What would be the Houston Rockets’ sales pitch to Kevin Durant?

Despite earlier reports that they weren’t at all even in the running, a recent Y! report listed Houston as one of several hopefuls who could still potentially get a meeting with Durant.  And James Harden says he’ll be trying.  So who knows at this point?  I still think while they didn’t break the top tier of meetings (Golden State and San Antonio), Durant gives the Rockets a chance to make their pitch, just as a token to James Harden.  One could argue Durant would let Harden know if his team were completely out of the running, just so that they don’t sit around wasting valuable time.

But as of today, the chances of the pipe dream coming to realization are basically next to none.  The events of the past month and change have only weakened the odds.  Oklahoma City wasn’t dismantled by San Antonio, as was expected, thus strengthening the appeal of Durant’s current situation.  Golden State didn’t go on to win the championship, as was expected, thus slightly dampening the possibility of ring-chasing optics.  And on Thursday night, Sam Presti reeled in a haul from Orlando better than any we’ve seen in recent history for a star player.  In the moments after, while it was clear the Thunder had massively upgraded its roster, I wondered on Twitter how Durant would perceive the move.  It has seemed to have almost always been the case that teammates resent the departure of a long tenured veteran, even if objective observers are in consensus regarding the favorability of the young players acquired.  (Camby/Oakley, Jermaine O’Neal/Dale Davis, the list goes on and on).  But it has come to light in the time since the deal that Ibaka was unhappy and Durant had no issue with the deal.  So there goes that – Durant knows an already-great situation is even better now.

To land Durant, the Rockets would have, and will have to convince him that joining James Harden and Al Horford is preferable to his other options.  (It’s been rumored that Horford is one player that Durant would like to play with some day).  This, of course, would require convincing Al Horford to sign here as well.  They could’ve pointed to Oklahoma City’s lack of flexibility to improve going further, with Ibaka and Waiters slated for free agency.  That angle has evaporated with Thursday’s deal for Oladipo, a player who fits perfectly into the Thunder’s ethos and whose skills, alongside Westbrook, will most likely make for an utterly devastating backcourt combination.

I’ve argued in the past that Harden and Durant are simply a natural fit.  Unlike Russell Westbrook, James Harden, as a natural playmaker, is the ideal fit with Durant, and Durant possibly is already cognizant of this from their days together.  It would be up to Mike D’Antoni, in Houston’s pitch, to hammer this point home, especially if able to add in the passing instincts of Al Horford to the lineup.  That trio would present a rare blend of passing, shooting, and playmaking, comparable to any other in the league, guided by Mike D’Antoni, one of only three coaches in the league to have won 60 games multiple times (or whatever that hilariously irrelevant statistic that Les threw out actually was).  The Rockets would have to convince Durant that joining San Antonio or Golden State–while neither the defending champions, teams having won recent championships–would tarnish his legacy.  Come to Houston and create your own legacy would be the pitch.  They would then show him the film of how the Warriors were able to get back into the series, stuffing the paint and allowing Westbrook to go one on one, or doubling Durant while leaving Westbrook open on the perimeter for outside jump-shots.  D’Antoni could explain how this could not happen next to Harden.  As for the Celtics, they’ll need to find one star to begin with to appear compelling, much less the possibility of teaming up three.  “I can’t wait to play with the great young rookies they just drafted,” said no star NBA player ever.

The problem, and what makes Houston’s chances next to none, is that outside of Harden, there is nothing. There is no established supporting cast to point to, no infrastructure, no scheme, not even a culture of winning.  Houston’s pitch is entirely theoretical.  “Come to Houston to build something great,” essentially. It’s not even clear that D’Antoni is still a winning coach in the NBA.

And that’s what’s so frustrating.  If the Rockets even get a meeting, it will be thanks to Durant’s friendship with Harden.  Whereas all they had to do this year was seem plausible, maintain credibility.  All the Rockets had to do was not be the biggest disappointment in Houston sports history and come off like the most dysfunctional team in the NBA.  That was the bar.  Had they just won 50 games as they had the past few years, they would probably be right there with the top suitors.

The great irony is that the Rockets, in part, have nothing else to show for their roster, because they’ve punted on opportunities to make incremental improvements to give themselves a chance for opportunities like this.  I’ve always supported the big-game hunting, but you see the trickle-down effects.  Sometimes it works – they were able to land Dwight Howard; but since then, the strategy has been a detriment, with the climax being the failed pursuits of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh a few summers ago.  To his credit, Daryl Morey has been able to rebound smartly with shrewd bargain acquisitions like Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley.  But there’s a reason sometimes why certain guys are bargains, and we saw the culmination of that last season.  What if Houston had just brought back Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, and traded Omer Asik for Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass?  What if they had hired an actual coach to instill a culture rather than a cheerleader to perpetuate and enable the bad habits of their best players?  Wouldn’t they be better off than where they are right now?

