"We're going to have cap room to bring in a terrific free agent and I think next year we'll be a lot better than we were this year." -- Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, 5/5/2014
It seems crazy to think that after pilfering James Harden, a likely first team All-NBA shooting guard, from Oklahoma City back in October 2012, and then succeeding in landing the biggest fish, Dwight Howard, last summer, that the Rockets essentially must make another splashy move just to keep up with the elite in the NBA's Western Conference.
"We won 54 games," Alexander said. "It's tough to win 54 games in the NBA and the West is so stacked, it's hard."
Indeed, it's hard. (Also, that's what she said.)
So with the NBA Playoffs winding down, and with all but four of the teams eliminated, the picture begins to come into focus as to who this summer's targets will be, and after a story from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski broke over the weekend, it has become readily apparent. For numerous suitors, 2014 will be a summer of Love.
Specifically, Minnesota forward Kevin Love, who according to the story is ready to move on after his contract expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season:
Beyond the coaching search, the Wolves are under pressure to start considering trade scenarios for Love, who's anxious to exercise his early termination option (ETO) in the summer of 2015 and leave as a free agent, league sources said.
"For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option," one rival executive told Yahoo Sports.
The Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are among many teams determined to make hard runs at trades for Love, league sources said. Boston and Los Angeles plan to make high-lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft available in offers for Love, sources said.
No team is likely to trade for Love without an assurance that he'll commit to a five-year, $100 million maximum contract extension. Despite a belief that Love prefers Los Angeles or New York as a potential destination, he's open to deals in other markets where he can be part of an immediate contender, sources said.
That last sentence is the key -- "open to deals in other markets where he can be part of an immediate contender" -- because it now makes this a possibility, as well:
Another contender planning aggressive play for a Kevin Love trade, sources tell Yahoo: Houston. Kevin McHale has strong bond with Love.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 18, 2014
The NBA is in an odd state of flux right now where, for the first time since the peach basket, the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks are all bad at the same time. Like, really bad. That, combined with the traditional barriers between "big market" and "medium/small market" crumbling in the age of satellite and the internet bring several new Love suitors into the mix.
All you need to know about where things stand in the league right now with respect to market profile is that Golden State is seen as a more logical landing spot for a superstar than LA or Boston. "Big market" is a passé fallback in terms of criteria. San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Indiana are three of the final four teams remaining. In 2014, if you're a star, shoe companies and Hollywood will find you.
Back to the dregs, the Celtics and the Lakers both have first round picks whose slot will be determined on Tuesday night by this year's draft lottery (slotted by record, they would be 4th and 6th, respectively), which means they could have the draft rights to, say, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, or Jabari Parker to offer up for Love if either of the teams makes a ping pong ball-feuled leap into the top three.
Of course, offering up a future franchise player like one of the "Big Three" future rookies for a player in Love who, while only 25 years old, has proven thus far to be more of a really good player on a bad team (and a bad defensive player, to boot) than someone who raises the level of everyone around him brings up a whole separate Love issue.
In fact, this is the issue with Love. Is he a better souped up "second wheel" (or on the Rockets, third wheel) than he is an alpha dog.
It would seem that Boston or the Lakers trading for Love to be their "best player" would be creating a Minnesota, sub .500 situation all over again, just with better tradition and, in the case of Los Angeles, nicer weather.
For his part, if reports are true, it would seem like Love is becoming more self aware about the complements needed for his skills (or more frightened about never cracking the .500 mark as a player, one or the other...or both), as the initial leaders in the clubhouse were reportedly Chicago and Golden State, both situations where he would be paired with All-Stars (Joakim Noah and a healthy Derrick Rose in Chicago and Steph Curry in Golden State) on teams what would be likely 50-55 win teams with Love.
Then there are our Houston Rockets.
Assuming that the Rockets are a desirable landing spot for Love and that he would indeed sign a new deal to become a Houston Rocket, what are the assets that general manager Daryl Morey possesses to offer up? It would seem like, in no particular order, they go like this:
* All of his first round picks going forward, so he theoretically could give the Timberwolves their choice of a first rounder in any year or, more likely, a couple alternating years (because of the Ted Stepien Rule), likely either 2014/2016 or 2015/2017.
* Omer Asik, a top 10-12 center when motivated and playing full minutes, at one year remaining on his deal for around $15 million and a cap slot of around $8 million and change. With center already locked down until 2018 in Minnesota with Nikola Pekovic, involving Asik in a Love deal would probably mean a third team getting into the mix, which means it is also TBD if Asik's pending free agency would be seen as more ("Bird" rights, ability to offer most money, or pending cap space if Asik leaves) or less (risk he could go elsewhere) desirable by a team looking to carve out space heading into 2015.
* Terrence Jones, a rising, young (22 years old), highly skilled forward who is under team control for at least two more years on the cheap ($1.6 million next season, team option for 2015-16 for $2.5 million) and whose employer could match any restricted free agency offers after the 2015-16 season.
* Chandler Parsons, and now it gets tricky. We will start with Parsons' contractual situation, which needs to be resolved by June 30, the date by which the Rockets either reject their team option for next season ($964,750 salary), making Parsons a restricted free agent (and leaving Parsons' employer the ability to match any offer) or opt to pay Parsons $964,750 and allow him to enter unrestricted free agency after the 2014-15 season. Minnesota would obviously want these same rights and level of control over Parsons transferred to them if they traded for him, so if Parsons is going to be part of the deal then June 30 becomes a very important date (as Ben Dubose points out in his thorough clutchfans overview of the deal). This doesn't even begin to factor in Parsons leadership role on the team, popularity among his teammates and fans, and his role in bringing in Dwight Howard. These aspects of a Parsons-feuled deal are not easily quantified.
* Cash, the Rockets can splash up to $3 million in cash to sweeten the deal, which would conceivably allay some of the sting of paying Asik $15 million next season for whomever that team might be.
From Love's standpoint, assuming the potential teams all have the same capability/desire to meet Love's salary demands, the question comes down to how much he values the ability to win right away, which among the teams in the running, would seem to narrow things down to Houston, Chicago, and Golden State.
Those three teams are ready made to win and not needing to promise Love a future "second or third move" to get another star player like the Lakers and Celtics would probably have to do (Rajon Rondo's future in Boston admittedly being a wild card in all of this, to a degree).
The important question then becomes "Does Love see himself best equipped to make deep playoff runs in the East with Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and Derrick Rose's knees, or in the West with Dwight Howard and James Harden, or in the West with Steph Curry, and whatever else is left over after they trade for Love?"
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Assuming the Rockets have the stomach to go all-in on getting Love (as opposed to pursuing Deron Williams or Rondo, and "all in" meaning "willingness to trade Chandler Parsons") then they've got a puncher's chance.
Hey, at the very least, you have a reason to watch the NBA Draft Lottery tonight!
Boooo, Lakers and Celtics!