Should the Houston Rockets Seek to Add Third Max-Contract Star?


Apr 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) walks back to the bench during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 102-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The mark of the modern era of basketball has been the building of “super teams.” The two-time champion Miami Heat are the most successful culmination of this concept, a team that united three of the top-10 talents in the NBA when it formed in 2008.

LeBron James is almost unarguably the best in the game, though, and this can’t be forgotten when evaluating the success of the super team concept. The Boston Celtics united Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for a title; but it was just that, one title.

What the Houston Rockets need to be most concerned with is creating a team that can sustain long-term success. While James Harden is a very dynamic and gifted scorer, he is not on the level of LeBron James, especially defensively where Harden lags and puts forth very little effort typically. The Rockets’ style doesn’t demand Harden play a lot of intense defense and he saves most of his energy for attacking the rim on offense.

Still, Harden is a high usage player and pairing him with another may not benefit the game of either player. While James also has a high usage rate, he shares the ball very well and the comparisons to Magic Johnson early in his career were not that off-base. Simply, James is a special talent that covers a multitude of his own sins, and those of his teammates. The same can not be said for The Bearded One.

So, what then is the approach to building with Harden? The addition of Carmelo Anthony would require sacrificing depth, and the Rockets already have precious little of that. Sticking with Chandler Parsons and adding a perimeter defender and combo forward may be the best route the Rockets could go. One name that makes a lot of sense is Shawn Marion, who the Rockets could obtain by dealing Omer Asik. The Dallas Mavericks are in need of a 5-man, and Asik could immediately step in and contribute.

Jun 8, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to forward Tim Duncan (21) guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) against the Miami Heat in game two of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Heat won 98-96. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

But the overall approach at this point has to be building a team and a franchise. The San Antonio Spurs have Tony Parker and Tim Duncan under contract for a combined $22 million. That’s typically the cost of one super-max contract.

Manu Ginobili earns just $7 million a season.

But players want to play for Gregg Popovich because he offers a good chance at a ring every year. Becoming that kind of franchise, and more to the point—Kevin McHale becoming that kind of coach—is not easy.

At this point, it has to be said that Daryl Morey has been far luckier than good as an NBA general manager. Neither Omer Asik nor Jeremy Lin turned out to be much more than borderline starters, and James Harden essentially fell into Morey’s lap. Having Harden attracted Dwight Howard.

Drafting Chandler Parsons in the second round of the 2011 draft was a stroke of brilliance; but what will really determine the fate of the franchise is what Morey does in this critical stage of development. He’s faced with a number of options to improve the team, and it is on the verge of contention.

Adding another max-contract superstar is no guarantee to improve the prospects, at least not if Morey has to pay full-price. The Rockets are not in the position the Spurs are to get bargains from its players, and Harden and Howard are both in their respective primes. Parsons has evolved into a legitimate second or third option on offense, but he will not be a bargain after this season, should the Rockets match offers and retain his services.

Terrence Jones must add some strength if he is to be a full-time starter at the 4-spot, and that has to be the position of greatest concern for Morey this summer. Kevin McHale experimented with Asik at power forward in an attempt to contain Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the 2014 playoffs, and it had mixed success. Morey has been in search of answers at power forward over the last two seasons, and it showed when he acquired Thomas Robinson last season (only to discard him over the summer). Donatas Motiejunas has shown promise, but is an abysmal defender and doesn’t hit a high percentage, despite having good range.

While many Rockets fans may be anxiously pushing for the signing of Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony, it could very well be the likes of Shawn Marion and Andre Miller (for instance; he’s better than both Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin) that improves the team’s chances of contending.