If it quickly becomes clear that Durant is headed elsewhere, I hope Houston doesn’t wait around.  And I’m curious to see how things play out, given the stellar crop available next summer.  How can they convince next year’s free agents to sign up, if again this year, they don’t improve?  And the clock on James Harden’s free agency is ticking as well.

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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  • Jatman20

    My sentiments as well with exception to D’Antoni. I would add friendship of Beasley with an attempt to get Augustine in free agency (together while
    with the Longhorns & again recently in OKC). With Westbrook’s ego Augustine didn’t get a fair chance. Stick with the positives of making a concerted effort to keep Ariza & add more 3 & D guys. No state income tax is a plus. People are leaving California in droves to Nevada to avoid high state income taxes. D’Antoni’s system is run the floor fast and PnR at various places on the court. Iso usually only at end of quarters (which
    will please Red94 fans). Problem with D’Antoni in the past is lack of depth
    which teams have addressed now-a-days. The successful teams are running; but have an effecient 2nd team as well that can run. Rockets are getting younger and more athletic in order to gear towards such a feat.
    Morey in the press conference with D’Antoni pushed Brewer’s name
    out there. What Morey and D’Antoni need to understand is “run n gun” can win you a lot of regular season games; but the playoff teams will take
    away the transition fast break points. This is where D’Antoni has failed before and Morey will as well counting on guys like McDaniels (without improving his shot) or Brewer. Perimeter players better be able to hit
    outside shots……as the layoffs become a half court game. I have faith
    Mr. B will get that defense in order. Two years ago the Rockets were
    a top notch defense with Howard missing 41 games. The team can
    get there again with a small tweak here and there (2 or 3 Free Agents).

  • redninetyfour

    Has there been any evidence of anyone ever coming to a Texas team and citing the lack of state income tax?

  • Jatman20

    No, and I don’t think Durant is about the money, but he will be accompanied by agent, family and friends (reportedly). They might be helped swaying Durant when seeing the numbers listed on the big board. The few extra millions made advantage in NY or California is almost nixed or decreased somewhat.
    Remember the positives. One can’t say the Rockets made it to the WCF’s also… big deal. He might be insulted and walk out.
    Unlike the Rockets the Thunder are not sitting on their morals and are trying to address weaknesses.

  • Yu-Hsing Chen

    The problem here is that James Harden’s contract runs just two more seasons, it gets risky if the Rockets disappoint again next year.

    Given the way Harden’s game is and how his body is progressing, it is at least a real question if Houston is sure they like to have him on another 5 year max that start from his age 29 season . (though he would also be at 9 year service, so the max at least won’t be 35%, but by then we might also have a new CBA.)

    The other underlying problem is that despite having above average number of picks (though usually not high picks) the Rockets hasn’t hit on a ton of guys recently outside of Capela.(and given how Dmo and Jones have gone, I would like to see at least one more solid season from Clint before I’m sure he’s the real deal.) I recall when Lin was traded many here were very optimistic that Canaan or even Nick Johnson would be superior players going forward, well that was unfounded optimism to say the least as Lin may arguably been the 3rd best player on the Rockets in the last 2 year stretch. The draftees this year are really good by statistical translation but it is of course open question if any of them works out. Zhou Qi in theory could be a huge piece if he works out as true rim protector that can also shoot the lights out and move in transition, but there’s also every chance in the world that he doesn’t.

    I would say that signing FAs to big contract this year isn’t the end of the world as long as they’re within the realm of sanity, because if next year doesn’t work out we may be heading for true rebuild anyway. and with the cap going for another jump and the very likely end result also being a bunch of teams ending up with more space than players. AND the uncertainty of the CBA going forward, having guys in longer contract is likely to be assets rather than liability (obviously, as long as it’s in the realm of sanity.)

    Assuming that the Rockets miss out on the biggest fish, I would advocate that they might as well sign role players to longer term deals as long as it’s within a range where they should still be tradable in the next 2-3 year. This both gives them the better odds of being competitive and looking like a more attractive option next year, and also actually hedge themselves if things go badly that they could facilitate a full blow up.

  • Jatman20

    I agree with you. In competing with the Big Markets (NY/LA/GSW) or SA and Miami the Rockets have few arrows in their quiver to fire. The Rockets can only make promises that they will get the players to surround him….but that time goes fast when he signs a two year contract with a player option on the second year ( which is what I think he signs regardless of where he ends up this year).
    A couple FA’s this year to place the Rockets in position for next summer may be more advantageous.

  • redninetyfour

    Lin as the third best player during this stretch is ironic and possibly true.

  • Jatman20

    Report today (06/28/16) Atlanta Hawks are trying to get meeting with Durant. They are thinking of going after Dwight Howard. Quick Horford,
    You need to get out of Dodge and come to the Rockets this summer.
    Durant can join you next season.

  • wendytindys8555

    ter Dwight Howard. Quick Horford,
    You need to get out of Dodge and com https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/357f219d025d9fe7fd3d3407aa20bae1f46de98669e96aa96e0263990e63875d.jpg

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