According to folklore, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green called Kevin Durant from the Oracle Arena parking lot following the excruciating Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, making official what was a season-long recruitment effort to get KD in California golden yellow.
Now, after an equally painful Game 7 loss to the Warriors, Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul is working a similar angle, according to New York Times scribe Marc Stein. At the end his most recent always-great newsletter, Stein revealed that Paul’s recruitment of LeBron James has already begun:
Rest assured that the Rockets’ understandably devastated Chris Paul — who made a fast exit from Toyota Center late Monday night after being forced to watch the biggest game of his life from the bench because of his hamstring injury — has already begun his recruitment of James to Houston.
And you thought it was wild when Green recruited Durant shortly after eliminating his Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game Western Conference finals. Paul is reportedly trying to lure James to the Rockets before his Cleveland Cavaliers even begin their Finals series against the Warriors.
How close are Chris Paul and LeBron James?
Paul has called LeBron “one of my best friends. We talk every week, all the time.” They are godparents to each other’s children. According to The Los Angeles Times, Paul spoke at LeBron’s wedding and was at the hospital for the births of his sons in 2004 and 2007. Likewise, James called Paul one of three NBA friends in his life, along with Anthony and Wade. He attended Chris Paul Jr.’s first birthday party.
Anthony’s desire to be traded to Houston prior to this past season was no secret, and James has made it known that he has entertained the idea of playing with Paul, Anthony and Wade at some point.
“I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,” he told Bleacher Report in 2016. “At least one, maybe one or two seasons — me, Melo, D-Wade, CP — we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that. … It would be pretty cool. I’ve definitely had thoughts about it.”
All four are eligible to become free agents this summer. Paul and Wade will be unrestricted free agents. LeBron has a $35.6 million player option he is expected to decline, and Anthony owns a $27.9 million one that would be financially prudent to pick up. Team Banana Boat is theoretically possible.
But is LeBron joining the Rockets even plausible?
Sure. We’ll let ESPN’s Zach Lowe break down one such scenario, as he did in October 2017:
Maybe we should take the Houston threat more seriously. Harden is locked up. Paul is there. Getting off Eric Gordon is easy. Snag a pick in the process, and dumping the Ryan Anderson albatross — the one that cost them the official Team Banana Boat photographer — becomes feasible. Trade and renounce everyone else, including potentially Paul for cap purposes, and they are close enough to the double-max for Paul and LeBron that the Texas income tax edge might come into play.
Anderson’s deal is Houston’s biggest obstacle here. He’s barely even been playable in the postseason, and he’s due another $41.7 million through the 2019-20 season. That contract was the sticking point to the Rockets acquiring Anthony, and it might take more than a first-rounder to dump this time around.
In addition to creating the cap space to make a run at LeBron, the Rockets could try to negotiate with Cleveland. LeBron could opt in to the final year of his contract, and Cleveland could trade him prior to free agency, as the Los Angeles Clippers did in dealing Paul to Houston last summer, or the Cavs could work a sign-and-trade after July 1, as they did in sending him to the Miami Heat in 2014. If the Cavaliers are convinced LeBron is leaving, they may see value in getting something back in return, but if that something is assuming Anderson’s contract, they might be better served letting him walk.
Then, there’s always the possibility that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is so incensed by the possibility of Lebron leaving the franchise in shambles twice this decade that he refuses to facilitate any deal that makes it easier for him to form another super team in Houston. Unless he and/or Paul take a massive pay cut, LeBron signing with the Rockets as a free agent would gut their depth. Not only would Gordon’s $13.5 million salary have to come off the books, but they would have to renounce their rights to Clint Capela, the young center who will collect a hefty sum after his contributions this season.
Maybe that’s all worth it to field LeBron, Paul and James Harden on the same roster. Where there’s a will with Houston GM Daryl Morey, there’s often a way. Paul may already have the will, but before he convinces LeBron to help him get to his first Finals, he’ll have to watch his friend play in an eighth straight. Conversely, Cleveland better hope LeBron hasn’t answered Paul’s call yet.
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