LeBron James will have no shortage of suitors if he does indeed decide to take his talents away from South Beach – the Clippers, Knicks, Suns, Bulls, Cavaliers, Lakers and Rockets have all been mentioned as possible destinations. But of those, Houston appears to be the best possible fit.
The Rockets have an owner with deep pockets (Les Alexander) who funded a roster that won 54 regular season games last season – the same as Miami. According to Spotrac, Houston is currently right at the cap, but could trade point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik to clear almost $18 million in cap space. But in said trade, they couldn’t take back any contracts, and they would have to release their non-guaranteed players other than Pat Beverley to make the financial side of it work.
They can make the basketball side of it work, too.
Houston already has the first-team all-NBA shooting guard in James Harden and a second-team all-NBA center in Dwight Howard. Adding James, this year’s first-team All-NBA power forward, would give the Rockets the NBA’s best player at three positions.
Here is the Player Efficiency Rating, which is a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15, of the 2013-14 Houston Rockets by position:
LeBron generated a PER of 36.7 when playing the power forward position last season for Miami and would be a huge upgrade for Houston. Plus, the Rockets would also have Beverley, a second-team All-NBA Defensive team point guard and still be in a position to re-sign Chandler Parsons.
Parsons is a restricted free agent after the club declined his fourth year option, which means the Rockets have the right to match any offer and retain Parsons on a long-term contract. Offensively, the 25-year-old had a solid season: he shot 47.2 percent from the floor and averaged 16. points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game during the regular season. Bringing in James would let Parsons slide back to his natural small forward position while still giving Houston a potent “small ball” lineup.
Playing these small lineups helps spread the floor, open driving lanes for ball handlers and stretch the opponents defense, so it should be no surprise the Miami Heat had tremendous success when they went small – Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade in the backcourt with Shane Battier, James and Chris Bosh up front. That lineup played twice as many minutes for Miami than any other 5-man lineup, was a plus-6.1 points per 100 possessions and had great ball movement with over four more assists per 100 possessions than their opponents. Swap out Ray Allen for Wade and they were a plus-12.4 points per 100 possessions.
Houston’s offense is similar in production to what James had in Miami as well. According to Synergy Sports, Miami scored nearly a point per play (0.97) during the regular season using the pick and roll while Houston was not far behind at 0.90 points per play. The Rockets also have the best player in transition in Howard, who led the league in scoring on a per play basis (1.56) and shot a whopping 90.9 percent from the field on chances created in transition. James was third in the league for fast-break points per game (6.1) last season. That would pose some match up problems around the league.
It’s a longshot James leaves Miami, but if he does, Houston gives him a great chance at a third championship ring.