why are we so hesitant to discuss it?  For the same reason we skirted around the temptation of trading Chandler Parsons for Rajon Rondo.  It’s kind of a backstabbing move** and ultimately, it just looks really bad to the rest of the league.  But would Daryl Morey really care?  Landing Lebron James would represent the biggest coup possible on this platform.  You can’t top it.  It’s like being offered $6billion for an app you created to help people text their nudes more privately.  You cash out, you walk away, and write a book about it later or something.  So if this happened, why would Daryl Morey even care about the next domino or the potential fallout from future free agents.  This would be the pinnacle.

Funny thing #2**: would it be backstabbing?  I don’t know how tied James Harden is to this organization.  Not to read too much into things, but he wasn’t exactly going out of his way to recruit Dwight Howard, nor did he seem overly thrilled about the acquisition.  Was he even at the press conference?  Don’t get me wrong.  In combination with yesterday’s post, you probably think I’m throwing Harden under the bus.  That’s not what this is about.  Offensively, I still stand by my stance that he’s one of the most brilliant players in our league.  But he has some warts, even in the leadership category, that are hard to ignore.

Would this ever happen?  Would Lebron James ever pull such a conniving maneuver such as this, seeing a team with the ability to pair him and his friend Anthony, with an existing dominant rim protector, and ultimately orchestrating a sacrificial ceremony?  Surely he couldn’t, right?  Demanding a team trade its resident superstar for your friend as the condition of your signing would be as cruel as airing a nationally televised special to break the hearts of an entire city over your decision to leave them.  No one could ever do that, right?

***The best thing about the Decision, and everything surrounding it, is that it actually worked!  They actually won two titles!  Usually, scenarios like that never pan and after so much initial ridicule, we just forget.

in columns

A few short, and very random thoughts.

I think most people would agree that if assuming a healthy Derrick Rose, Chicago is the clear cut, no-brainer choice for Carmelo Anthony.  Even basketball genius* Tracy McGrady came out and said that the Windy City should be the choice.  If you’re Houston, how do you emphasize the Rose angle in your pitch?

*McGrady, when it comes to personnel transactions, does not have the richest history of comprehension.  I’ve recounted this tale numerous times, but I’ll never forget the time I heard him shortly after the Francis trade on Houston radio, ripping Orlando management, saying, “They never got me any help when I was there and now they go out and get Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley?”  Seriously.

Melo isn’t an idiot and is no doubt aware of the inherent risks of tying his future down to Derrick Rose’s knees.  But how do you really hammer that down?  “Hey!  We have two healthy superstars!  You could end up like T-Mac in Orlando waiting for Grant Hill if you do this, except you’ll be 32 and not 22!”  How do you hammer that down without being tacky?

Recall that last summer, shortly after the Howard coup, Houston management charged that other suitors (it later came out that it was the Mavericks) had attempted to smear the Rockets’ pitch by painting James Harden as an egotistical primadonna along the lines of Kobe.  You’d think a powerpoint presentation replete with ACL recovery statistics would be viewed along those same lines.  Setting moralism aside, it might not be smart business to make too many enemies.  On the flip side, smart business is always smart business.

This leads me to my final, very random point: The Mavs were right in that Harden really turned out to be who they described him as.  This became clear as the honeymoon waned over the course of last season and his true tendencies more and more came to light.  I promised I’d push this to the dormant recesses of my brain, but the overtime sequence in one of the games in the playoffs (see?  I told you I tried to forget it) that saw Houston run its offense exclusively through Dwight Howard, and its accompanying effect on Harden, was one of the most chilling sequences I can ever remember witnessing in my 20 years of following this team.  Harden literally just quit.  Apart from dumping the ball into Howard, he ceased doing anything else on the court.  The best player on this team, in the prime of his career, had quit on this team for a critical stretch of a playoff series.  For all of the slack a washed up McGrady got for a certain play against Toronto (you can look it up), that paled in comparison.  It wasn’t even close.

You won’t/didn’t see much discussion of what happened, save for some random confusion on Twitter, maybe because no one really got what happened.  To this day, I tell myself he was just gassed and had run out fuel.  After all, lack of conditioning is excusable.  Giving up on your team isn’t.

in columns

On being the bad guys

There’s a shadow at the edges of Houston’s awareness, close enough to make you glance in that direction, but fleeting enough that you can choose to ignore it. It’s a real concern that’s been largely ignored so far, but it’s about to hit another level in the coming weeks. The Rockets and their followers may not want to admit it, but soon they won’t have any choice. Acquiring Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love or, in the most extreme case imaginable, LeBron James will only kick this into hyperdrive. It’s time to be honest about an ongoing trend: the Rockets are becoming The Bad Guys.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the Rockets have been bad guys for a while. Maybe not capitalized, definite article “The Bad Guys” yet, but not on the white hat side of the common narrative. People, by and large, don’t like Dwight Howard after his repeated summers of indecision and throwing Stan van Gundy under the bus. That’s hardly a surprise for anyone, and the collective Rockets universe was ready for some blowback on that. The surprise was when the rest of the team began to take on this aspect as well. James Harden, in particular, fell from grace with a dull thud. His lackluster defense and cool, arrogant mien rubbed a nation the wrong way, headlining a group that found itself on the wrong side of narrative.

[read more…]

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The Red94 Podcast: Episode 44

In today’s episode, I take reader questions about the team’s pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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  • This is actually not Part 2, but you can find all of my thoughts on free agency by clicking on the bottom tag beneath this post.
  • Here’s one more thought I’ve had brewing for some time: I don’t think people properly evaluate Lebron James’ shelf life and similarly, unless he’s completely lacking any sort of cognizance of his basketball mortality (which is very well possible, as is the case with many of the greats), I don’t think the appropriate sense of urgency is ascribed to his mindset.  James is 29 already, has been playing since he was 18, but also carrying crappy teams deep into the playoffs by himself since a young age.  We deify Jordan, which is great for narrative, but we casually omit recognition of some very accommodating factors he had in his favor, namely that he didn’t come into the league until later and above all, that he took a nearly two-year break from the game.  Too often, people make the mistake of assessing a player’s shelf life by his age, rather than by his odometer.  James is already 29 and only has two championships by his name.  To even tie Michael, at a best-case scenario, he’d need to maintain dominance until age 33 with his team achieving the unlikely feat of winning four straight championships.  That’s not happening and that God-like athleticism is already slightly beginning to deteriorate.  The aforementioned is why I don’t quite understand the rationale when it is often brought up that James “can just opt in with the Heat for this next year, then survey the landscape again in 2015.”  I really don’t get that.  Are we really not grasping that the Heat won’t be winning the title ever again?  There were several West teams that would have beaten them in a series and Kyle Lowry alone isn’t changing that.  By the end of the Finals, Miami looked even worse than James’ old Cavs teams with James and Bosh left standing as the only competent players.  Again, I go back to the bell-curve I discussed for financial motivations: it applies here too.  The vast majority of players would be beyond thrilled with a scenario that guaranteed an annual trip to the Finals.  (At the bottom curve, players are just happy to be in the NBA, even if its in Milwaukee).  But for James, being competitive isn’t enough – he has to win titles, and quickly.  He’s running out of time. So again, I don’t quite get this notion that James can just “wait it out until 2015″ and should “trust Pat Riley to fix it.”  Why even wait for something to be fixed when there is a tailor-made situation in Houston?

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