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Would acquiring Kevin Love really be the smartest course of action?

A reader, @RayanB24, writes:

@RedNinetyFour but are you really that sure that a 3rd star is better than a deep team around Harden and Howard?

We’ve been talking some time about the Rockets’ need for a third star stating that until one was acquired, money could not be spent elsewhere, such as upon re-signing Chandler Parsons.  This is because to acquire a third star, the Rockets need to maintain salary cap flexibility.  The situation of Kevin Love is an interesting one because getting him would require gutting the team to a far greater degree than would the scenario involving Carmelo Anthony.  If Anthony were signed, it would only be at the cost of whatever it took to unload Jeremy Lin (in addition to Jeremy Lin himself).  Chandler Parsons could then be re-signed with his bird rights.  But to get Love, the team would have to trade Parsons and most likely the freshly acquired Pelicans pick, in addition to whatever, again, it would take to unload Jeremy Lin.  In essence, getting Love would require, most likely, sacrificing two major pieces that would not need to be sacrificed in an Anthony scenario.  The above analysis lends naturally towards the reader’s question: is it all worth it?  Would it not be wiser to just simply round out the roster?

Pursuing a third max-level free agent is the wisest course for two major reasons: 1) max players are the best value contracts and 2) the Rockets’ reality.

What do I mean?

With a salary cap, and an artificial ceiling on salaries, the max-level player represents the best value in the NBA simply because, if he’s a true max, (as I think most people would agree Kevin Love is), his production would probably merit a greater percentage of a team’s salary cap in a true free market.  As things stand, fitting as many of these guys as you can within your cap represents the most efficient allocation of resources.

But really underscoring this point is my reason #2: the Rockets’ reality.  Let me explain:

Let’s say you’re the Heat.  (Assume for a minute that Dwyane Wade isn’t completely washed up and is actually still a superstar caliber player).  Because of their recent history of personnel transactions, you could make the case that for them, using Wade’s money on two or three other guys would be smarter than bringing back Wade.  Why?  Because 1) they’ve demonstrated they are not willing to exceed the luxury tax in consecutive seasons and 2) they have no history of player development.  In essence, when the Heat sign three stars, that’s basically their entire team.

The Rockets, on the other hand, have two things going for them.  First, Les Alexander seems willing to pay the tax.  While he’s only ever paid it once, in fairness, he’s never had a team worth paying it for.  For purposes of this analysis, we’ll just have to take him at face value when he proclaims to The Chronicle every summer that he’s willing to exceed the tax.  But more importantly, what the Rockets have going for them is Daryl Morey’s penchant for finding unearthed gems.  Look at history of finding contributors off the scrap heap, a laundry list that includes Pat Beverley, Chandler Parsons, Chase Budinger, and Carl Landry, and guys like Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, and Courtney Lee via trade before their true values had been realized.

Basically, what I’m saying is that Daryl Morey will never have trouble “rounding out a team.”  He can always find quality contributors on the cheap to round out his team, even when he’s capped out.  What he can’t find on his own are superstar level talents.  He’s bidding against the entire league in that chase and he’s constrained by financial realities.  When he has a chance to actually get one of these players, he has to jump on it.  That course represents the most efficient use of the team’s cap.

If the Rockets get love, they probably end up with a starting lineup of Love, Howard, Harden, Beverley, and a hole at small forward, with Terrence Jones and Troy Daniels off the bench.  But they will have their exceptions available in coming years (or even this year depending on how the transaction is enacted), and will always have the ability to add guys on the minimum as they had done with Beverley.  Is anyone really doubting whether Daryl Morey will be able to duplicate the feat of years past and round out the roster with hidden diamonds?  Think back through Morey’s tenure as general manager, back before the Harden trade.  This team always had well-rounded rosters featuring home grown products Morey had found himself.

Another benefit Houston would have at its disposal is that superstars are veteran magnets.  If they form a Big 3, you can bet quality veterans will be willing to sign at less than market value for the opportunity to chase a ring, as Shane Battier and Ray Allen had done with the Heat.

Carmelo Anthony should still be choice #1.  Losing Parsons and the Pelicans pick hurts.  But if the team strikes out on Anthony and gets the green light from Minnesota, acquiring Kevin Love is still a no-brainer.  While the cost looks prohibitive on the surface, the Rockets can quickly recoup their losses in the coming years.  They won’t again have the opportunity to get a guy like Love.

My podcast yesterday on the Love pursuit.

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

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