The art of the deal

Patrick Creighton: Dear Daryl Morey, call Dan Gilbert’s bluff on LeBron

LeBron James, right, would make a series with Steph Curry and the Warriors very interesting. SBNation.com

The worst kept secret in the NBA is that LeBron James and Dan Gilbert aren’t buddy-buddy anymore.  Gilbert fired the GM (David Griffin, who was significantly underpaid for his position) that LeBron liked, and Gilbert really doesn’t like paying the huge salaries ($134M+, barely 2nd in NBA to Golden State) and subsequent high luxury tax bill (reportedly near $50M).

LeBron has demanded more help from the team, but after getting all his buddies paid (JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Kardashian Thompson, et al) the team is almost $35M over the cap and has very little to offer other teams to get that help.

Currently, this incarnation of the Cavaliers has lost 13 of their last 20 games, and have a negative point differential for the season.  They are 26th in scoring defense and 28th in defensive efficiency.  Let’s be honest, this team is in a free fall and can no longer be considered a contender for the Eastern Conference let alone the NBA title.

After the Rockets laid a beatdown on Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron suggested the NBA take them off national television since they have been so bad.  LeBron knows no help is coming, and he played that way on Saturday.  His teammates followed his lead.

LeBron will not commit to Cleveland, and his actions continue to indicate he will leave Cleveland in the offseason.  Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, reportedly doesn’t care if LeBron leaves because the Cavs got a title out of him and they have the Nets draft pick.

Clearly this relationship is doomed.  That being said, Gilbert is an absolute fool if he is willing to lose LeBron for nothing a second time.

Enter Daryl Morey.  The Rockets GM is notorious for being extremely active and a dealmaker. Call Gilbert’s bluff.

Getting some quality players and another pick would certainly help ease the hurt of losing James yet again.  Why give up an asset for nothing if the intent is to rebuild?

The time is now for Morey to pounce.  It’s well chronicled how much Morey has wanted that third superstar to add to James Harden and Chris Paul.  LeBron and Paul have a long standing friendship.  It would seem like a no-brainer that James would waive his no-trade to come to Houston.  All that remains is creating an amenable package and matching salaries.

So here’s the proposal.  Ryan Anderson (let’s be real, any deal has to include Ryno’s money though he has regained his shooting touch again) reigning 6MOY Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Chinanu Onuaku, and their 2020 1st rd pick for LeBron.  The salaries work, Ryno, EG10 & Ariza are all good players (Ariza is also in a walk year) Onuaku is a young player under control cheaply for another year, and that pick will be useful.

LeBron is still arguably the best player in the world, and they will never get equal value (especially since LBJ must OK the deal anywhere he goes), but they can get some value.  Moving LeBron will also get them a better pick in this year’s draft as their record will surely continue to plummet.

Meanwhile, the Rockets (and LeBron) are now a deadly threat to the Golden State Warriors.  Meanwhile, the Cavs can begin their rebuild early, and have the option to keep those players or move them (Gordon has value).

It’s probably the best scenario for both Gilbert and LeBron, who are fractured beyond repair.  No one stalks better than Daryl Morey.  Let’s see if Gilbert really doesn’t care if LeBron leaves, call his bluff Daryl.  

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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