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NBA PM: Houston Targeting Chris Paul, Too?
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 31, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
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Houston Rockets Targeting Chris Paul, Too?
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey stirred up a Texas-sized dust storm when he told an assembly of Rockets season ticket holders earlier this week that he planned to chase the top two free agents this summer. He didn’t mention names, of course, because that would draw a fine from the NBA, but it’s not hard to conclude that one of the two is Los Angeles Lakers free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard. Howard has talked with current Rockets, he has indicated to those around him that he really likes the idea of playing in Houston and multiple sources are happy to report that Houston is the front-runner for his services, though that is always hard to really gauge with the mercurial Howard. More than anything else, Howard likes to be liked, so he has a tendency to tell whichever team he’s talking to that he has them at the top of his list. Still, he is Houston’s biggest target in free agency.
The other top free agent this summer is, of course, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, but it’s debatable whether or not Morey was referring to Paul when he talked about the top two free agents. Paul is a free agent in title only, and has given every indication to those around him that he will not be leaving L.A. this summer. It’s still possible that Morey was dreaming of Chris Paul, but it’s also possible that he was thinking of Josh Smith, who is arguably the most available free agent once Howard is off the market. David West, like Paul, is highly unlikely to leave the Indiana Pacers, so saying he’s available would be a bit of a leap.
But let’s say Morey believes he has a chance to land both Howard and Paul, creating a monster Big Three in combination with James Harden. How does he accomplish that, exactly?
The NBA has told owners to expect a salary cap of roughly $58.5 million for next season, with a corresponding luxury tax threshold of $71.5 million. A max contract for Dwight Howard starts at $20.51 million, while a max contract for Chris Paul would start at roughly $18.69 million. Not counting cap holds, the Rockets currently have guaranteed contracts for next season totaling $39.3 million, meaning they can’t actually just sign the pair even if they could be persuaded to sign in Houston. The reality is that the Rockets would already be at roughly $53 million if they only had Howard, Harden and Paul on the roster, and that’s assuming they could unload basically everyone else. That leaves nine roster spots to fill, with minimum cap holds for each totaling $4.275 million. The math simply doesn’t work.
It’s possible that the Lakers will look to work a sign-and-trade if it becomes clear that Howard is leaving town, though only if they have exhausted every possible avenue to keep him. Remember that even the Cleveland Cavaliers worked a sign-and-trade when LeBron James left under one of the worst PR circumstances possible. In that event, it becomes fairly easy for Houston to offload at least Thomas Robinson and possibly even Omer Asik, if not to the Lakers directly, to another team in a three-way deal. If a sign-and-trade can’t be worked out, the Rockets could still move Royce White, Thomas Robinson and Terrence Jones in smaller deals. That clears the way for Houston to add Howard’s max contract while still maintaining a solid core group of James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. Given Morey’s knack for adding overachievers at bargain prices, filling out the roster around Howard does not represent a daunting challenge.
Given Paul’s determination to stay in L.A. with the Clippers, it makes more sense for the Rockets to chase another key free agent who would come at a price tag below maximum, like Atlanta’s Smith, for example. Smith’s price is likely to be closer to $10-12 million in year one of his new contract, a much more manageable number for Houston to work with. Even at that number, however, there is absolutely no way Houston can afford him unless the Hawks are willing to do a sign-and-trade, which seems a remote possibility at best.
Any talk of adding a second star player along with Howard is, of course, premature. Howard has given some indications that he favors Houston, but if history has taught us anything it’s that Dwight’s favorite team is whichever one he’s talking to at a given moment. He could tell Houston they’re his team, and that will be true until he lands in Atlanta, where he could tell the Hawks they are his top choice. The same could happen when he visits the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks and even the Toronto Raptors. Then there’s the Brooklyn Nets, who are still very much determined to land Howard and have arguably the most attractive piece to offer via trade in Brook Lopez. What about the San Antonio Spurs? They will have room to add a max contract, and could be defending another championship, as well.
Landing Howard in Houston will take a great initial pitch and then a little bit of luck, with some serious TLC from Hakeem Olajuwon thrown in for good measure. Until they get Howard’s name on a contract, any other speculation about additional stars landing in Houston is pointless.
David West Not Coy About Future
In an era where free-agents-to-be love to play coy about their futures, Indiana Pacers All-Star forward David West is playing no games. He has absolutely every intention of returning to Indiana once teams can begin negotiations in July.
“Yeah,” West said an interview with Chris Thomasson of FOX Sports Florida. “I love what we’ve been able to accomplish in the lockout season (2011-12) and this full season, and I just pretty much love how this group has grown together since I’ve been there.”
That echoes the sentiment West expressed when he sat down for an in-depth interview with HOOPSWORLD at the end of March.
“Yeah, this is what I needed for my career in terms of last year, making the decision to come here with the young talent,” West told HOOPSWORLD. “Obviously, having a couple of bigs helped in that decision. We’re just going to continue to move forward, push forward. We’re going to worry about how we finish up this year and what we’re like heading into the playoffs and the chips will fall where they may after that.”
Any time West is asked about his future he talks about how much he loves the Pacers, and the feeling is absolutely mutual.
“I don’t think there is a doubt that David West is us,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard told HOOPSWORLD. “You know what I mean? He talks about our leadership group and we don’t have one guy who leads us. There’s a couple guys, George Hill, [Roy] Hibbert, Paul George and David, obviously, they set the culture. It’s about the players and what they’re about and it trickles down to everybody else. So David is a part of the culture, George, a couple of other guys. Again, that’s sort of a fit, right? That’s what we look to as important, how a guy fits, and David fits awfully well.”
When former Pacers President Larry Bird and former GM David Morway made the decision to sign West to the two-year, $20 million contract he’s finishing now, it was all about culture. Now that the time is near to make another decision about West, current management couldn’t be happier with the decision, in retrospect.
As clear as West has been in making his desire to return to Indiana known, head coach Frank Vogel has been even more to the point in discussing what his team should do about West.
“There’s no way we’re letting David go,” Vogel said.
The good news for the Pacers is that because West is not a max-contract player they have a realistic chance of bringing him back without making difficult decisions about the rest of the roster. The Pacers are not a team that can afford to be at the luxury tax threshold, so if they can get West back for something similar to the deal he has now they can keep him while also adding a piece to come off the bench to provide second unit scoring. Where things could get sticky is if one of the many teams that have cleared space to try and lure Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Josh Smith decides to target West after missing out on the others.
The Pacers have $56.6 million in guaranteed money on the books for next season after West’s contract expires, along with those of D.J. Augustin and Sam Young. As a nine-year pro, West could command $17.55 million next season if he were to sign a max contract, though he’s not the kind of game-changing player who generally gets max consideration. Still, strange things happen when teams have a ton of cap space and miss out on the their primary targets. If the Pacers wind up in a bidding war for West, they might have to move some other salary to assure their culture-setter is still in uniform when the team takes the court next season.
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