The Charlotte Hornets have endured a difficult offseason after a promising season. After making no serious effort to land Donovan Mitchell, fans are beginning to wonder if LaMelo Ball will be in Charlotte for the long haul, and Rockets fans are dreaming of bringing the passing savant to Houston.
The problem with rumors is they’re shrouded in ambiguity. Some rumors are indeed true, others are educated assumptions, but far too many “rumors” are what we would call lies. The newest rumor sweeping Rockets Twitter is the idea that LaMelo Ball could become a Houston Rocket.
NBA franchises go to great lengths to find superstar quality players, but they often go to even greater lengths to retain them once they’re in tow. This fact is what makes the LaMelo Ball and Houston Rockets rumor so perplexing.
Why would LaMelo Ball want out of Charlotte?
The initial inspiration for the Ball to Houston rumors came after Donovan Mitchell was traded to the Cleveland Cavalier. Charlotte was never seriously linked to Mitchell, but that is part of the problem.
Ball is one of the best young players in the league and is already good enough for the Hornets to start thinking about surrounding him with win-now talent. The Hornets should have been one of the most active teams in Mitchell trade talks. They have young players, salary, and picks to spare.
The fact that Cleveland swooped in out of nowhere after the Knicks balked at the Utah Jazz’s asking price further highlights their inactivity. Throw in the franchise’s disastrous offseason that saw them add little to nothing and lose Miles Bridges to charges of domestic battery, and what was once a promising young team core is now just LaMelo Ball.
Would it be reasonable for Ball to question the franchise that drafted him? Yes, he should be, but that doesn’t suddenly make him available.
How LaMelo would make his way to Houston
There are two ways that LaMelo Ball could end up a Houston Rocket. The first is if he were to sign as a free agent, and the second is if he was traded. Signing as a free agent is the simplest way for him to switch teams, but the earliest he can enter unrestricted free agency is three full seasons from now, in the summer of 2025.
Ball still has two more years left on his rookie deal, and if he doesn’t sign an extension, he would enter restricted free agency once it expires. For him to get to unrestricted free agency as quickly as possible, he would have to play out his rookie deal and then sign a one-year qualifying offer. Going that route would cost him tens of millions of dollars and increase his exposure to injury risk.
It also goes without saying that every team in the league could bid for his services in that scenario. Ball grew up in southern California and has a brother who plays in the NBA, which are two things the Rockets cannot currently provide, although they could always try to acquire Lonzo Ball and relocate back to San Diego.
The most likely route for Ball to end up in Houston is via trade. While the Rockets have a plethora of picks and young players, other franchises have even more ammunition. It’s also exceedingly unlikely that Ball would be dealt before signing a rookie scale extension following his third NBA season. The poison pill provision would make it very difficult for him to be moved until two seasons from now at the earliest.
LaMelo Ball won’t be in Houston anytime soon
LaMelo Ball is an incredible player with a bright future. His combination of size, shooting, and passing make him one of the most devastating offensive players in the league, and he’s only getting better. Every team in the NBA would want him, but getting him to Houston would be very difficult.
The Rockets don’t have the best trade package, and their cap space will shortly be used to extend their current crop of young talent. The rumor linking him to the Rockets isn’t based on any reasonable assumption outside of the fact that he plays in the NBA and the Rockets employ NBA players.
Three years is an eternity in the NBA. Just three years ago, the Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the league, and now they have a core of four All-Stars 26 years old and younger. And just three years ago, the Rockets had two former MVPs on their roster and made the second-round of the Western Conference playoffs.
While the LaMelo Ball to Houston agenda is fun, he is not close to being available. It also fuels the worst types of rumors. That’s because they’re not really rumors, they’re lies.