The Houston Rockets believe they can sign LeBron James in the offseason

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 09: James Harden
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 09: James Harden /

Could LeBron James leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign with the Houston Rockets next summer?

The Houston Rockets, the hottest team in the league at 20-4, believe they can sign Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James in the 2018 offseason when James inevitably opts out of his contract — possibly in an effort to secure his last long-term max contract as he takes advantage of the CBA’s new Over-38 rule.

Quote transcribed by USA Today’s Sam Amick:

"While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance."

The Over-38 rule — which was previously the Over-36 rule — prevents a player from signing a four-year or five-year contract with a team if they’ll be 38-years-old or older by the time the contract expires. With this rule change, James can sign a lucrative four-year contract on the heels of a rising salary cap. A man with James’ media, scholastic and business interests needs (and wants) all the capital he can get – never forget that James has said he wants to be a billionaire.

Playing on a max contract in Texas, a place where there’s no state tax, could certainly help him accomplish that goal.

First things first though… What max contract? With consideration to their salary cap holds (holds which include the salaries of point god Chris Paul, three-and-D specialist Trevor Ariza and up-and-comer Clint Capela), the Rockets could be anywhere from $46 million over the salary cap to $20 million below it.

Say that the Rockets let everyone walk but Paul and then sign Paul to a $20 million contract. The Rockets would be just $4 million under the cap.

Say they also found a team to absorb Ryan Anderson’s $20 million contract for nothing. The Rockets are $24 million under the cap and that’s the most they could offer James unless James Harden (who takes home $30 million next season) takes a small paycut to even out his and James’ salaries. Now, if the Rockets manage to maneuver to get this Big Three together, they’ll need to replace Ariza (who has started every game for them since 2014) and Capela (one of the game’s most dominant big men) unless James and Harden took paycuts to keep both in town.

At that point, James would be making $20 million – two-thirds of what he could make on a max contract. James currently makes $33 million and even with Ohio’s state tax you figure James is taking about $30 million to the bank this season.

So, before even looking at the dangers of expecting three-ball dominant players to gel, James has to sacrifice $10 million to play on the Rockets. James, however, has taken a pay cut to team up with superstars in a state with no state tax before and he’d probably do it again but just think about how difficult this is for both sides: the salary cap gymnastics Houston would have to perform and the paycut James would have to be willing to take.

Still, there’s a plethora question that must be answered.

Will Harden accept being in the shadow of James (literally a living legend on the basketball court)? Will he accept James being perceived as the driving force behind a potential championship after years of being the face of the franchise? Will James accept it if Harden is the one seen as the driving force behind the championship? Can the King of


Ohio go to Harden’s kingdom in Houston and be content if he’s in Harden’s shadow?

Harden seems like a player who doesn’t crave the spotlight like other superstars do, even ending a relationship with Khloe Kardashian because the spotlight was too bright (and not about basketball). He’s also the best player in the league without a championship. These two factors alone, his ability to be content with sticking to the shadows and his desire to win a championship, could lead to him accepting the media circus that comes with James.

James just wants to win championships and be dominant in the process, focusing on his (and the team’s) opinions about his play rather than the media’s. Furthermore, he had no issue with Kyrie Irving being a rising superstar and MVP candidate or conceding shots to him in big moments.

With that said, ego doesn’t look to be a problem in this partnership but out of prudence it’s necessary to question.

The big question though?

Can the Rockets gel with what would essentially be three point guards on the floor at the same time?

Because these players are cerebral and all capable of playing off-ball… Yes. That’s the difference between the Golden State Warriors amalgamation of star talent and a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder: the basketball IQ of the individual players and those players’ abilities to play off-ball.

Harden, James and Paul, playing within the fast-paced offense of offensive mastermind Mike D’Antoni, wouldn’t just be able to get shots up at an insane rate but because of their scoring ability, passing ability and court vision they’d be an efficient group as well.

It would actually be scary to go against three elite playmakers and two who are volume scorers. Players who should be able to score at will while buoyed by the Rockets’ newfound defensive purpose.

I should probably stop writing now because — finances aside — the more I think about it, the more sense LeBron to Houston makes as a win-now move. Even moreso than playing with Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love – unless the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick nets them a special player ahead of the July Moratorium.

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