The most worrisome part of this offseason was not the luxury tax leap that the Rockets made, but that Houston appeared to have lost its mojo with the stars of the league.
The Rockets had all-in interest in Chris Bosh and even had a deal in place with the Raptors to snatch him, but Bosh wasn't feeling Houston. In the week that Chris Paul was rumored to be wanting out of New Orleans, Clutch City wasn't anywhere to be found on his reported list of desired destinations.
It was starting to look like the Houston Rockets had gone from Tom Cruise to Tom Arnold overnight.
That's why it was refreshing that a report by Chris Mannix in Sports Illustrated this week said that if he's not able to land in New York, Carmelo Anthony would sign an extension with the Rockets or Nets also.
Is it a leverage tactic? Most likely. Real NBA superstars rarely settle for anything less than everything they want, and by most accounts, Anthony wants New York.
If there is legitimate interest in the Rockets from Anthony, it could set up the exact scenario we outlined in February that was a possibility for Bosh: If the Knicks and Rockets are the primary suitors, Houston has the fascinating edge in being able to offer New York's draft picks, which are kept potentially high in value by not putting Anthony in the blue and orange.
That Jared Jeffries trade just gets worse by the minute for Donnie Walsh.
On the other hand, Daryl Morey and company have to get involved here. Anthony-the-talent is enough reason to pursue, but the Rockets have a vested interest in keeping Carmelo out of the Big Apple. A pairing of Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire is enough to secure playoff spots for New York in the top-heavy East, which would sour those draft pick obligations a bit.
Pairing Carmelo with Yao Ming means someone set the Hot Tub Time Machine to 2004. It immediately brings back memories of the deal with Orlando that coupled Tracy McGrady and Yao, only this time the Rockets would still (theoretically) be left with some quality depth and have a more offensive-minded coach in Rick Adelman.
Carmelo Anthony would look nice in a Houston Rockets uniform, but then again, what NBA superstar wouldn't?
Anthony, at 26 years old, is a star wing with great size and quickness for his position, much like T-Mac, then 25, was in the summer of '04.
There are weaknesses. He has very little touch from long range (career 30.8% from distance) and doesn't possess the same court vision and willingness to pass that McGrady was blessed with (career 1.0 assist/turnover ratio to T-Mac's 2.0+).
However, what Tracy lacked -- physicality and fearlessness in attacking the basket -- is what Carmelo has in spades.
The Rockets have a nice mix of offensively efficient players and defensive specialists, and Carmelo isn't in either category, but when you look at the NBA Finals last year, you're seeing the best the league has to offer in size and physicality.
The addition of Carmelo, alongside (a healthy) Yao and Luis Scola, would form an enviable frontline and put Houston in that mix.
There have been suggestions that Morey's computers would tell him not to pursue Anthony, that his offensive efficiency isn't up to par. Thankfully, that's where the Rockets GM isn't afraid to use his scouts and his own pair of eyes.
There are only a handful of true star wing players in this league, and one team has two of them. You don't pass on an elite scoring talent because he has a weakness from distance.
I couldn't tell you if Houston is currently waist-deep in Carmelo Anthony trade talks, but it was made fairly clear that any Rockets offer for Carmelo would start with including Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and both of the key draft picks -- Houston's own 2011 pick (which comes with the right to flip with New York) and the Knicks 2012 pick.
Even that as the assets part of the package may not be enough. If New Jersey, which holds Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and Brook Lopez, is an acceptable destination for Carmelo (who is from Brooklyn, where the Nets expect to play starting in 2012), it may be hard for the Rockets to compete.
None of that concerns me though because it comes down to the player. It was McGrady that chose Houston in 2004, despite being under contract to Orlando, and Magic brass made it happen. The NBA has changed quite a bit since the summer of LeBron, but that much hasn't -- true NBA superstars dictate where they play.
So we return to the initial discussion -- is Houston an appealing NBA location for a superstar right now? The Rockets and the city have a ton of things working for them, but the uncertainty surrounding the team's biggest piece (Yao) seems to be what is keeping them off those elite location lists.
How Houston, and specifially Yao, plays from November to the February trade deadline could really make (or break) the Rockets as a contender for the next few seasons.
So ultimately, the final say won't be from Houston or Denver -- for the Rockets to have any chance with Carmelo, he himself will have to opt for Houston and drive Denver's bus in that direction, and this one report isn't enough to suggest to me that he's grabbing the wheel and steering it south. That may take some time.
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