The Houston Rockets won the jackpot by signing the most coveted player in the 2013 NBA free agency class, although it’s not quite sure what will be the manner of his signing for the team, and if Jeremy Lin and/or Omer Asik will pay the price of his arrival.
In terms of choice, as general manager Daryl Morey explained it, the Rockets were the obvious choice. They have a young team with the best point differential among all those chasing him, not to mention offering the best player – James Harden, to play next to, which was a very important factor for Howard.
Howard wants to win more than anything else, even if his smile betrays it sometimes. For that, in terms of winning now and for a few more years, the Rockets presented the best option, although both Houston and Howard would like to see the team having more cap flexibility in an attempt to chase another star.
Josh Smith is now out of reach. The Detroit Pistons managed to sign him away from the Atlanta Hawks and in any case, no one in Houston or Atlanta mentioned any talks going on about a rumored sign & trade that was supposed to send Asik and another player to Atlanta in change for Smith, reuniting school-days buddies and current NBA stars.
There were talks that the New Orleans Pelicans were interested in completing a trade for Asik, but according to Marc Stein there have been no talks, and New Orleans has no interest in the Turkish center.
The question regarding Howard seems to be how he plans to arrive. The Rockets can’t give him a maximum deal, with $15 million in cap-space right now. That means that if they sign Howard through free agency, it’ll be for less than the $88 million, four-year contract everyone was talking about.
Howard proved he isn’t only about the money when he gave up $30 million (and an extra year) by not re-signing with the Lakers, although he’s probably confident enough to believe he’ll make up for that “lost cash” by getting another huge deal after his next contract expires.
And then there’s the sign & trade option for the Lakers, who should probably take it, unless they’re planning on taking a huge risk and heading into next season with the current roster, along with one mid-level exception signing and maybe a few more minimum deals they can pick up.
What will they get for Howard? Probably Jeremy Lin & Omer Asik, although the Lakers’ first plan going into this offseason, in case Howard wasn’t going to re-sign, was letting him go for nothing and avoid picking up any contracts that will stop them from having a huge amount of free cap-space heading into the 2014 summer.
Lin and Asik together are worth $16.6 million, and Asik is a definite starter on almost any NBA team. And yet there is the question of how much he fits the D’Antoni system, whatever it may be. Lin? With Steve Nash still on board, it’s hard to say if he’s going to be a starter, even though Nash won’t be able to play 30 minutes a night anymore, guaranteeing Lin plenty of time on the floor. Still, paying over $8 million for a borderline starter isn’t exactly a good idea in terms or rebuilding.
For the Rockets, it’s about finding a suitable trading partner, which should be easier for Asik. But in case they’re planning on grabbing another All-Star player, that seems highly unlikely at the moment, and will probably involve more than one or two steps of transactions, and more than one season of Howard on the team.
A team with Asik and Lin on it for Howard to join? Doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, at least in the short term. It might not make them bonafide title contenders, but they’re probably better off than any of the other teams that were pursuing Howard.